HIROSHIMA, NAGASAKI AND SURVIVORS AFTER THE ATOMIC BOMBING

SOON AFTER THE ATOMIC BOMBS


Hiroshima survivor Toshiko Tanaka wrote in Hikakusha Stories: At the time, my father was drafted and was not home. My mother, although our house was destroyed and was having difficulty herself, sheltered some homeless survivors in our house. We had moved into that house just 6 days before the atomic bomb was dropped. Our original house was located at Ground Zero. We felt we were kept alive by divine being. [Source: Hikakusha Stories website **]

Among those my mother sheltered, I remember two sisters. One was around 15 years old and the other 5 or 6 years old. The older sister looked well and she fled carrying her younger sister, who was severely burned, on her back. However the older sister died soon, and the younger survived. At that time we did not know the existence of radioactivity. Everyone wondered why people died. All 6 members of my uncle’s family were killed by the bomb. My aunt who was in her twenties left home earlier that morning and has never returned until today. There were 12 young American soldiers held captive in Hiroshima at that time. All of them were killed by their own nation’s atomic bomb. **

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said: “My beloved city of 360,000, close to ninety percent of whom were women, children and the elderly, suddenly and totally became desolation, heaps of ashes and rubble, skeletons and blackened corpses...In that sea of rubble, life for us was a daily struggle for sheer survival. Where possible, many people fled to relatives and friends all over Japan.” Reiko Yamada wrote in Hikakusha Stories: The defeat of Japan in the war was announced on August 15, but food shortages continued. In my school, in the spring of the following year, we planted seedlings of sweet potatoes in the schoolyard. On the day of the harvest, as we dug the ground, human bones came out with the potatoes and we screamed to see them. The potatoes were served for lunch, but we could not eat them.One man in Hiroshima who lost both of his parents had to wait for 29 years to be reunited with his sister. After the blast he slept in empty train cars and scavenged for food and tried to earn money by shining shoes.

Yasuaki Yamashita told Hikakusha Stories: The A-Bomb had turned the center of Nagasaki into an inferno of death and devastation. Communications and transportation were disrupted. There was no food in the city and we were starving. One week after the explosion we walked through the rubble of the city center where fires still burned on our way to the countryside where relatives would share what little food they had. Some years later I worked in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Hospital. It was very painful to see the survivors still suffering from the effects of burns and radiation. **

Second Generation Hibakusha from Nagasaki Miyako Taguchi said: Life after the atomic bombing and the war brought even more pain to the survivors. Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima lost their ability to function. They were no longer cities where people could live. All survivors struggled to get clean water and food and shelter to sleep under while they suffered the tremendous fear and sadness in their minds. They had lost their families and friends and yet people were still dying from unknown diseases without much medical treatment. **

See World War II Surrender

Rebuilding of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Some scientists thought it would take 70 years for plant life to sprout from the contaminated soil at Hiroshima and Nagasaki but surprisingly camphor and willow buds sprouted from blackened stumps the following spring.

Within a few months after the explosion in Hiroshima, schools reopened in temporary buildings, limited trolley service was restored, and plans were drafted for new parks and roads. People flocked to theaters and dance halls for a diversion. Water and sewage systems were fully operational by 1953 and a half million people lived there in 1955.


Hiroshima after the blast


"We live in shanties," one survivor who lived a mile from the hypocenter told U.S. News and World Report. "It looked like Kobe after the earthquake. The morning rush hour was terrible, with all the traffic lined up to go over the few rickety bridges.”

Street car service in Nagasaki city was resumed three months after the blast. U.S. Marines organized a football game on New Year’s Day 1946 called the Atom Bowl in an attempt to boost moral in the city. A number of well-known college and pro players took part, including Heisman trophy winner Angelo Berteli and the NFL’s leading rusher, Bullet Bill Osmansku, a fallback for the Chicago Bears. The game was played on a field that been cleared of debris. No one was concerned about radiation at the time and whether it was in bad taste to play a game called the Atom Bowl.

Long-Term Survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Blasts

The people who were exposed to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs are now called hibakusha (“bomb affected people”). About a third of the people who were alive when the bomb was dropped were still alive in the late 1990s. Among the one million or so people that live in Hiroshima today only a fraction survived the explosion. There are about 48,000 of them living in Nagasaki Prefecture, and about 83,000 in Hiroshima. Some were small children when the bombs were dropped, others were young adults. Their average age now is over 80.” [Source: Motoko Rich, New York Times, May 27, 2016]

A total of 297,613 hibakusha were still alive in 1999. Their average age was 73. The youngest had been exposed to radiation as unborn children. The surviving hibakusha are mostly in their late 70s and 80s now and have childhood memories of the disaster. Only about two dozen or so are still healthy enough to tell their stories.

It many ways the psychological damage of the blast were worse than the physical effects. One doctor said that half of the 700 hibakusha he studied considered suicide. "They have so many diseases for which the exact cause is unknown, it causes mental depression. They think their problems are caused by radiation, but the doctors can not say so, and they think the doctors do not believe them." Many feel guilty that they survived and their loved ones perished. [Source: Charles E. Cobb, National Geographic April 1989]


Nagasaki after the blast


The Hiroshima explosion produced 5,000 orphans, many of whom were educated and brought up on the "island of the boys." In 1994, the Japanese government agreed to pay $1,000 to 280,000 families of who died as a result of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Scientist who studied Hiroshima survivors noticed that some children developed leukemia early. And then later, the older people got the more likely they were to develop cancer. Kunihiko Bonkohara wrote in Hikakusha Stories: After the disaster “my body became covered in blotches, and when I was in Grade 4 at primary school I was troubled with lung disease. After that, I somehow recovered. My father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and my mother with breast cancer, and they both passed away. [Source: Hikakusha Stories website]

Toshiko Tanaka wrote in Hikakusha Stories: “Have you ever heard a story of Sadako? Sadako was 4 years younger than I and we attended the same middle school. She survived the bomb when she was 2 years old, and was all fine until she suddenly suffered leukemia when she was 12 years old. She folded more than 1,000 paper cranes wishing she would recover from the illness, but her prayer was never achieved and she passed away. In my case, I started to suffer several disorders when I was about 15. I would become unconscious all of a sudden and faint. Also I suffered mouth ulcers, sore throat and herpes labialis all of which have annoyed me for a long time. Unlike other members of my family, I have suffered poor eyesight since I was struck by the flash of the bomb. I am expecting a surgery on both my eyes within a month, and I am suffering knee pain when I use stairs even after a surgery on my left knee. Burn scars on my body have faded with time, but emotional scars will never fade. [Ibid]

“Nuclear weapons not only cause damage on people directly, but they also produce genetic defects through radioactivity. Many deformed babies were born afterwards. As soon as babies were born, parents checked if they did not have defects by checking numbers of their babies’ fingers and toes. My husband and many other fathers did the same thing. [Ibid]

Shigeko Sasamori told UCLA International Institute: “Fortunately, I have not been sick for a long time. But last year I developed cancer of my intestine. And I had an operations...They found three tumors. They burned up two tumors. Then they removed twenty inches of my intestines. Then they also found a lesion in my CT Scan of thyroid. They have elected to just watch the lesion.”

Discrimination Against Long-Term Survivors


bomb-created cataract

Many survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki faced discrimination. They were denied marriage and jobs out of fear that radiation was contagious. Hibakusha often hid their past. Many employers were reluctant to hire them because they believed rightly or wrongly they suffered from exhaustion and depression and were more likely to get sick. People also went out of their way to avoid getting involved romantically or married to survivors out of fear of bearing children with deformities. Parents often hired private detectives to make sure the partners of their children were not related to any hibakusha.

F. Sionil Jose wrote in the New York Times: The Japanese survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lived the rest of their lives with the stigma of having been exposed to radiation, a stain that years never erased. Known as Hibakushas, they are formally recognized by the government if they lived within proximity of the blasts, and receive a special medical allowance. But the designation also led to them being ostracized by other Japanese, who feared wrongly that the contamination was contagious or could be hereditary. The result was that many survivors of the bombings, and even their children, lived ghettoized lives because of their exposure to radiation. [Source: F. Sionil Jose, New York Times, August 13, 2010]

Michimasa (Michi) Hirata, who house was about 1.2 miles away from the Hiroshima epicenter, wrote in Hikakusha Stories: “During early period after the bombing, most Hibakusha hid up their bombed experience for fear of discrimination. I was also silent with uneasy feelings because my thoughts went out to the mortifying victims of the A-bomb on that day.” [Source: Hikakusha Stories website]

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said: “Where possible, many people fled to relatives and friends all over Japan. But often they felt they had to hide their identity as survivors because people feared contamination from these radiation exposed survivors of Hiroshima who people at that time understood to have an infectious disease. Employers were cautious about the potential poor health of employees and people were fearful of marrying a radiation-exposed person who might produce deformed babies. For a long time the national government did not provide any assistance and survivors felt abandoned.

Second Generation Hibakusha from Nagasaki Miyako Taguchi said: Many young female survivors were afraid to marry and to get pregnant because there were many cases of stillbirth and deformed babies. Other Japanese in general began to be afraid of being in contact with the A-bomb survivors. Therefore, most of the survivors hid their experiences with the nuclear bombings in order to get jobs and to marry, suppressing their sadness and anger inside because of the discrimination against them in Japan...My father suffered a great deal from his leg injury for long years after the war. A doctor told him he needed to cut his leg, but he was lucky to find another doctor who cured it even though he is crippled a little. The terrible experience left my parents with permanent scars, not only physical but also mental. Although he was in general trusting and generous, my father was often very short tempered and violent. My mother was frequently crying and unhappy with her marriage and life. I grew up wondering why my parents were still together while they could not get along, why my father often abused his children and wife while he insisted we go to church, and why my mother regretted everything. [Ibid]

Even today some hibakusha complain of rumors that they have contaminated blood and say that gifts of fruit and vegetables given to neighbors are thrown into the garbage because the neighbors fear that the gifts might be contaminated with radiation or genetic mutations decades after the blast.

Long-Term Survivors and the American Occupation Force


Toshiko Tanaka wrote in Hikakusha Stories: “There was a time when talking about the damage caused by the atomic bomb was considered a taboo under the agreement of the governments of U. S. and Japan. Many survivors held their experiences inside and did not talk about it. They feared if they did talk, it would only work against them. They feared prejudice might put a stop to their children’s marriage plans. And they thought nobody except those who actually survived will understand them anyway. [Source: Hikakusha Stories website]

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said: “Occupation authorities imposed psycho-social political oppression on Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. For example, within days of Japan’s formal surrender they introduced a Press Code in Japan. This permitted reporting on the technological triumph of the atomic bomb by the US but censored anything that might be considered to be criticism of the United States. The occupation authorities confiscated diaries, poems, photographs, movie film, medical specimens, slides for microscopes and doctors’ records on the treatment of radiation, some 32,000 items in all. Autopsies by Japanese doctors had to be done secretly in primitive conditions and the results passed from hand to hand under threat of prosecution. Because of this politically hostile milieu, survivors were deprived of the normal and needed grieving process following their massive trauma and had to repress their suffering in silence and isolation.

An additional injury to the psyche of the survivors was caused by the American establishment of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its mandate was solely to study the effects of radiation upon human beings but not to offer treatment even though thousands were suffering from inadequate medical care. The ABCC did not even share it findings with Japanese doctors who were trying to deal with the new and unknown medical problem without adequate knowledge. The survivors’ sense of outrage at twice being treated as guinea pigs had to be repressed because of Occupation policies.

Health of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors


Studies have shown that Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims suffered from higher frequencies of some forms of cancer, especially leukemia, and have higher incidence of cataracts and thyroid and chromosome damage than other Japanese.

Exhaustive studies have shown that the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki have a 29 percent greater chance of than normal of dying from cancer. There were a high number of leukemia cases in the 1940s but by the early 70s they leveled off nearly to that of the general public. Of the 86,000 atomic bomb survivors studied, there were 420 more cases of cancer than would have occurred naturally (an increased risk of 8 to 12 percent). Hiroto Kuboura was at Hiroshima station when the bomb exploded. He was knocked unconscious by the shock wave and lost an eye and later had problems with his kidney, liver but he lived to be an old man.

Of the 500 pregnancies underway when the atomic bomb went off, 21 produced children with severe birth defects, with the highest rates among mothers who were in 8th to 15th week of pregnancy during the blast. That is four times higher than in normal healthy mothers. There is no evidence of hereditary damage passed on to the offspring of survivors. On the whole offspring of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors were affected little by radiation. The 72,216 children born more than nine months after the blast who were studied showed no higher rates in birth defects, cancer or chromosome damage than children in the general population.

Some of the studies appear to show that Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors who were exposed to a limited amount of radiation lived longer than people who weren't exposed. These findings have been backed up by other studies of people exposed to radiation. This result was surprising to scientists who conducted experiments in 1946 that showed radiation caused cancer and genetic defects in mice and their offspring. Possible explanations for the relative good health of the survivors: 1) humans are better equipped at fighting off radiation damage than mice; 2) the survivors received better medical care than they normally would have; or 3) the bombs emitted less radiation than previously thought.

Hibakusha Shame and Psychological Trauma


survivor in the ruins of Hiroshima

Sarah Stillman wrote in The New Yorker, “I’d always assumed, in ignorance, that to survive the atomic bomb—to be a hibakusha, or “explosion-affected person”—was to have conferred upon you a certain esteem or deference, not unlike that afforded to the bearer of a Purple Heart. Shoji’s family wasted no time correcting me. To be a hibakusha, they explained, was not an honorific but a source of shame, a secret to be closely held. Even grandchildren have often feared telling romantic partners of their grandparents’ experience, worried that their genetic material would be perceived as spoiled goods. [Source: Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker, August 12, 2014 |~|]

“Eventually, Shoji’s family planned for her to enter an arranged marriage with a prominent policeman in Taiwan, where she relocated in her early twenties. They kept her hibakusha status hushed, and refused to allow the two to talk before the ceremony, so as to better seal the secret. “My hands were shaking, holding my bouquet,” Shoji recalled. When her husband learned the news afterward, he spiralled into a rage that never lifted. For the rest of the marriage, Shoji’s daughter Minori said, “He felt he’d been cheated.” |~|

“The next several decades brought a parade of physical ailments that were easily traceable to the bomb: Shoji’s eyes and ears gave up early; her insides felt perpetually cold; her teeth fell out, requiring dentures in her forties. But perhaps most debilitating were the psychological symptoms that she didn’t think she could attribute to the radiation. “For thirty or forty years, I was so afraid of thunder and lightening,” she told me, as one of many examples. “It would just crush me. I just lost control.” Raising four daughters was a challenge of another scale. “Nobody understood me; I was like a beggar,” she said, recalling that when her children were young she faced almost daily bouts of overwhelming panic. At night, in dreams, she shouted, “The Earth—the Earth is going to fall!” “At the time, I didn’t know what was affecting me so badly,” Shoji said. “I couldn’t talk about it. Even before I opened my mouth, I would collapse with fear.” |~|

Shoji’s daughter Minori said: “When we would go into her bedroom in the morning, we would see her get so angry—she would throw things. When we were young, I never saw her laugh—she was quiet, and weak.” Back then, neither Shoji nor her children spoke openly about this behavior as tied to the bomb. Remarkably, Shoji says that the idea didn’t come easily to her. She was unfamiliar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or its classic presentation (nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance); these traits seemed unrelated to her experience. “Every year I have these crazy episodes—my family is so good to me, but I have these outbursts, these moments when I lose control,” she said. Years ago, she insists, it all seemed completely inexplicable. |~|

“Still, somewhere within her, she began to trace a clear line between her inner state and the events of her nineteenth year. “After I go married, the family would yell at me, and even when I’m beaten, I can’t respond, and I don’t know why. But deep inside, I remember, oh, that’s what it is: the bomb, the aftereffects of the bomb. It’s worse than the day of the bomb.” |~|

Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Nagasaki Memorial

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world saw how terrible nuclear warfare was. Since the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki no atomic bombs have been detonated except in tests and no one has died from nuclear weapons. In the meantime about 50 million people have been killed in various wars by, for the most part, cheap, mass produced weapons and small caliber ammunition.

Kang Sug-won, professor emertius at Hartwick College, wrote in the Korean Times, “As the reality of the carnage began to sink in,” Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, “became a haunted man. On Oct. 25, he went to see Truman. “Mr. President,” he told him, “I feel I have blood on my hands.” It is not known what Truman told him in reply, but he is said to have shown his visitor the door. Later Truman told his secretary of state, “I don’t want to see that son of a bitch in this office again.”

Hiroshima and Nagasaki led the Japanese to believe that they were as much victims of World War II as they were aggressors. The scale of death caused the atomic bombs was much greater than anything the Japanese were responsible for except for maybe the Rape of Nanking. The Peace Museum in Hiroshima portrays the Japanese as victims. School children in Japan have been shown films of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and told that Americans were responsible without detailing the background and context of the bombing. In his book Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan, Ian Buruma wrote: "Hiroshima in Japan is more than a symbol of national martyrdom; Hiroshima is a symbol of absolute evil, often compared to Auschwitz."

By the early 2000s, many older Japanese began to worry that the message from Hiroshima was being lost and Hiroshima survivors expressed concerns over Japan shedding its postwar pacifism. Survivors that told their stories to school groups said the stares of the students was getting blanker and blanker and their boredom. more palpable. Many young people in Hiroshima don't even now what year the atomic bomb exploded.

Joichi Ito, a Japanese -American venture capitalist, wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki still plays a part in the imagery of popular culture. But more meaningful reference to Japan’s nuclear past, like those of the story of Godzilla...have morphed into the cultural equivalent of elevator music.”

The Enola Gay went on display at the National Air and Space Museum Annex outside Washington D.C. in December 2003 with only a small explanation of what it was used for. The U.S. got into trouble with Japan when it planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima by issuing a stamp that had a picture of mushroom cloud with the caption: "Atomic bombs hastened the war's end."

Fukuryu Maru, a Japanese fishing caught at Bikini, See Marshall Islands.

Hibakusha Trauma Passed Down Through the Generations

Sarah Stillman wrote in The New Yorker, “Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother) but also, in ways both culturally and historically particular, her own? In recent years, a public-health hypothesis has emerged that one of the world’s most poorly understood pandemics isn’t a conventional virus—like H1N1, say, or some hemorrhagic fever. This hypothesis suggests that untended wartime trauma can move vertically and horizontally through individuals and families, morphing across years, decades, or even centuries. Sabath began considering the prospect as early as high school, after certain overpowering symptoms emerged on a family visit to Hiroshima when she was six. [Source: Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker, August 12, 2014 |~|]

“Keni Sabath grew up in Hawaii and Texas, the child of a New Jersey-born Navy JAG officer and a fashionable Taiwan-born language tutor. Like her older sister Zena, Keni often spent her days with her bachan, who lived in their home for years before joining Keni’s aunt Minori in Ohio. In the summers, the family would travel back to Japan. “I first became aware of my grandmother’s experience in a very disturbing way, when I was six years old,” Keni Sabath told me after my Ohio visit. “I went to the Peace Park in Hiroshima with my grandmother and my mom. We walked by the river and my mom would translate, ‘This river here was turned into a blood river, and people would jump into it and their skin would burn off.’ ” The family proceeded to the local memorial museum, where life-size wax statues depicted local children fleeing the bombing site, their skin melting and their clothing singed. “The children were my height!” Sabath said. “It was so hard for me to reconcile that hell with the current city. I couldn’t understand: How were people over it?” |~|

“Sabath’s crying became incessant thereafter. She couldn’t sleep; each time she saw a plane in the air, she panicked, just as her grandmother continued to do. “My mother ended up taking me to a witch doctor,” she told me. “They thought I was haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima” (called yurie, or faint spirits). For years, the yurie resurfaced in Sabath each summer, making her anxious, watchful, her eyes skyward. |~|

“In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts like Shoji’s and Sabath’s through the framework of “trans-generational trauma,” which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of “secondary trauma” in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms “similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.” More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, “Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.” Instead, he proposed, “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.” |~|

“But even metaphors of trauma as contagion feel inadequate, or even potentially counterproductive; for one thing, they can get mixed up with questions of shame and stigma, seeming to assign blame or stir up anxieties about contamination where the antidote to both is needed. And stigma, too, gets internalized. As a small child, Sabath said, when she began to fear a plane above, “I would think, how could I let the plane know that I was American?” She would beg her father to come along to Japan during the summers, thinking, “My white military dad—a Navy JAG officer—he signalled my identity, my patriotic Americanness.” Only in his presence could she feel, as the mixed-race grandchild of a hibakusha, that “there is no way you would ever harm us.” |~|

“When she reached high school, Sabath became a debating champion and made nuclear proliferation her focus. She went on to college at Yale and visited the White House as a student leader for Global Zero, the international nuclear-disarmament group, for which she recently authored a personal essay on her bachan’s “scenes of living hell.” “I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it,” she wrote.” |~|

Kana Miyoshi: Granddaughter Hiroshima Survivor Learns About Nuclear Deterence

Motoko Rich wrote in the New York Times: Kana “Miyoshi is a senior at Hiroshima City University. She is the granddaughter of Yoshie Miyoshi, a survivor who lost her father and one of her brothers in the bombing. As she was growing up, Ms. Miyoshi never asked her grandmother to tell her story. But in college, she was invited to a workshop in gathering testimony in the Marshall Islands, the site of numerous nuclear tests after World War II. She has since recorded her grandmother’s story on video and wants more people to hear the memories. [Source: Motoko Rich, New York Times, May 27, 2016 ~|~]

“Growing up in Hiroshima, Ms. Miyoshi said she was taught to regard nuclear weapons as “unconditionally evil” and she said she never knew about Japan’s aggression in the war. But as a political science major who also spent her junior semester at the University of Hawaii, she has started to consider other views. “I found out that in other countries there is the opinion that nuclear weapons can act as deterrence,” she said. ~|~


Hibakusha talking to tourists


“As for Japan’s role, she said, “we should not talk only from the victims’ side. We also can be the offenders.” Ms. Miyoshi, who recalled writing a letter to President Obama in 2009 asking him to come to Hiroshima, said she was grateful for his visit. She said neither she nor her grandmother expected an apology. “It’s only a formality,” she said. “It’s meaningless to talk about formalities.”“ ~|~

Hibakusha Getting Too Old to Tell Their Hiroshima Stories

The average age of the 183,000 registered survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks rose just above 80 for the first time in July 2015. “People like me are losing the strength to talk about their experiences and continue the campaign against nuclear weapons,” Sunao Tsuboi, a retired school principal who has travelled the world to warn of the horrors of nuclear warfare, told The Guardian. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, August 4, 2015 <~>]

“I won’t be here in 10 or 15 years’ time, so the question we’re all asking is how to continue sending our message,” Hiroko Hatakeyama, who was six in 1945, told The Guardian. “I barely have the energy to campaign these days, and I’m no longer scared of dying. But at the same time I realise that it’s our duty as survivors to carry on for as long as possible, to honour the memory of those who are no longer with us.” <~>

Justin McCurry wrote in The Guardian, “ While the A-bomb survivors’ testimony is now a matter of historical record, the hibakusha are trying to ensure that their experiences don’t die with them, at a time when the world is facing nuclear threats from North Korea and Russia.” In 2015, “one of the most active branches of Hidankyo announced it would disband after its members, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s, conceded they were too old to continue their activities. “In 10 years, I’d be surprised if there are many of us left,” says Hiroshi Shimizu, a Hidankyo official who was three years old when the Hiroshima bomb exploded a mile (1.6km) from his home. “If the hibakusha continue to speak out against nuclear weapons, then other people will follow suit. That’s why we have to continue our campaign for as long as we are physically able.” <~>

“Hiroshima and Kunitachi, a small city in western Tokyo with a small population of A-bomb survivors, have tried to preserve the hibakusha legacy by setting up “storyteller” courses open to people who have no direct experience of the attacks and no A-bomb survivors among their relatives. Hidankyo, meanwhile, has started reaching out to the children and grandchildren of hibakusha. <~>

Hiroshima Today


Hiroshima today is a city with 1.6 million people, 500 bridges and a baseball team called the Carp. It is regarded as one of Japan's most spacious and beautiful cities because they city was rebuilt from scratch under the guidance of 30 master planners who made room for parks and wide green boulevards. Hiroshima is dominated by Mitsubishi and Mazda, both of whom have numerous plants and facilities here.

American baseball player Luis Medina, a former Major Leaguer who played for the Hiroshima Carp, told National Geographic in the 1990s, "Here, in the place we bombed 50 years ago, it sort of freaks me out to get at bat and see there's somebody out there, a Japanese, waving the American flag. It's a really good feeling.” Still antipathy over the bombing endures. In 2010, a a female Hiroshima survivor, said she would never go to America to this day because she hates the Americans.

Central Hiroshima was covered with a layer of topsoil. Dig down underneath this layer at Hiroshima Peace Park and you will find the bones of bomb victims. Students make up a quarter of the 1.2 million annual visitors to the peace park. Many of these students would rather go to an amusement park. School trips to Hiroshima often incorporate one day at the peace park and another day doing something more fun.

Every year Hiroshima and Nagasaki hold events that commemorate the days the atom bombs were dropped. To honor the victims of Hiroshima, lanterns are placed on a branch of the Ota River. The 62nd anniversary in 2007 of the A-bombing was honored with a ceremony attended by 40,000 people and ambassadors from 42 countries. Despite this men still go to a "radon spring" in Misasa during the Madame Curie Festival to bath in radioactive water which they believe promotes good health.

Last Train to Hiroshima

Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times: “The Last Train From Hiroshima” is a clear-eyed catalog of every such horror, and not for the weak-stomached. Mr. Pellegrino follows his survivors as they trudge through wastelands that make “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy read like “Goodnight, Moon.” [Source: Dwight Garner, New York Times, January 19, 2010]

Mr. Pellegrino, whose many previous books include “Ghosts of the Titanic” (he also served as a scientific consultant to the director James Cameron on his Titanic expeditions and on “Avatar”), relates many stories in this book, not only those of wounded survivors but also of American and Japanese pilots and many others.

He pays particular attention to forensic detail, and provides a slow-motion, almost instant-by-instant explanation of how the atom bomb discharged its fury. There is not a lot that is new here, but “The Last Train From Hiroshima” is a firm, compelling synthesis of earlier memoirs and archival material, as well as of the author’s own interviews and research. This is gleaming, popular wartime history, John Hersey infused with Richard Preston and a fleck of Michael Crichton.

This isn’t a book that wrestles deeply with the moral calculus of the decision to drop the atomic bombs. Mr. Pellegrino doesn’t say whether he agrees with Paul Fussell, who wrote in “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb” that “the degree to which Americans register shock and extraordinary shame about the Hiroshima bomb correlates closely with lack of information about the Pacific war.”

Book: The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back by Charles Pellegrino, Henry Holt, 2010

Problems with the Last Train to Hiroshima

“The Last Train from Hiroshima” claims to reveal a secret accident with the atom bomb that killed one American and irradiated others and greatly reduced the weapon’s destructive power. William Broad wrote in the New York Times: “There is just one problem. That section of the book and other technical details of the mission are based on the recollections of Joseph Fuoco, who is described as a last-minute substitute on one of the two observation planes that escorted the Enola Gay. [Source: William Broad, New York Times, February 20, 2010

“But Mr. Fuoco, who died in 2008 at age 84 and lived in Westbury, N.Y., never flew on the bombing run, and he never substituted for James R. Corliss, the plane’s regular flight engineer, Mr. Corliss’s family says. They, along with angry ranks of scientists, historians and veterans, are denouncing the book and calling Mr. Fuoco an impostor. Facing a national outcry and the Corliss family’s evidence, the author, Charles Pellegrino, now concedes that he was probably duped. In an interview, he said he would rewrite sections of the book for paperback and foreign editions. “I’m stunned,” Mr. Pellegrino said. “I liked and admired the guy. He had loads and loads of papers, and photographs of everything.”The public record has to be repaired, he added. “You can’t have wrong history going out,” he said. “It’s got to be corrected.” [Ibid]

“Mr. Corliss died in 1999, but his family preserved the documentary evidence of his participation in the historic flight, including an air medal from President Harry S. Truman. “We’re so distraught,” Ethel D. Corliss, Mr. Corliss’s widow, said in an interview. “Thank God he’s not alive. He was so proud.” [Ibid]

“The unnamed B-29 bomber at the center of the uproar flew escort on the bombing run on Aug. 6, 1945, and photographed the mushroom cloud. According to the book, Mr. Fuoco became the bomber’s flight engineer at the last minute when Mr. Corliss fell ill, and he made detailed observations of Hiroshima’s destruction from his seat as the plane’s flight engineer. Not so, say the two surviving members of the flight crew.Russell Gackenbach, the flight’s navigator, called Mr. Corliss a good friend. “From my seat in the airplane, we could shake hands,” he said in an interview. “There’s no way on earth Corliss was not on that mission.” [Ibid]

“The book focuses mainly on survivor tales, with the bomb problems an added drama. It credits Mr. Fuoco with solving a top-secret puzzle involving what he claimed was an accident with the Hiroshima weapon, known as Little Boy, as it was being readied at an air base on Tinian, an island in the Western Pacific. A burst of radiation killed a young scientist, the book says, and damage to the nuclear fuel assembly cut the bomb’s destructive power by more than half. The book repeatedly calls the weapon “a dud.” “Joe Fuoco brought all the puzzle pieces together,” Mr. Pellegrino said in a comment on Amazon.com. [Ibid]

“Mr. Fuoco’s assertions, however, have upset the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the bomb. It says the device suffered no accident and no technical failures. Its initial blast killed an estimated 70,000 people. The book’s claims, said Alan Carr, the official historian at Los Alamos, read “more like a technically dubious piece of fiction than a historical rendering of actual events.” [Ibid]

Last Train to Hiroshima Publication Stopped But James Cameron Still Plans to Make a Film From It

After the revelation Henry Holt stopped printing the book. The New York Times reported the publisher said it had continuing questions beyond the Fuoco issue that Pellegrino did not answer satisfactorily. Nicole Dewey, a Holt spokeswoman, said it questioned whether the Rev. John MacQuitty, a priest quoted in the book, and another priest, a Father Mattias, named by Mr. Pellegrino, actually existed. Ms. Dewey said the publisher also had questions about Mr. Pellegrino’s doctorate. In a statement yesterday, Stephen Rubin, the president of Henry Holt, said, “Without the confidence that we can stand behind the work in its entirety, we cannot continue to sell this product to our customers.” [Source: Motoko Rich, New York Times, March 1, 2010]

Pellegrino told the New York Times said he had produced documentation to prove the existence of Father MacQuitty. But he said he forgot to disclose in the book’s acknowledgments that he had used a pseudonym for the priest. “They couldn’t find him, and when I said I had changed his name, that started the panic,” said Mr. Pellegrino. He added that he tried to protect Father MacQuitty because of the priest’s compassion for Father Mattias, who had committed suicide.

Mr. Pellegrino said that the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, which he lists on his Web site, charlespellegrino.com, as the institution where he earned his doctorate, had stripped him of his Ph.D. because of a disagreement over evolutionary theory. But Barbara Marriott, the employment relations manager for Victoria said in an e-mail message that Mr. Pellegrino did not have a Ph.D. from the university. She said the university was investigating the situation.

James Cameron, director of “Avatar” and “Titanic,” planned to make a film based on “ Last Train to Hiroshima” before the problems with the book were revealed and insisted theat he still planned to produce a movie about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the problems became public. In an e-mail message to The Associated Press, Mr. Cameron defended Mr. Pellegrino. “All I know is that Charlie would not fabricate,” Mr. Cameron wrote, “so there must be a reason for the misunderstanding.” He added that his movie does not “have a shooting script and no decision has been made to proceed in the short term.” [Source: Dave Itzkoff, New York Times, March 4, 2010]

Image Sources: National Archives of the United States; Wikimedia Commons; Gensuikan; YouTube

Text Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, Lonely Planet Guides, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Eyewitness to History , edited by John Carey ( Avon Books, 1987), Compton’s Encyclopedia, History of Warfare by John Keegan, Vintage Books, Eyewitness to History.com, The Good War An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel, Hamish Hamilton, 1985, BBC’s People’s War website and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2016

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