In this e-briefing, the Review has chosen to feature the voices of hibakusha, those who survived the nuclear bombings in Japan. These three hibakusha have shared their experiences with the hope that our readers will understand the horrors of nuclear weapons use. They have each suffered and witnessed the horrific suffering of others caused by nuclear weapons, and their families may continue to suffer medical problems for generations to come. Each calls for assurances that nuclear weapons will never be used again. These are their stories.
The Chugoku Shimbun is a daily newspaper based in Hiroshima, the city that experienced the first nuclear attack in human history. Founded in 1892, with a circulation of 620,000, the Chugoku Shimbun is one of Japan’s leading regional newspapers.1 On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb exploded above the city and citizens of Hiroshima. The bomb’s powerful blast, heat rays and radiation annihilated the city, killing more than 100,000 people, including those who had succumbed to injuries and illness by the end of 1945. Those who managed to survive lost not only loved ones but also their homes, schools and workplaces. They endured the chaos of the postwar period and rebuilt the city. The Chugoku Shimbun has always stood beside the people of Hiroshima as a newspaper company that also endured the tragedy, and it worked hard to support the city’s reconstruction in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. Furthermore, it has long pursued a variety of distinctive efforts to help realize a world without war and nuclear weapons.
This article, illustrated with pictures taken by the newspaper’s photographer, Yoshito Matushige, will give readers insight into the experience of the Chugoku Shimbun’s staff on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It features the stories of three staff members, photographer Yoshito Matsushige, journalist Haruo Oshita, and Yasuo Yamamoto, manager of the paper’s stenography department. It also describes the Chugoku Shimbun’s efforts to document the experience of Hiroshima’s citizens, notably through the establishment of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center, and the newspaper’s work towards a future without nuclear weapons.
More than 100 employees of the Chugoku Shimbun, about one third of the newspaper’s work force at the time, were killed in the atomic bombing. The company’s headquarters, located about 900 metres east of the hypocentre, were completely destroyed. The Chugoku Shimbun’s ability to print newspapers suffered a disastrous blow, with the two rotary presses destroyed by fire and the communication equipment in ruins. The surviving workers suffered injuries, and many lost family members.
Below is the testimony of three of Chugoku Shimbun’s employees in 1945. Yoshito Matsushige was a photographer who took a handful of historic photos on the day the atomic bomb was dropped. Haruo Oshita saw the burnt ruins of the city, like a vision of hell, as he walked to the newspaper building. Yasuo Yamamoto lost his only son, 13 years old at the time, to the atomic bombing. Afterwards he made the revival of the Chugoku Shimbun his mission and worked tirelessly towards that end.
This selection of photos is meant as an appeal from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum to remember the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. It was compiled by museum director Akitoshi Nakamura based on the collection at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Readers are invited to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and spend some time viewing its collection of over 1,000 photographs and remnants from the city at that time to get a sense of what happened before and after the atomic bombing that summer seventy years ago, and how devastating the atomic bomb’s destructive effects were.
Figures 1 and 2, below, show the area of the hypocentre in northern Nagasaki two days prior to the atomic bombing and about one month after the bombing. The meandering black line that cuts diagonally across each image from top to bottom is the Urakami River, which flows from the north to the south of the hypocentre. The oval near the centre is the track of an athletic field. In the second photo, one can see that the formerly varied cityscape of tightly-packed buildings has almost completely disappeared. All that remains are the ruins of school buildings and structures that were made of strong concrete.
The area around the hypocentre has become as desolate as the surface of the moon. Records describe the damage:
Those living in Nagasaki on the day the atomic bomb was dropped noted that air- raid alerts had been issued constantly since the night before. On the morning of 9 August, the alerts were lifted and people, machines and trains began to resume their daily activity. People lined up at food distribution points throughout the city. At the Nagasaki Medical College (now the Nagasaki University School of Medicine), lectures were started and the hospital received patients.
An American aircraft dropped the atomic bomb on the Urakami district of northern Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. on 9 August 1945. Nagasaki thus became the second city in human history to be attacked with an atomic bomb, following Hiroshima.
The Nagasaki bomb was a plutonium weapon possessing explosive power equivalent to 21 kilotons of trinitrotoluene (TNT), which gave it greater destructive capability than the Hiroshima bomb, a uranium weapon with the explosive power of 15 kilotons of TNT. However, the city’s size, the mountainous topography around the target, and other factors meant that the level of destruction in Nagasaki did not reach that of Hiroshima, where 220,000 people were killed or injured. Nonetheless, some 74,000 people lost their lives and 75,000 people suffered injury as a result of this one bomb. Of the 240,000 residents of Nagasaki at the time, approximately 150,000, or more than 60%, became casualties. Those who survived had to live their lives in constant fear of cancer and other radiation-caused diseases. Thus the atomic bomb brought to the world a new kind of horror, one that had theretofore been unknown in the human experience.
When the bomb detonated, the first thing to hit the people was a massive burst of radiation, including neutron radiation. This was followed by heat rays that heated the ground directly below the blast to a temperature somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 degrees. Then came the blast wave, which reached a speed of 160 metres per second even one kilometre away. In truth, almost all of the destruction from radiation, heat rays and blast wave was over within three seconds after the flash of white light. After that, a conflagration continued throughout the day and night, resulting in desolation over a broader area and creating the dramatic, moon-like landscape seen in Figure 2 above.
Today, more than seventy years since being blasted to rubble by the atomic bomb, Nagasaki has made an astonishing recovery. Nonetheless, the hopes of the survivors remain far from fulfilled, as more than 16,000 nuclear warheads exist in the world. Moreover, the power of many of those warheads is tens of times greater than the weapons dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. What would happen if nuclear weapons were ever used again? The answer should be easily imaginable to anyone who knows what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki seventy years ago.
On 9 August 2014, the mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, said the following as part of a peace declaration presented at a memorial for the atomic bomb victims: “Nuclear weapons are a continuing danger that threatens the present and future of our entire world. The terror that they bring is not confined to Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s past.” This statement embodies the thoughts of all atomic bomb survivors and residents of Nagasaki. In this same sense, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is more than just a facility for historical reflection. It is also a place for profound thought on the present and future of the human species.