Sometimes when we went off base, we'd visit the local orphanage. At the time I didn't realize many of the children were orphans because of a bomb our country had dropped on their daddies and mommies. My parents would invite girls my age, always two at a time for company, to come to our house on weekends. Incredibly shy, they'd eat every bite of whatever we served (whether by personal choice or by order of their director, we didn't know), giggle at Cappy and watch amazed as I showed them how to bounce on the beds. (In the orphanage they slept on futon over hard wooden floors. Futon don't bounce.) Mum and Dad even tried to adopt one of the little girls but had to give up. There was too much red tape.
During the week Dad studied children like those orphans at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
ABCC, established in 1946, began as a five-man commission whose first research program was hematological.. By 1950, it had expanded to include longitudinal studies on radiation cataracts, leukemia and other cancers, survivors' aging and mortality rates, sex ratios of survivors' offspring, and genetics.
Physically, it was a handful of quonset huts on Hijiyama, a hill in the middle of Hiroshima. There Dad worked with doctors and nurses, Australian, American, and Japanese. He studied the growth and development of children who had survived the bomb.
Daddy would be seeing Japanese children every day, measuring their height and weight and the size of their heads, photographing each one naked, facing the camera. (Their eyes were covered for modesty.)*
He would study 4,800 children over the next three years. Those were, of course, just the children who had survived. Many more had been killed and some of those Daddy examined would later become sick, go into the A-Bomb Hospital, and die of the residual effects of their exposure to radiation. Some, like Sadako Sasaki, exposed to the bomb when she was a 2-year old in her mother's arms, would not develop symptoms for ten years or more--long after Dad's first three years of research were over and after the follow-up studies on those same children had been cancelled.
When we first arrived in Nijimura, a taxi had been sent to whisk our family all the way from Nikimura to Hijiyama. We were welcomed by the ABCC staff with a party where we were handed ivory chopsticks and told to pick raw kidney beans, slippery as marbles, from one bowl to another. They had us race against Japanese nationals and foreigners who had been there a year or more. It was an initiation, really. It gave everyone a chance to laugh at us and us to laugh at ourselves.
On our way to and from the party we drove along broad, clean streets, past commercial and residential areas, the product of city planning and development by newcomers to the city after it was flattened. The city had been rebuilt mostly, we learned later, by visionaries and opportunists from the outside, who wanted to eradicate any evidence of the war and its destruction. They wanted to put the past behind them and create a model city that could compete in every way with the great cities of the world.
In ugly contrast to the rest of the wide new city, I noticed lines of unsightly shacks, just a few boards nailed thrown together any which way hugging each other precariously over Hiroshima's seven rivers. I found out after I came back to Japan as a teen that hibakusha, survivors of the blast, lived in them. Discrimination and compromised immune systems that often left them too sick or weak to work kept them from being able to afford anything better. When I visited Japan as an adult in 1990, it was illegal to have such shacks along the river and they had all disappeared.
In 1945 Hiroshima was a city of considerable military importance, containing Japan's Second Army Headquarters, which commanded the defense of all of southern Japan and the Chugoku Regional Army, as well as being a communications center, storage depot and an assembly area for troops. Hiroshima had been taken over by the Imperial Japanese forces during their war against us but it was really a city of civilians, like any other. The residents of Hiroshima had been taken over just like their city had and pressed into service for the glory of the Emperor. Even children helped clear fire breaks and collect scrap metal, wood, and paper for conversion to military uses. Every citizen down to the smallest child was trained to resist the foreign devil, if there should be an invasion, until death, using sticks in hand-to-hand combat if necessary.
Unlike our other targets in Japan this one was not a military installation but the entire city. It was one of several Japanese cities deliberately left untouched by previous American bombing, allowing a pristine environment to measure the damage caused by the atomic bomb.
The bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been developed separately, from somewhat different recipes. The first, code-named "Little Boy," used 130 lbs of uranium-235 as its fission source. Unlike the Nagasaki bomb, "Little Boy" could not be tested because there was only enough uranium-235 for one bomb.
President Truman ordered "Little Boy" dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It was carried by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393d Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. The release at 8:15 (Hiroshima time) went as planned, and "Little Boy" took 57 seconds to fall from the aircraft to the predetermined detonation height about 2,000 feet above the city. It created a blast equivalent to about 13 kilotons of TNT.
The damage from a nuclear bomb comes from three main effects: blast, fire, and radiation. The first effect of the explosion was blinding light, accompanied by radiant heat from the fireball. The Hiroshima fireball was 1,200 feet in diameter, with a temperature of 7,200 °F. The blast, the result of X-ray-heated air (the fireball) sent out a hyper-intensified shock wave which traveled at slightly above the speed of sound, turning buildings within one mile from the epicenter into shrapnel.
This created fuel for a firestorm which consumed everything two miles (3.2 km) in diameter. Two-thirds of Hiroshima was destroyed. Within three miles of the explosion, 60,000 of the 90,000 buildings were demolished. Metal and stone melted. Clay roof tiles fused together. Near ground zero, everything flammable burst into flame, glass products and sand melted into molten glass. Human beings were vaporized.
One famous, anonymous Hiroshima victim left only a shadow, permanently etched into stone steps near a bank building downtown. During the three years we were in Hiroshima, we occasionally passed that building. I used to try to imagine the person who had been sitting there. A man, probably, waiting for the bank to open. Years later that part of the steps was cut out and put on display in the Peace Museum.
Thirty percent of the population of Hiroshima were killed instantly, and another 70,000 were injured. Over 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in Hiroshima were killed or injured. The firestorm jumped man-made and natural firebreaks (the seven river channels in the city). Debris-choked roads obstructed fire fighters. Broken gas pipes fueled the fire, and broken water pipes rendered hydrants useless.
Intense neutron and gamma radiation came directly from the fireball. Most people close enough to receive lethal doses of direct radiation died in the firestorm. Some temporary survivors on the edge of the lethal area and beyond died soon afterward due to acute radiation sickness.
Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima with roughly half of the deaths occurring on the first day.
The U.S. Department of Energy adjusted early Army estimates of casualties, reporting, "By the end of 1945, because of the lingering effects of radioactive fallout and other after-effects, the Hiroshima death toll was probably over 100,000. The five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold."
When the bomb exploded, civilians died with the soldiers. In fact civilian deaths vastly outnumbered military ones. Housewives, schoolchildren, babies, the unborn. The A-bomb didn't discriminate. Among the casualties were found Allies POWs, Korean and Chinese laborers, students from Malaya on scholarships, and some 3,200 Japanese-Americans citizens.
Three days later, it all happened again in Nagasaki. Cloud cover caused Pilot Major Charles Sweeney to decide to drop "Fat Man" on the other side of a hill from the original target, where it wiped out Shiroyama Elementary School and destroyed the largest community of (Roman Catholic) Christians in Japan. (NuclearFiles.org says, "The center of Japanese Christianity became ground zero and what Japanese Imperialism couldn't do in 200 years of persecution, American Christians did in 9 seconds; the entire worshiping community of Nagasaki was wiped out.") The bomb was equivalent to 22 kilotons of TNT. Immediate death toll was later estimated at 70,000. The Nagasaki (plutonium) bomb, rather than leaving raw, red, third degree burns (or worse) and skin hanging in long shreds from arms and fingers, caused "instant carbonization of the exterior, and vaporization of the organs," as one reviewer of Nagasaki's museum pointed out in "Much Better than Hiroshima" on Tripadvisor.com, adding "There are plenty of corpse photos, which Hiroshima lacked."
|From "Nagasaki Journey:The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata" (1996)
I grew up knowing the effects of the Hiroshima (uranium) bomb and was familiar with the A-Bomb Museum, with its melted watch stopped at 8:15, the twisted, remains of a child's lunchbox with its blackened contents, the photos of patterns of clothing branded into the flesh of survivors, and the desperate human clawings on a door that had imprisoned a dying victim. My parents even had friends with grotesquely distorted fingers and lumps of ears that had melted.
But in 2011 when Nagasaki survivors led my husband Jerry and me through the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum for the first time, I got so nauseated I didn't know whether I would throw up or pass out. They took us to lunch afterward but I couldn't eat.
The memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha who are known to have died since the bombings. They are updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings. As of August 2009 the memorials record the names of more than 410,000 hibakusha, 263,945 in Hiroshima and 149,226 in Nagasaki.[update]
Dad's three years of research indicated that children exposed to radiation don't grow as tall as their counterparts. They experience more fatigue and are more susceptible to disease, particularly leukemia and other kinds of cancer. Strontium-90, a product of nuclear fission, is a "bone seeker," just as calcium is, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). Instead of building bone, however, the radiation deteriorates it and can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia. So the growing children Dad examined were showing abnormally high incidences of thyroid cancer.
I spent a lot of time sitting on the school playground during recesses, picking four-leaf clovers. I was considerably better at finding them than I had been back in Ohio, pressing them with books and filling jars with them. Even as an elementary school student I wondered whether the abundance not only of four-leafed but of five- and six-leafed clovers had anything to do with mutation caused by the bomb dropped six years earlier.
I wondered about my own exposure when, in my thirties (thyroid cancer usually takes 20 years to show up), I developed nodules in my thyroid and had to have half the gland removed. But the nodules were benign so the question was moot. I also developed a three-inch long characteristically bright pink, raised and ropy keloid scar after surgery on my stomach. I wondered about that, too.
Dad studied the physical effects of the atomic bomb on the bodies of survivors and by the end of his three years of research was one of the world's leading experts on radiation. But it didn't occur to any of us to ask the real experts, "What was it like to live through a nuclear explosion?"
|Children's Peace Monument|
This statue is dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. It shows a girl with outstretched arms, a folded paper crane rising above her, representing Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed to the bomb when she was two but showed no symptoms for ten years. She desperately wanted to live and persuaded herself that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would be cured.
We met Sadako in Hiroshima. She was working on her second 1,000 cranes when she died.
*Forty years later there was an angry backlash from survivors who felt they were used as guinea pigs because they were examined to provide data for the American military but were offered no treatment for their radiation-related illnesses.
More information about ABCC