Read John Hersey's incredible 1946 New Yorker story about the bombing of Hiroshima

Originally published at:


It’s an incredibly powerful piece that brings home the horrible end to an incomprehensibly horrible war.


I think this song should be obligatory on any post about Hiroshima today…


We (unfortunately) have real time video of an actual urban explosion from Beirut. The Beirut explosion was 2.7 kilotons of ammonium nitrate. How does that compare with the 15 kt explosion at Hiroshima? How does that compare with the nuclear weapons of today?


Beautiful and haunting song.


When we walked to New York City in 1982 for nuclear disarmament, we carried photos of survivirs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One book I bought at the War Resister’s League once we got there was a book by Millen Brand. In 1977 he and Jim Peck went to Japan and walked between Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Brand wrote about it, I guess it’s considered in poetry form.

I’m still thinking I might go in five years, an even number and maybe I can get some senior disciunts.

There was an article in the paper yesterday about how the survivors are fading away. Just from old age. It’s been so long that the ones still alive were mostly very young at the time.


“The world of the dead is a different place from the world of the living and it is hardly possible to visit there. That day in Hiroshima the two worlds nearly converged. ‘The inundation with death of the area closes to the hypocenter,’ writes the American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who interviewed survivors at length, ‘ was such that if a man survived within a thousand meters (0.6 miles) and was out of doors…more than nine tenths of the people around him were fatalities.’ Only the living, however inundated, can describe the dead; but where death claimed nine out of ten or, closer to the hypocenter, ten out of ten, a living voice describing necessarily distorts. Survivors are like us; but the dead are radically changed, without voice or civil rights or recourse. Along with their lives they have been deprived of participation in the human world. ‘There was a fearful silence which made one feel that all people and all trees and vegetation were dead,’ remembers Yoko Ota, a Hiroshima writer who survived. The silence was the only sound the dead could make….They were nearer to the center of the event; they died because they were members of a different polity and their killing did not therefore count officially as murder; their experience most accurately models the worst case of our common future. They numbered in the majority in Hiroshima that day.”


My father was completing training at a base in the US as an 18 year old radar operator in the Navy in 1945. He was weeks away from being shipped to the Pacific for the full scale US invasion of the Japanese mainland, when the bombs were dropped.

He told me something that aligns with that quote from the article

Those victims who were able to worry at all about what had happened thought of it and discussed it in more primitive, childish terms—gasoline sprinkled from an airplane, maybe, or some combustible gas, or a big cluster of incendiaries, or the work of parachutists;

He said there was widespread doubt that there was was a real atomic real weapon, and not, say, a barge of TNT secretly towed into Hiroshima or some other conventional weapon.

He said even a lot of people in the US and the military did not believe there was such a thing as a working atomic bomb.

That probably played a big role in the dropping of the second bomb, as surrender from the Japanese was not forthcoming after the first one. There may have been similar doubts in the Japanese government as to whether this was a real atomic weapon, and even if so as to whether the US actually had the resources to build more than one working device.


Excellent book


Compared to modern nukes, 15kt is just a rounding error.


Oh, isn’t it just? I’ve mentioned it several times on the bbs, really made an impact on me.

We’ll never know exactly what would have happened had the US not dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. But Japan was broke and it’s highly likely that they would have surrendered within a few weeks. In my opinion Truman was a war criminal responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Decedents of the survivors are still at a much higher risk of health complications such as cancer. Unfortunately schools in most countries don’t spend much time on the fucked up things ones own country has done, that’s certainly true for the UK where I grew up. Junior high school kids here learn about Hiroshima but not about things like the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’m not sure of the extent to which the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are taught in US schools or how often it’s repeated that it was the “only way” to stop the war but anything like this article that highlight how horrific it really was is welcome. Thanks for adding the comment regarding your father’s words.


I know!

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Oh hell, i forgot about that. :blush:

It may have been the Russians joining the Americans in declaring war on Japan that was the final straw. But I got a feeling that the existence of the atomic bomb provided a way to ‘save face’ for the Japanese government. The emperors radio address specifically referred to it in his speech

“The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”


Stalin declared war on Japan August 8, 1945.
We used nuclear weapons to provoke unconditional surrender August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively.

Truman had already leaked, personally, to Stalin that we had a superweapon. Stalin didn’t blink. There had been a race for Germany, now there would be a race for Japan.

I do not believe that dropping the bombs on Japan had much to do with Japan. It was the first act of Soviet containment, to prevent Japan from becoming a Soviet foothold, and to give the US a foothold right at the Soviet Union’s western border.

In my mind I see the nuclear option in Japan as the shades of vile things to come in Korea and Vietnam.


The arguments against the bomb all run counter to both reality on the ground and generally wildly discount the Japanese desire to fight for as long as possible. Even after the atomic bombings, surrender was a close run thing. An attempted coup almost removed the emperor and the surrender effort.

Japan has over a million troops within ferry distance to reinforce themselves from invasion.

Ending the war in August rather than December or later from blockade saved millions of Japanese civilian lives from famine.

I think your opinions here are far removed from facts and reality in general.


The longer the war went on, the more Japanese were going to die. Blockade had started famine conditions.

Without the bombs we would have Russian invasion of Hokkaido. A partitioned Japan on the lines of Korea. Several million more Japanese would be dead from starvation, bombing and warfare. The battle of Okinawa alone took 1/3 of the entire island’s civilian population.


Oh! So now, the narrative is that we saved all those people we spent several years maligning as mindless automatons of the emperor? WOW!


I would like to think that in some twisted way we considered the dropping of nuclear weapons the “humane” option, and maybe Truman and the rest told themselves that to make themselves feel better.

But we had almost complete air superiority at that point. We could have simply begun horrific conventional bombing campaigns like those in Germany. Nuclear weapons weren’t necessary.

They were a statement to the Soviet Union. Hiroshima today, Vladivostok next month if you don’t behave. Japan is ours, back off. It worked, too, at a horrific cost and yet another evil smear on our history.