Week of the Bomb: Thursday

Finally, voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When The New Yorker dedicated its entire August 31, 1946 issue to John Hersey’s Hiroshima, the editors wrote that they did so “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use.” In light of our peculiarly modern strain of cultural divisiveness, where someone is forced to either condemn or acclaim the bombings without reservation, our political leanings in 2016 are granted a status immensely more important than the bombings themselves. As a result, we devote less and less time considering just what happened. So here is only an introduction to that, and how at least one scientist spent the rest of his life dealing with it.


Hiroshima Before & After:

Manhattan Project study: Because the head in [the] flash comes in such a short time, there is no time for any cooling to take place and the temperature of a person’s skin can be raised [to 120° F] … in the first millisecond at a distance of [2.3 miles].[1]

Japanese study: The temperature at the site of the explosion … reached [5,400° F] … and primary atomic bomb thermal injury … was found in those exposed within [2 miles] of the hypocenter….[2] severe thermal burns of over grade 5 occurred within [0.6 to 1 mile] of the hypocenter… and those grades of 1 to 4 [occurred as far as 2 to 2.5 miles] from the hypocenter…. Extreme intense thermal energy leads not only to carbonization but also to evaporation of the viscera.[3]

Richard Rhodes: People exposed within half a mile of the Little Boy fireball, that is, were seared to bundles of smoking black char in a fraction of a second as their internal organs boiled away. “Doctor,” a patient commented to Michihiko Hachiya a few days later, “a human being who has been roasted becomes quite small, doesn’t he?” The small black bundles now stuck to the streets and bridges and sidewalks of Hiroshima numbered in the thousands.[4]

A junior-college girl in Hiroshima: Screaming children who have lost sight of their mothers; voices of mothers searching for their little ones; people who can no longer bear the heat, cooling their bodies in cisterns; every one among the fleeing people dyed red with blood.[5]

Nineteen year-old woman in Hiroshima:  I saw for the first time a pile of burned bodies in a water tank by the entrance to the broadcasting station. Then I was suddenly frightened by a terrible sight on the street 40 to 50 meters from Shukkein Garden. There was a charred body of a woman standing frozen in a running posture with on leg lifted and her baby tightly clutched in her arms. Who on earth could she be?[6]

Junior-college woman in Hiroshima:At the base of the bridge, inside a big cistern that had been dug out there, was a mother weeping and holding above her head a naked baby that was burned bright red all over its body, and another mother was crying and sobbing as she gave her burned breast to her baby.”[7]

Husband and wife in Hiroshima: While taking my severely-wounded wife out to the riverbank by the side of the hill of Nakahiro-machi, I was horrified, indeed, at the sight of a stark naked man standing in the rain with his eyeball in his palm. He looked to be in great pain but there was nothing I could do for him.[8]

Another witness in Hiroshima: There were so many burned [at a first-aid station] that the odor was like drying squid. They looked like boiled octopuses…. I saw a man whose eye had been torn out by an injury, and there he stood with his eye resting in the palm of his hand. What made my blood run cold was that it looked like the eye was staring at me.[9]

Third grade boy in Hiroshima: Men whose whole bodies were covered with blood, and women whose skin hung from them like a kimono, plunged shrieking into the river. All these become corpses and their bodies are carried by the current toward the sea.[10] …I got terribly thirsty so I went to the river to drink. From upstream a great many black and burned corpses came floating down the river. I pushed them away and drank the water. At the margin of the river there were corpses lying all over the place.[11]

Fifth grade girl in Hiroshima:  I do not know how many times I called begging that they would cut off my burned arms and legs.[12]

Six year old boy in Hiroshima: That night Brother’s body swell up terribly badly. He looked just like a bronze Buddha….[13]

Young woman in Hiroshima: We gathered the dead bodies and made big mountains of the dead and put oil on them and burned them. And people who were unconscious woke up in the piles of the dead when they found themselves burning and came running out.[14]

Fourth grader in Hiroshima: At the site of the Japanese Red Cross Hospital, the smell of the bodies being cremated is overpowering. Too much sorrow makes me like a stranger to myself, and yet despite my grief I cannot cry.[15]

The dream of Michihiko Hachiya, a Japanese doctor wounded by the bomb who tended to the other survivors:  It seems I was in Tokyo after the great earthquake and around me were decomposing bodies heaped in piles, all of whom were looking right at me. I saw an eye sitting on the palm of a girl’s hand. Suddenly it turned and leaped into the sky and then it came flying back towards me, so that, looking up, I could see a great bare eyeball, bigger than life, hovering over my head, staring point blank at me. I was powerless to move. I awakened short of breath and with my heart pounding.[16]

From Hiroshima & Nagasaki: the burned shadows, the ruins, the dead, the living:

Robert Oppenheimer: We took this tree with a lot of ripe fruit on it, and shook it hard and out came radar and atomic bombs. [The] whole [wartime] spirit was one of frantic and rather ruthless exploitation of the known.[17]

Robert Oppenheimer to American Philosophical society: We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world … a thing that by all the standards of the world we grew up in is an evil. And by so doing … we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man.[18]

Robert Oppenheimer: The peoples of the world must unite, or they will perish. This war, that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand. Other men have spoken them, in other times, of other wars, of other weapons. They have not prevailed. There are some, misled by a false sense of human history, who hold that they will not prevail today. It is not for us to believe that. By our works we are committed, committed to a world united, before the common peril, in law, and in humanity.[19]

Robert Oppenheimer: In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.[20]

I. I. Rabi on Oppenheimer’s “sin” remark: That sort of crap, we never talked about it that way. He felt sin, well, he didn’t know who he was…. [Oppenheimer] was full of too many humanities … [and had] a tendency to make things sound mystical.[21]

Henry Wallace: The guilty consciousness of the atomic bomb scientists is one of the most astounding things I have ever seen.[22]

Robert Oppenheimer, upset over a fictional play about him: What I have never done [but which the play shows] is to express regret for doing what I did and could at Los Alamos; in fact, on varied and recurrent occasions, I have reaffirmed my sense that, with all the black and white, that was something I did not regret…. [He was mostly upset with the] long and totally improvised final speech I am supposed to have made, which indeed affirms such regret. My own feelings about responsibility and guilt have always had to do with the present, and so far in this life that has been more than enough to occupy me.[23]

Robert Oppenheimer: Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blindness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics.[24]

James B. Conant: I did not see in 1917, and do not see in 1968, why tearing a man’s guts out by a high-explosive shell is to be preferred to maiming him by attacking his lungs or skin. All war is immoral. Logically, the 100 percent pacifist has the only impregnable position. Once that is abandoned, as it is when a nation becomes a belligerent, one can talk sensibly only in terms of violation of agreements about the way war is conducted, or the consequences of a certain tactic or weapon.[25]

Neils Bohr: Only by extending this powerful weapon to other countries could we guarantee that it would not be used in the future.[26]

Closing moments of Jon Else’s The Day After Trinity, with montage of more and more powerful atomic explosions, and an elderly Oppenheimer’s sadness and seeming impotence in the face of nuclear proliferation:



[1] Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, 714

[2] Ibid., 714

[3] Ibid., 714

[4] Ibid., 714-5

[5] Ibid., 719

[6] Ibid., 722

[7] Ibid., 723

[8] Ibid., 725

[9] Ibid., 725

[10] Ibid., 725

[11] Ibid., 726

[12] Ibid., 727

[13] Ibid., 727

[14] Ibid., 730

[15] Ibid., 732

[16] Ibid., 747

[17] Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 322

[18] Ibid., 323

[19] Ibid., 329

[20] Ibid., 369, 388

[21] Ibid., 388

[22] Ibid.,  331

[23] Ibid.,  584

[24] Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, epigraph

[25] Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, 358

[26] Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, 220


8 replies »

  1. Thank you for caring, Mr. Miller. I wept, again. I sent the following email to all my nieces and nephews today, with the hope that they will not forget how our ancestors all perished on that day.:


    We sliced the chrysanthemum
    Off its stalk
    And let it naked in the sun.
    from Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii

    With the Hiroshima anniversary coming up on Aug 6, I thought of what Grandma ( my mother)
    told her Buddhist priest a few weeks before she died. She came out of her dementia state to say this:

    Watashi wo wasure sadanaide. Do not let me be forgotten.

    What if all of our ancestors had said this? So on Saturday, I hope to remember them with a candle.

    Hope you will spend a minute to remember our ancestors who died on that day. If you haven’t already, do read my dear friend

    Charles Pellegrino’s book: To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima.
    There is even someone called Takahashi in the survivor stories and I decided we are related. Our name Kakugawa is in it, too.

    Aunty Fran


  2. harrowing stuff. the articulation of grief & experience witnessed by the people of Hiroshima & Nagasaki is so elegant, it leaves me cold in a numb sense. most would be hard pressed to fictionalize such visions of despair & horror.


  3. Thank you so much, Frances. All we can do is try to remember. The way of world doesn’t give me faith that just by remembering we will avoid repeating atrocities, but at least in remembering we are focusing on human beings, in many cases human beings caught up in the mistakes and violence of others.


  4. My fantasy world. Someday when nuclear warfare has destroyed Earth, the next civilization will find your blog posts and then, your voice will be heard and used for a more humane civilization , at least for about 2 thousand years.


  5. Much appreciate your contributions to helping us remember, correctly, what we need to remember if we are ever to find our way out of the madness of nuclear weapons. More and more voices and narratives are joining the effort every day.

    The trick will be to find a way to gather and leverage those voices to end the insanity of self-destruction. Undoubtedly, the things which seem to compel our species to settle its arguments with itself by means of war and violence are deeply embedded in our structure, and certainly aided and abetted by our hard-wiring.

    Still, I’m not convinced they are flaws we can do nothing about. History doesn’t do us much good. It’s a grand catwalk of failures. But our imaginations might serve, if we can begin to exercise them sufficiently to do the job. I make it that human imagination is the defining characteristic of h.sapiens, but it is much muted by those who find it convenient to keep us shackled to the past in a state of resignation.

    The big question is whether we will survive long enough to figure that out and readjust our course. Nuclear weapons are a good reason that might not happen.

    In any event, I don’t expect to live long enough to see it happen if it does. If we can avoid the obvious global threats, it is still likely to take several generations. It may take that long just to clean up the messes the last few generations have made.

    I am offering a small chapbook, “Hiroshima/Nagasaki — 70 Years of Silence” should you or any of your readers be interested. It can be download from


    There are also a number of recent posts on my Facebook page, ‘Red Slider’ focused on the Hiroshima anniversary. It is now August 9th in Nagasaki. The day the sun fell on their city.


  6. Tim, Thank you for this post. As the daughter of a Hibakusha, it is so important that we talk about the events of Aug 6th and 9th 1945; not for blame, but to keep from repeating the same mistake. That is what I hope to do with THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, everyone under those famous mushroom clouds that day was someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, or child. A mere two paragraphs and a mushroom cloud picture in the text books are not enough. Thank you again.


  7. Kathleen, I’m beyond moved that the daughter of a survivor thinks anything I have to say on the subject worthwhile at all. Empathy and understanding is about all we can hope for, for all sides. Good luck with the book, and thank you again for your comment.


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