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Effects of the Hiroshima Bombing

Updated on June 8, 2015
Atomic cloud over Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945
Atomic cloud over Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945 | Source

The First Use of the Atomic Bomb

The morning of August 6, 1945 did not begin in any exceptional way in Hiroshima, Japan; in fact, the people had no idea that they were about to be part of one of the most significant mornings in all of history. At 8:15 A. M., the United States Army Air Force dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in war, ironically called "Little Boy." Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb, nicknamed "Fat Man," on the town of Nagasaki, Japan.

Historically, the use of the atomic bombs has been seen as a decision the United States made during World War II in order to end the war with Japan; this decision will be further discussed later in this article. Regardless of the motivation for using the bombs, they left a death toll of 210,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Neuharth, 2005). This paper will focus on the first bombing, in Hiroshima. The bombing of Hiroshima, Japan changed the physical and emotional health, and the culture of the Japanese people; it also changed the world.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the population in Japan in October 1940 was estimated to be 73,114,308; in November 1945 the population was estimated at 71,998,104. Japan was visibly a thriving country that was hit very hard by the bombing.

Why Did the US Drop the Bomb?

Why did the United States drop the bomb on Japan in August 1945? Was Japan a threat? Or more disturbingly, was the U.S. just testing out its power?

In 1945, most people in the United States had no doubt that it was necessary to bomb Japan. The citizens of the United States thought that the bombings brought about the end of the Pacific war, and saved countless lives (Frank, 2005). At the time of the bombing, 50 million people had already died in World War II (Kingsbury, 2005). On the other hand, some critics state that Japan's situation in 1945 was already "catastrophically hopeless," and that prior to the bombing, in summer 1945, Japanese leaders were preparing to surrender. It has even been suggested that the United States had decoded Japan's messages, and was aware of the impending surrender when they dropped the bomb; if true, this would mean the horrors unleashed on Hiroshima were completely unnecessary. Lastly, and most disturbingly, it has been suggested that President Truman dropped the bomb to intimidate the USSR (Frank, 2005). It is likely that we will never know the complete truth of why the bomb was dropped, but what is distressingly clear are the facts of what came after the bomb.

Physical and Health Effects of the Hiroshima Bombing

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings brought about very painful physical effects that crippled the nation of Japan for many years. Those who survived the initial blast suffered from radiation exposure. Forty-five percent of the 280,000 people who survived the exposure were still alive sixty years later, and become part of the largest study ever conducted of the long-term effects of radiation poisoning. The study resulted in many upsetting findings.

One of the most significant findings was that exposure to radiation increases the long-term risks of cancer and that the risk lasts a lifetime. Unborn children exposed to radiation on average grew up smaller and less intelligent than their peers. Their risk of developing leukemia peaked after ten years (Yong & Edwards, 2005). Many of the women who were pregnant at the time of the bombing gave birth to children with congenital malformations attributed to the radiation (Ohara, 2005).

Ryoko Ohara, in her 2005 article about the experiences of nurses immediately after the bombing, writes, "Within hours, the enormity of the attacks had become apparent; long queues formed at first aid stations and hospitals, but most of the Atomic Bomb Victims with third-degree burns were unable to reach first aid stations and died on the way" (Ohara, 12). Ohara says "those who did make it to help had burns so severe that, not only were the person's clothes completely burned away, the extent of their injuries made it impossible to establish their gender." Due to their wounds, only ten percent of the bombing victims were expected to live past two weeks. Not only were the nurses exhausted, but they quickly ran out of supplies, and the treatment available was not sophisticated enough to help the worst wounded. Ultimately, there was no cure for the unbelievable pain that the victims endured. Feeling helpless, the nurses could only wait for the atomic bomb victims to die. In 1945, there was almost no experience with acute radiation poisoning, and so the nurses believed that the city had been struck with an outbreak of dysentery in the first few weeks following the explosion. Official figures confirm that 89,833 people died; probably another 50,000 were killed (but were not identified or included in official figures); and between 350,000 and 360,000 were subsequently identified as "atomic bomb victims" (Hiroshima City 1971, Ohara 12).

The variety of physical symptoms that survivors experienced following the bombings was great. According to the Journal of the Hiroshima Medical Association in 1967, commonly reported symptoms included amnesia, "emotional intolerance," dizziness, having a heavy head or constant headache, insomnia, and disturbances of metabolism and nutrition. The bombings also caused liver dysfunction, cardiovascular disorders, and endocrinological diseases.

Injuries from Hiroshima bomb
Injuries from Hiroshima bomb | Source

Effects on the Land

The explosion occurred less than half a mile above the city and destroyed 90 percent of the downtown buildings (Bowerman 2006). The effects on the land were devastating. The bomb literally destroyed everything in its path. Almost no one within 800 meters of the bomb's blast survived (Powell 2005). Shockingly, just the shells of two buildings were left standing in the immediate vicinity of the explosion site. The decimated land was such a horrifying sight that the US occupation authorities, fearing retaliation from the Japanese even after a formal surrender, seized all photographs of the destruction. It is beyond most people's comprehension what it must have been like for the survivors. Already traumatized by the bomb itself, the people still had to face collecting and then disposing of the bodies, and then cleaning up the wreckage. Over 11.5 square kilometers had to be cleared; the process took an exhausting four years to complete (Powell 2005).

What was left after the bombing
What was left after the bombing

Effects on Families

One of the most tragic consequences was the damage done to Hiroshima's families. According to the Atomic Bomb Museum, there were 6,500 orphans in the city of Hiroshima following the bombing. It is estimated that 4,000 of these children were orphaned due to the bombing. Alone in the world with no one to care for them, these children faced a terrifying plight, in a city that was left in ruins. While some found their way safely through this world, many more were forced to live a life of crime to survive, or were even less lucky and lost the battle to sickness or suicide.

Another population that was struck extra hard by the bombing was the elderly. Dependent on their offspring or spouses to support them in their later years, many thousands found themselves completely lost when their loved ones were killed (Atomic Bomb Museum, 2005). It was very hard for this population to recover from the bomb if they were injured. Because there is little research about this population, we can only guess at what their experience was like.

Emotional Effects

Although the Japanese culture does not always openly discuss emotions, the people did face emotional damage due to the bombings (Steinkopff 2004). Japanese culture has high expectations that its people should cope with stress on their own (Goto & Wilson 2003). This pain and stress were mostly seen through somatization symptoms and anxiety. Other symptoms reported were survivor guilt, a sense of being tainted or contaminated, traumatic dreams and flashbacks, avoidance, and emotional detachment. Those that were closer to the explosion reported higher levels of anxiety than those who were located farther away. Even after seventeen years, those who had experienced the bombing were still reporting higher levels of anxiety than their peers who had not; these findings show that the emotional effects of the bomb were long term (Steinkopff 2004).

Such extreme anxiety is completely imaginable when one looks at all the things that the Japanese people were forced to face almost instantaneously. Not only were people dying everywhere, but for the first time people were faced with the genuine possibility that a weapon had been created that could easily annihilate the entire human race. The immensity of the incredible destruction and chaos inflicted on the survivors had never been seen before. Never before had one bomb impacted any people, area, or environment so greatly. In addition, the medical consequences of radiation exposure were not well understood at that time, making the lives of survivors that much more challenging. Lastly, because the consequences of radiation were poorly understood, survivors were stigmatized (Goto & Wilson 2003).

The Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb
The Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb | Source

Pilot Had No Regrets

Unlike the people of Hiroshima, the man who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb suffered no evident emotional trauma. The pilot, Paul Tibbets, said he has no regrets about using the bomb (Terkel 2002). In fact, he named the plane Enola Gay after his mother. Tibbets said, "[I] did was I was told." He said he was defending his country to the best of his ability. He also said that he knew that he would be killing a lot of people, but he understood he would also save a lot of lives, because after the bombing the US would not have to invade Japan. Tibbets recognized that innocent people were killed, but said, "We've never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people."


Despite their incredible loss and hurt, the people of Hiroshima have pushed forward. No city in the world has so much cause to protest the development of nuclear weapons. Between 1968 and 2004, the mayors of Hiroshima wrote 588 protest letters to all the heads of nations planning or considering nuclear weapons tests (Bowerman 2006).

Initially the survivors were focused on retaliation, but over time their focus shifted to educating others about what their people had to go through.

Can an Act Like the Hiroshima Bombing Be Justified?

Was the bomb ever really needed? Could the US have done without killing so many people and still be a leading country? Was it possible this killing didn't have to happen? Clearly the bombings were not absolutely necessary. From our present viewpoint, our killing of thousands and thousands of innocent people looks ridiculous, and not completely thought through. Many people debate whether it really was necessary to drop the bomb; it did so much damage, yet many support their government because they believe the military is keeping the US safe. But is there more?

Might other countries who can produce such a deadly weapon use it without having any emotion? Might another country, like the US, kill innocent people in the belief that it would benefit many others? As of 2006, countries with the capability to drop a bomb like this included the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, India, and Pakistan. Countries such as North Korea and Israel strongly believed that they had a bomb this powerful.

How can we as a world use education to stop another bombing like the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, in the early morning of August 6th, 1945? Is it at all possible? Today, Hiroshima is a pleasant and prosperous city, totaling 1.1 million people, but it wasn't always like that.

From this information, I hope that we all conclude that an attack such as the bombing of Hiroshima is not the right thing to do. Unless all alternatives are exhausted, there is no justification for kiling innocent people. This bombing changed the world physically and mentally; it also killed off many things needed to make this world a better place to live. Until we can find peace among one another, bombings and fighting will occur. But let's pray that none occurs with the severity that was visited on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

Hiroshima, Japan today
Hiroshima, Japan today


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