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The Tragic Story Behind The Single Most Depressing Image Of WWII

Updated 20 Dec 2018 180.4k views10 items

This photograph of a little boy at a cremation pyre following the U.S.'s attack on Nagasaki etches itself into the consciousness of any viewer. In an instant, the photo captures the tragic distinctions between those who did and did not survive the nuclear attacks in Japan. The Japanese boy in the photo, shown carrying his deceased brother to the pyre – is particularly captivating; he demonstrates the often-dismissed courage and resilience of youth, even in the face of unfathomable heartbreak.

While this young man's life was permanently changed, so was that of the photographer, Joe O'Donnell, who was tasked with documenting the aftermath at Nagasaki. He was forced to pay witness to the horrifying effects of nuclear radiation – only to suffer some of those same effects in his later years.

The Japanese pyre of WWII was just one of many disturbing episodes O'Donnell encountered while walking among the wreckage caused by the Nagasaki attacks. He was so deeply affected by what he saw, he couldn't bring himself to look at the images he shot until decades after the conflict ended.

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