World War II was one of the most brutal wars in world history, and is often revered as one of the most important for many reasons. One of the biggest events of the war was the dropping of the atomic bomb. In August 1945, the US dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the strategic and military explanations for these actions seemed justifiable to the American people at the time, subsequent first-hand accounts of atomic bombings and the descriptions of the horrors of nuclear war were disturbingly grim.
Casualties of war are frequently defined without any regard for the human suffering they faced. Unlike conventional warfare, the a-bombs dropped on Japan had a profound effect on all of its survivors, merely as a result of bearing witness to such pervasive destruction and agony. The horrors of nuclear war should be obvious after reading the accounts of these atomic bombs survivors who lived through this terrifying event. Perhaps the awareness of these descriptions will serve to influence those who might think positively about the implementation of such weapons in the future.
When the crew of the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, no one on board - especially pilot Paul Tibbetts - had any real idea as to the type of weapon they were utilizing. While they had been briefed and shown slides of the test detonation at Alamagordo, NM, it was impossible to convey the size and complexity of the blast that would ensue. At 8:15 am on Monday morning, the plane reached its primary destination and dropped the Little Boy model bomb on the Japanese city. Because Bob Caron was manning the tail gun of the plane, he would have the best view of the detonation of the bomb and the ensuing blast. He described the experience in a 1985 interview:
"I took the welder’s goggles off as soon as the flash was over. It was very shortly after that, I can’t remember the time, when I saw this shockwave. But I didn’t know it was a shockwave. It was just a ring coming out along the ground. It looked like it was on the ground, but actually it was spherical, coming up at us too. It was like dropping a pebble in a still pond. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what it was, when it hit the airplane. It hit it pretty hard, because I understand Tibbets yelled, 'Flack!' He thought we got hit by flack. Bounced around in the tail like that, it didn’t bother me that much. But another one came, the ricochet off the ground, and then I called out, 'Here comes another one!' And that hit the airplane.
I still hadn’t seen anything yet, outside of the shock waves. Tibbets called on the intercom again, 'Do you see anything yet?'
I said, 'Nothing yet, Colonel.' Just about that time, the mushroom started coming in view from behind the turret, just the mushroom, the famous mushroom cloud bubbling up, coming up behind the turret. I had been given a K-20, a large camera to take pictures, and I was told to take pictures and then describe what I saw on the intercom. I was kind of busy doing that, and didn’t think too much about it.
It was an awesome sight. I described the mushroom cloud as it grows. Well, it was white on the outside and it was sort of a purplish black towards the interior, and it had a fiery red core, and it just kept boiling up. I think that’s how I described it on the intercom."
Soon the entire crew could see the mushroom cloud as it grew towards the sky and the immediate fires raging around the core of the blast. In a journal, co-pilot Robert Lewis wrote, "My God, what have we done?"
Eizo Nomura, 47, was a municipal employee looking for documents in a basement when the bomb detonated only 500 feet away. He escaped through thick fire and smoke and was the only occupant of the building not killed by the blast or subsequent radiation poisoning. He eventually wrote a memoir about his experience and recalled:
"Outside, it was dark because of the black smoke. It was about as light as night with a half-moon. I hurried to the foot of Motoyasu Bridge. Right in the middle and on my side of the bridge I saw a naked man lying on his back. Both arms and legs were extended toward the sky, trembling. Something round was burning under his left armpit. The other side of the bridge was obscured by smoke, and the flames were beginning to leap up."
Although he survived, Nomura experienced near fatal symptoms of radiation sickness including high fever, diarrhea, and bleeding gums. He died in 1982, aged 84.
Akiko Takakura was less than a thousand feet from the blast inside the Bank of Hiroshima. She described what she saw for the Japanese public broadcasting network, NHK.
"I lost consciousness right after or almost at the same time I saw the flash. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the dark. I heard my friend, Ms. Asami, crying for her mother. Soon after, I found out that we actually had been attacked. Afraid of being caught by a fire, I told Ms. Asami to run out of the building. We first thought to escape to the parade grounds, but we couldn't because there was a huge sheet of fire in front of us. Since Hiroshima was completely enveloped in flames, we felt terribly hot and could not breathe well at all.
After a while, a whirlpool of fire approached us from the south. It was like a big tornado of fire spreading over the full width of the street. Whenever the fire touched, wherever the fire touched, it burned. It burned my ear and leg. So, everyone just tried so hard to keep away from the fire. It was just like a living hell. After a while, it began to rain. The fire and the smoke made us so thirsty and there was nothing to drink, no water, and the smoke even disturbed our eyes. As it began to rain, people opened their mouths and turned their faces towards the sky and try to drink the rain, but it wasn't easy to catch the rain drops in our mouths. It was a black rain with big drops.
Many people on the street were killed almost instantly. The fingertips of those dead bodies caught fire and the fire gradually spread over their entire bodies from their fingers. A light gray liquid dripped down their hands, scorching their fingers. I, I was so shocked to know that fingers and bodies could be burned and deformed like that. I just couldn't believe it."
On August 6, Father Hubert Schiffer, a German Jesuit priest, had just finished Mass and was sitting down to breakfast when the bomb struck:
“A terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me [and] whirled me round and round…”
All seven of Father Schiffer's Jesuit compatriots emerged from the blast relatively unharmed, except for glass and wood splinters imbedded in their bodies. The building that housed these priests was the only structure still standing in the neighborhood. Less than a mile from ground zero, almost all of the other nearby inhabitants in the vicinity were killed instantly.
Eventually, Father Schiffer was told he would soon develop radiation sickness and die. Although he and the other priests were frequently examined for any disease or atomic side effects, all of these men lived for at least several decades following this experience. Hubert Schiffer died in 1982.