The Way It Was at Hiroshima
Will Earth Be Ruined in Nuclear War?
ON AUGUST 6, 1945, at 8:16 that morning, the people of Hiroshima were up and starting about their day. It was a warm, peaceful morning.
A fraction of a second later tens of thousands of people were charred, blasted and crushed to death. The center of a city of 340,000 inhabitants was simply flattened.
Victims not yet dead stirred in an unreal state. “I found myself lying on the ground covered with pieces of wood,” Mrs. Hanuko Ogasawara, a young girl at the time, recalls. “When I stood up in a frantic effort to look around, there was darkness. Terribly frightened, I thought I was alone in a world of death, and groped for any light. . . . Suddenly, I wondered what had happened to my mother and sister . . . When the darkness began to fade, I found that there was nothing around me. My house, the next door neighbor’s house, and the next had all vanished. . . . It was quiet, very quiet—an eerie moment. I discovered my mother in a water tank. She had fainted. Crying out, ‘Mama, Mama,’ I shook her to bring her back to her senses. After coming to, my mother began to shout madly for my sister, ‘Eiko! Eiko!’”
Her cries were joined by others. These scenes, from a volume of recollections called Unforgettable Fire, include this account by Kikuna Segawa:
A woman who looked like an expectant mother was dead. At her side was a girl about three years of age who had brought some water in an empty can she had found. She was trying to let her mother drink from it.
Within half an hour, as some of the darkness lifted from the pall in the sky, the fire storm broke out. Professor Takenaka tried to rescue his wife from under a roof beam. The flames drove him back while she pleaded, “Run away, dear!” It was a scene multiplied endlessly as husbands and wives and children and friends and strangers had to abandon the dying in the fires.
An hour after the blast a “black rain” started to fall on the downwind portions of the city. The radioactive fallout kept sifting until late afternoon. The whole conflagration of fumes and fire was churned by a strange, violent whirlwind that lasted for hours. Ragged processions of the burned and injured began to emerge from the fire storm. A grocer is quoted by Robert Jay Lifton in his book Death in Life: “They held their arms bent . . . and their skin—not only on their hands but on their faces and bodies too—hung down. . . . Many of them died along the road. I can still picture them in my mind—like walking ghosts. They didn’t look like people of this world.”
Some of them were vomiting—an early symptom of radioactive sickness. Physical collapse accompanied emotional and spiritual collapse. People suffered and died, stupefied and listless, without uttering a sound. “Those who were able walked silently toward the suburbs in the distant hills, their spirits broken, their initiative gone,” wrote Dr. Nichikhito Hachiya in his Hiroshima Diary.
Within three months the number of dead from the Hiroshima bomb mounted to an estimated 130,000. But the final toll continues to drag on. Weeks after the bombing countless survivors began to break out with skin hemorrhages. These first signals, accompanied by vomiting and fever and thirst, might be followed by a deceptively hopeful period of remission. But sooner or later the radiation attacked the reproductive cells, especially the bone marrow. The final stages—the loss of hair, diarrhea and bleeding from the intestines, mouth or other parts of the body—brought death.
A wide range of illnesses developed from exposure to radiation. Reproductive processes were altered. Birth defects, cataracts, leukemia and other forms of cancer characterized the lot of those exposed to the Hiroshima bomb.
Yet it was only a minor one, this bomb. Its twelve and a half kilotons of kill power (equal to 12 1/2 thousand tons of TNT) is considered a mere tactical weapon today. By comparison a hydrogen bomb may yield as much as 1,600 times its power. What happened at Hiroshima is not even one millionth part of a holocaust at present levels of world nuclear preparedness! “The Hiroshima people’s experience,” wrote Jonathan Schell, “ . . . is a picture of what our whole world is always poised to become, a backdrop of scarcely imaginable horror lying just behind the surface of our normal life, and capable of breaking through into that normal life at any second.”—The New Yorker, February 1, 1982.
Is this the way the world will end?
[Blurb on page 5]
Within three months the number of dead from the Hiroshima bomb mounted to an estimated 130,000. But the final toll continues to drag on