The Peace Museum in Hiroshima presents its anti-nuclear message
with all the subtlety of a sledge-hammer. Any attempt at describing the
visual and mental experience of walking through it would fall well short
. There are scale models of the city as it stood at 8 AM on August 6,
1945 and what remained when the last fire burned itself out. There are
pictures and video of the damage both to the buildings and inhabitants
What follows are some examples of the descriptive text accompanying
the exhibits. Re-reading them now, I am struck by the reduced impact of
these statements when taken out of the context of the museum.
Japan's military situation in the Pacific War worsened in 1945.
Imperial headquarters foresaw that the Japanese mainland would become
a battlefield and called for "100 million deaths with honour."
President Truman's national address on August 7, 1945:
"The basic power of the universe has been harnessed
for war by the United States. The force from which the sun draws its
powers has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East."
Three factors probably lead to the hasty deployment of the
atomic bomb just days after the first successful test:
- In forcing Japanese capitulation the US averted the high
cost of lives likely to accompany a conventional assault of Japan
- At Yalta in 1945, Stalin promised a Soviet presence in the
Pacific war. The US secured its political presence by forcing Japan's
surrender before Soviet involvement.
- Measure the effectiveness of the bomb as a weapon.
By August 1945 most Japanese cities had been destroyed by air
raids. Hiroshima was unusually spared. It's choice as the primary target
of attacks was probably determined by:
- The size and shape of the city was suited to A-bomb power
and since there was no existing damage, assessing effectiveness of
the bomb would be relatively easy.
- Despite being previously spared as an air-raid target, Hiroshima
was an important city with high concentrations of troops, military
hardware, industry and it was a transportation hub.
On August 10 the Japanese government formally protested the
new bomb, claiming it to be a cruel, inhuman weapon that violated international
Those who survived called the A-bomb 'pika don'. 'Pika' referred
to the flash of light. 'Don' was an onomatopoeic reference to the tremendous
On a charred wall at Fukuromachi Elementary school, about 500
meters from the hypocentre, people scrawled news and messages in chalk.
In addition, small message boards were setup at the ruins of burnt houses
telling of family members who had died or where survivors were taking
On or about August 8, a Japanese study team discovered that
film in a hospital x-ray room had been exposed. From this evidence,
the Japanese government deduced that the new bomb was atomic.
During September and October of the year, another team of Japanese
scientists surveyed residual radiation. The documentary film they produced
during their study was confiscated by the occupation forces and taken
to the US. It was finally returned to Hiroshima in 1973.
In October 1945, US soldiers and scientists surveyed and measured
what was called the A-bomb effect. The complete results of that study
have yet to be made public.
The atomic bomb that exploded 580 meters above Hiroshima was
powered by splitting 855 grams of uranium. The energy released was equivalent
to 15,000 tons of TNT.
The splitting of uranium nuclei generated both initial radiation
(gamma rays and neutrons) and residual radiation. The neutron radiation
lasted a brief instant. The initial gamma rays remained at dangerous
levels for approximately 20 seconds. Residual radiation consisted of
gamma and beta rays emitted over an extended period.
The bomb created a high-temperature, high-pressure fireball
which grew to a diameter of approximately 410 meters one second after
detonation. The fireball emitted intense thermal rays for up to three
seconds and continued to glow for approximately ten seconds. The shock
wave at the leading edge of the blast traveled eleven kilometers in
The super-hot fireball (several million degrees in the center)
emitted thermal rays primarily as ultraviolet and visible light radiation.
The temperature on the ground near the hypocenter reached 3,000 to 11,000
The fireball created a super-sonic shockwave and pressures
of several hundred thousand atmospheres. On the ground near the hypocenter
this pressure reached 35 tons per square meter. The intial shockwave
was followed by winds blowing 440 meters per second.
The following is a verse from "Flower of Summer"
(Natsu no Hana), a collection of short stories by Tamik Hara (1905-1951),
writer and A-bomb survivor.
- This is a human being?
- Look how the atom bomb changed it.
- Flesh swells fearfully.
- All men and women take one shape.
- The voice that trickles from swollen lips
- On the festering charred-black face
- Whispers the thin words,
- "Please, help me."
- This, this is a human being.
- This is the face of a human being.
There were two types of residual radiation. Induced radiation
resulted from the interaction of initial radiation neutrons with the
materials in the ground and buildings. Fallout ("Ashes of Death")
derived from fission fragments produced when the uranium atoms were
split. Levels of induced radiation remained high for approximately 100
hours within 11 kilometers of the hypocenter. Radiation from fallout
and fission fragments was weaker but lasted longer. Furthermore, large
amounts of radioactive material fell in the "Black Rain."
The damage done to human bodies by radiation has been referred
to generally as A-bomb disease, or radiation sickness.
Acute damage refers to symptoms that appear within four months.
In addition to complications associated with burns and external injuries,
common symptoms of radiation sickness include hair loss, bleeding, lowered
levels of white blood cells.
The symptoms known as after-effects began with keloids, which
appeared the year after the bombing. Later, radiation produced high
rates of cataracts, leukemia and various cancers. It also produced high
rates of birth defects among those exposed in-utero.
Some victims who entered the city after the bombing became
sick or died from what is believed to be exposure to residual radiation.
In and around what was known as the genbaku sebaku (A-bomb
desert) the city struggled to gather enough manpower to dispose of the
corpses, but many remained in view nearly two weeks after the bombing.
Some symptoms of A-bomb disease imitate dysentary. Thus, many
health care providers were surprised by what seemed to be an epidemic
of dysentery spreading throughout the city and surrounding areas. Only
later was the cause found to be radiation.
After the bombing violent fires raged throughout the city,
and a giant windstorm broke out. Heavy rain fell over the north-west
of Hiroshima. For the first hour or two the rain fell black, discoloured
by mud, dust blown up at the time of the explosion. The soot too was
strongly radioactive. It killed many fish in the rivers and ponds and
people who drank well water suffered from terrible diarrhea for up to
three months aftwerward.
After the A-bomb sickness had passed, healed scar tissue became
thick and contracted, toughening and wrinkling the skin to form growths
known as keloids. This symptom was most common during 1946-1947. Keloids
developed on fifty to sixty percent of those who suffered first-degree
burns within about 2 kilometers of the hypocenter. Being grotesque,
painful and itchy they caused people both physical and mental suffering.
Huge numbers of people unable to endure their injuries or burns,
jumped into the river that runs in front of the A-bomb dome. Thousands
of corpses were seen floating in all Hiroshimas rivers. The once majestic
dome of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall will be
preserved in perpetuity on the bank of the Motoyatsu River as a mute
reminder of the tragedy and concrete appeal for world peace.
Several days after the A-bombing, many children could be seen
wandering alone, or in groups, through the burnt ruins of the city.
Thousands had been evacuated prior to the bombing and returned later
to find that their guardians had perished. THese "A-bomb orphans"
were housed in camps, but many died from the effects of radiation or
At noon on August 15, 1945, those who had survived the war
heard the Emperor's voice on the radio. "...the enemy used a cruel
new bomb..." The voice, distorted by static, faded in and out,
but the message was clear. Japan had surrendered unconditionally to
The people of Hiroshima greeted the news with mixed emotions.
Bitter at the defeat, dazed by disaster, and mourning the relatives
they had lost to the atomic bomb, they were also relieved that the threat
of further bombing was gone. They had been assured for years of Japan's
certain victory. Now they were facing a turbulent, uncertain future.
Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of nuclear weapons in
war has been prevented but there have been consistent outbreaks of crisis
in which their use was a possibility. The following list summarizes
past incidents in which the United States contemplated the possibility
of using nuclear weapons.
1946, March Deployment of Soviet Army to Iran
1946, November Shooting down of US plane by Yugoslavia
1948, January Inauguration of a new Uraguayan President
1948, Apr-Jun Sealing off of West Berlin by Soviet Union
1950, June Break-out of war in Korea
1953, August Deterioration of Korean War
1954, Apr-May Offer to supply French in Vietnam w/ A-bomb
1954, May Guatemala chooses pro-Soviet policy
1945, August China's liberation of Taiwan
1958, July Iraq military coup and Taiwan Strait crisis
1959, May Berlin issue
1961, June Berlin issue
1962, October Cuban missile crisis
1968, January Seizure of USS Pueblo by North Korea
1968, February Vietnam War (Battle of Quesan)
1969, November Intensification of Vietnam War
1970, September Invasion of Jorday by Syria
1973, October Desire to halt 4th Middle-East War
1980, January Desire to halt Iran Crisis
1991, January Anticipation of chemical weapons use
by Iraq in Persian Gulf War
Hibakusha [survivors of the A-bombs] say simply, "I met
with the A-bomb." Perhaps they use this expressioni because the
event they "met with" defies description, an instant of massive
destruction, mind-numbing death and injuries and grief of watching helplessly
as family members, relatives, friends and neigbours died in agony. They
also say, "It's painful even to remember." The A-bomb witnesses
have overcome that pain and are passing on their experiences of that
day. They feel duty bound to tell the world why nuclear weapons must
never be used again.
(holders of Hibakusha health book)
(As of March 31, 1993 -- 48 years after the bomb)
The number of hibakusha in Japan 339,034
Hibakusha living in Hiroshima 101,939
Total population of Hiroshima 1,086,536
Sadako Sasaki, exposed to the A-bomb in Hiroshima at the age
of two contracted leukemia a decade later, and in 1955 died at the age
of 12. Believing that folding 1,000 paper cranes would cure her disease,
Sadako folded one after another in her hospital bed. After her death,
her classmates at the Nabori-machi elementary school conducted prayer
meetings to console the souls of many children who were killed by the
A-bomb. They also initiated a movement that lead to the Children's Peace
Sadako's story has spread throughout the world and through
it, folded paper cranes have become a symbol of peace. At the foot of
the Children's Peace Monument lies a continuously replenished pile of
folded cranes sent from all over the world.
Successive mayors of Hiroshima have sent telegrams protesting
every nuclear weapons test since 1968. The telegrams are sent to the
countries responsible for the tests, and each expresses the fervent
hope that it will be the last such telegram.