Sixty-eight years ago, on August 6, 1945, the United States committed the worst terrorist bombing ever—the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
On August 9, another American A-bomb destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki. The two blasts were each the equivalent of tens of thousands of tons of dynamite. The heat reached 1,000 degrees Celsius [1,832 degrees Fahrenheit]. The explosions and the radiation cloud they created killed more than 200,000 people, either immediately or over the next few months. Many years of suffering from cancer and other ills caused by radiation poisoning lay ahead for the survivors and their children.
The destruction of these two cities was not the first time major urban centers had been destroyed, but the scale of killing was unlike anything the world had ever seen before. No one else, before or since, has ever used nuclear weapons.
The U.S. unleashed the nuclear era in the closing days of the Second World War. Germany had already surrendered. Japan’s economy had been destroyed and its capital firebombed into ashes; its military had been dealt decisive defeats. Many historians—although not all—believe that Japan would have surrendered without the atomic bombing. The purpose of the bombing was not just to make sure that the U.S. and its allies won the war, but even more, to make sure that the U.S. and the U.S. alone would benefit from Japan’s surrender. In Washington at that time, “There was a belief that dropping the bomb could accelerate the end of the war in ways that would greatly strengthen the American strategic position in Asia,” U.S. historian and sociology professor Mark Selden told a conference organized in London by Greenpeace to mark the 60th anniversary in 2005.
America was determined not to let the Soviet Union [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] prevent it from stepping into Japan’s shoes as the top colonial power in Asia. The USSR was still a socialist country then. It had been allied with the U.S. during the war against Germany and Japan, but even before the war was over the U.S. was baring its teeth to the USSR and setting out to dominate much of the world.
The bombing of these two cities is as relevant today as it has ever been, although the world has changed a great deal.
The U.S. is still brandishing its weapons of mass destruction to forcibly reshape the world according to its imperialist interests. At a time when U.S. President Barack Obama and other representatives of those interests try to further and justify their criminal enterprise with fake outrage about chemical weapons in Syria and threats to use atomic weapons to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the world’s people need to remember the U.S.’s heartless bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to pursue those same interests.
Further, the struggle between those who perpetuate and defend such crimes and those who oppose and expose them is even sharper today.
After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American authorities denied the reports about radiation sickness. The first Western journalist on the scene, the progressive Australian Wilfred Burchett, wrote, “In Hiroshima, 30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly—people who were uninjured in the cataclysm from an unknown something which I can only describe as an atomic plague. Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.” The American occupation authorities confiscated his camera but failed to stop his telex. When the article appeared, the U.S. accused Burchett of simply mouthing false Japanese propaganda. Burchett later went on to report on the war in Vietnam from the viewpoint of the liberation forces.
U.S. military censors were more successful in killing the articles written by the first American journalist to reach Nagasaki after the bombing. George Weller, who considered himself very patriotic, initially wrote in praise of the atomic bomb as if it were simply a more powerful kind of explosive. His early articles show great skepticism about the existence of “disease x,” as radiation sickness was called at first, but he later saw unmistakable evidence that convinced him otherwise. Only after Weller’s death were these pieces finally published, by Japan’s Mainichi Newspapers in 2005.
The New York Times reporter in Hiroshima, on whose dispatches much of the world relied, parroted the official lies. He denied the existence of radiation sickness and downplayed the seriousness and special nature of the devastation caused by atomic weapons—which the U.S. government was then considering using on the USSR. Later it turned out that this journalist, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work, was on the Pentagon payroll. A Yale Global Online article by Mark Selden calls this an early example “of what we now call embedded journalism.”
It is worth noting that almost sixty years later, American and British authorities and their media mouthpieces, including the New York Times, used the same kind of deception in connection with the war against Iraq, first about that country’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and later to conceal the death and devastation caused by the invasion and occupation. The Times also led the pack of the government’s media dogs in trying to discredit Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who leaked secret military footage of an American helicopter crew deliberately murdering Iraqi civilians, including children.
The video CollateralDamage brought Manning severe punishment in a military brig even before his current trial, where he faces life in prison. It also enraged the Obama government and its partners against Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks organization distributed these materials. The Obama government, currently at war against truth-teller Edward Snowden, would almost undoubtedly have done everything it could to silence and punish those who spoiled American attempts to cover up the consequences of the atomic bombing of Japan and threatened to ruin the U.S.’s “good guy” image attained through hypocrisy, secrecy and coercion.
From John Hersey’s Hiroshima
July 29, 2013. A World to Win News Service. (Reprinted from the August 1, 2005 AWTWNS.) The American novelist and journalist John Hersey arrived in Hiroshima after the August 6, 1945 bombing, and returned again the following year to conduct interviews.
John Hersey chronicled the Hiroshima bombing through the eyes of six people he interviewed for the New Yorker. Called “the most famous magazine article ever published,” it is still readily available today in book form—a book that helped open the eyes of several generations. The following excerpts from his Hiroshima focus on the accounts told by two of those survivors.
At exactly 8:15 am, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.
At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read his newspaper on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbour tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine. Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital (no relation to Miss Sasaki), walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen in his hand. And the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer.
A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. Later, they wondered why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counted many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And afterwards each knew that, in the act of survival, he had lived a dozen lives and had seen more death than he ever thought he would see.
At the time, none of them knew anything. Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. Reverend Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It seemed a sheet of sun. Both he and his friend Mr. Matsuo reacted in terror—they had time to react for they were 3,500 yards, or two miles, from the centre of the explosion. Matsuo dashed up the front steps into the house and dived among the bedrolls and buried himself there. Reverend Tanimoto took four or five steps and threw himself between two big rocks in the garden. He bellied up hard against one of them. As his face was against the stone, he did not see what happened. He felt a sudden pressure, and then splinters and pieces of board and fragments of tile fell on him. He heard no roar. (Almost no one in Hiroshima recalls hearing any noise of the bomb.)
When he dared, Reverend Tanimoto raised his head and saw that the rich man’s house had collapsed. He thought a bomb had fallen directly on it. Such clouds of dust had risen that there was a sort of twilight around. In panic, not thinking for the moment of Matsuo under the ruins, he dashed out into the street. In the street, the first thing he saw was a squad of soldiers who had been burrowing into the hillside opposite, making one of the thousands of dugouts in which the Japanese apparently intended to resist invasion, hill by hill, life for life. The soldiers were coming out of the hole, where they should have been safe, and blood was running from their heads, chests, and backs. They were silent and dazed. Under what seemed to be a local dust cloud, the day grew darker and darker.
Hatsuyo Nakamura had not had an easy time. Her husband, Isawa, had gone into the army just after the youngest of her three children, Myeko, was born, and she had heard nothing from or of him for a long time, until, on March 5, 1942, she received a seven-word telegram: “Isawa died an honorable death at Singapore.” Isawa had been a not particularly prosperous tailor, and his only capital was a Sankoku sewing machine. After his death, Nakamura got out the machine and began to take in piecework herself, and since then had supported the children, but poorly, by sewing.
As Nakamura stood in her kitchen watching her neighbour, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen. She did not notice what happened to the man next door; the reflex of a mother set her in motion toward her children. She had taken a single step (the house was 1,350 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, from the centre of the explosion) when something picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room over the raised sleeping platform, pursued by parts of her house.
Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower of tiles pummeled her; everything became dark, for she was buried. The debris did not cover her deeply. She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child cry, “Mother, help me!” and saw Myeko, the five-year-old, buried up to her breast and unable to move. As Nakamura started frantically to claw her way toward the child, she could see or hear nothing of her other children…
From the mound, Reverend Tanimoto saw an astonishing panorama. Not just a patch of Koi, as he had expected, but as much of Hiroshima as he could see through the clouded air was giving off a thick, dreadful miasma. Clumps of smoke, near and far, had begun to push up through the general dust. He wondered how such extensive damage could have been dealt out of a silent sky; even a few planes far up would have been audible.
Houses nearby were burning, and when huge drops of water the size of marbles began to fall, he half-thought that they must be coming from the hoses of firemen fighting the blazes. (They were actually drops of condensed moisture falling from the turbulent tower of dust, heat and fission fragments that had already risen miles into the sky above Hiroshima.) Reverend Tanimoto thought of his wife and baby, his church, his home, his parishioners, all of them down in that awful murk. Once more he began to run in fear—toward the city.
Hatsuyo Nakamura, the tailor’s widow, having struggled up from under the ruins of her house after the explosion, and seeing Myeko, the youngest of her three children, buried breast-deep and unable to move, crawled across the debris, hauled at timbers and flung tiles aside, in a hurried effort to free the child. Then, from what seemed to be caverns far below, she heard two small voices crying, “Tasukete! Tasukete! Help! Help!”
She called the names of her 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter: “Toshio! Yaeko!” The voices from below answered.
Nakamura abandoned Myeko, who at least could breathe, and in a frenzy made the wreckage fly above the crying voices. The children had been sleeping nearly 10 feet apart, but now their voices seemed to come from the same place. Toshio, the boy, apparently had some freedom to move, because she could feel him undermining the pile of wood and tiles as she worked from above. At last she saw his head, and she hastily pulled him out by it. A mosquito net was wound intricately, as if it had been carefully wrapped, around his feet. He said he had been blown right across the room and had been on top of his sister Yaeko under the wreckage. She now said, from underneath, that she could not move, because there was something on her legs. With a bit more digging, Nakamura cleared a hole above the child and began to pull her arm. “Itai! It hurts!” Yaeko cried. Nakamura shouted, “There’s no time now to say whether it hurts or not,” and yanked her whimpering daughter up. Then she freed Myeko. The children were filthy and bruised, but none of them had a single cut or scratch.
Nakamura took the children out into the street. They had nothing on but underpants, and, although the day was very hot, she worried rather confusedly about their being cold, so she went back into the wreckage and burrowed underneath and found a bundle of clothes she had packed for an emergency, and she dressed them in pants, blouses, shoes, padded cotton air-raid helmets called bokuzuki, and even, irrationally, overcoats. The children were silent, except for the five-year-old, Myeko, who kept asking questions: “Why is it night already? Why did our house fall down? What happened?”
Nakamura, who did not know what had happened, looked around and saw through the darkness that all the houses in her neighborhood had collapsed. The house next door, which its owner had been tearing down to make way for a fire lane, was now very thoroughly, if crudely, torn down; its owner, who had been sacrificing his home for the community’s safety, lay dead…
After crossing Koi Bridge and Kannon Bridge, having run the whole way, Reverend Tanimoto saw, as he approached the centre, that all the houses had been crushed and many were afire. So impressed was he by this time by the extent of the damage that he ran north two miles to Gion, a suburb in the foothills. At Gion, he bore toward the right bank of the main river, the Ota, and ran down it until he reached fire again. Near a large Shinto shrine, he came to more fire, and as he turned left to get around it, he met, by incredible luck, his wife. She was carrying their infant daughter. Reverend Tanimoto was now so emotionally worn out that nothing could surprise him. He did not embrace his wife; he simply said, “Oh, you are safe.” She told him that she had been buried under the parsonage with the baby in her arms. The wreckage had pressed down on her, and the baby had cried. She saw a chink of light and, by reaching up with a hand, she worked the hole bigger, bit by bit. After about half an hour, she heard the crackling noise of wood burning. At last, the opening was big enough for her to push the baby out, and afterward she crawled out herself. She said she was now going out to Ushida. Tanimoto said he wanted to see his church and take care of the people of his neighborhood association. They parted as casually—as bewildered—as they had met.
All day, people poured into Asano Park. Hatsuyo Nakamura and her children were among the first to arrive, and they settled in the bamboo grove near the river. They all felt terribly thirsty, and they drank from the river. At once they were nauseated and began vomiting, and they retched the whole day. Others were also nauseated; they all thought (probably because of the strong odor of ionization, an “electric smell” given off by the bomb’s fission) that they were sick from a gas the Americans had dropped. When Father Kleinsorge and the other priests came into the park, the Nakamuras were all sick and prostrate. A woman named Iwasaki, who lived in the neighborhood of the mission and who was sitting near the Nakamuras, got up and asked the priests if she should stay where she was or go with them. Father Kleinsorge said, “I hardly know where the safest place is.” She stayed there, and later in the day, though she had no visible wounds or burns, she died.
When Reverend Tanimoto, with his basin still in his hand, reached the park, it was very crowded, and to distinguish the living from the dead was not easy, for most of the people lay still, with their eyes open. To Father Kleinsorge, the silence in the grove by the river, where hundreds of gruesomely wounded suffered together, was one of the most dreadful phenomena of his whole experience. No one wept, much less screamed in pain; no one complained; not even the children cried; very few people even spoke. And when Father Kleinsorge gave water to some whose faces had been almost blotted out by flash burns, they took their share and then raised themselves a little and bowed to him in thanks…
As she dressed on the morning of August 20, in the home of her sister-in-law in Kabe, not far from Nagatsuka, Nakamura, who had suffered no cuts or burns at all, though she had been rather nauseated, began fixing her hair and noticed, after one stroke, that her comb carried with it a whole handful of hair; the second time, the same thing happened, so she stopped combing at once. But in the next three or four days, her hair kept falling out of its own accord, until she was quite bald. She began living indoors, practically in hiding. On August 26, both she and her younger daughter, Myeko, woke up feeling extremely weak and tired, and they stayed on their bedrolls. Her son and other daughter, who had shared every experience with her during and after the bombing, felt fine. At about the same time, Tanimoto fell suddenly ill with a general malaise, weariness, and feverishness. These four did not realize it, but they were coming down with the strange, capricious disease which came to be known as radiation sickness…
A year after the bomb was dropped, Toshiko Sasaki was a cripple; Hatsuyou Nakamura was destitute; Father Kleinsorge was back in hospital; Dr. Sasaki was incapable of the work he once could do; Dr. Fujii had lost the 30-room hospital it took him many years to acquire, and had no prospects of rebuilding it. Reverend Tanimoto’s church had been ruined and he no longer had his exceptional vitality. The lives of these six people, who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same…
It would be impossible to say what horrors were embedded in the minds of the children who lived through the day of the bombing in Hiroshima. On the surface, their recollections, months after the disaster, were of an exhilarating adventure. Toshio Nakamura, who was 10 at the time of the bombing, was soon able to talk freely, even gaily, about the experience, and a few weeks before the anniversary he wrote the following matter-of-fact essay for his teacher at Noboricho primary school: “The day before the bomb, I went for a swim. In the morning, I was eating peanuts. I saw a light. I was knocked to little sister’s sleeping place. When we were saved, I could only see as far as the tram. My mother and I started to pack our things. The neighbors were walking around burned and bleeding. Hetaya-san told me to run away with her. I said I wanted to wait for my mother. We went to the park. A whirlwind came. At night a gas tank burned and I saw the reflection in the river. We stayed in the park on night. Next day I went to Taiko bridge and met my girl friends Kikuki and Murakami. They were looking for their mothers. But Kikuki’s mother was wounded and Murakami’s mother, alas was dead.”
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.