Thursday, May 26, 2016

What really went down at Hiroshima and Nagasaki

"And here is one of the Hiroshima Gas Company and the Honkawa Elementary School. I think the latter really emphasizes the horror of “strategic” bombing, where burning elementary schools become acceptable as “collateral damage.” The famous dome at the upper right hand corner of the photo was directly underneath the explosion; the school was about 800 feet from there."

Scientific American blog

"Some iconic black and white photos of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Wellerstein notes, show the cities after bodies and rubble have been cleared and make them look like “abandoned cities on the moon.” He displays color photos that depict a messier reality. I urge you to check out his illustrated column, but here is the coda, which makes a point worth pondering on this somber anniversary. Bold type is in the original:
There are two ways you can go wrong in making sense of the scale of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The first is to see the bombs as instant vaporizers, to see the bombs as Everything Killers that just zap cities out of existence. This isn’t the case. They kill by crushing and burning and irradiating. They don’t turn you to dust.  They don’t freeze you and turn you into a stop-motion skeleton, like in The Day AfterFor some, death was instantaneous, but for a lot of others, it was a much more protracted affair.
The other way to misunderstand it is to downplay it. Ah, a number of large buildings survived! It’s not so bad, then, right? Maybe the whole nuke thing has been exaggerated! Well, unless you are, you know, not in one of those buildings, and even if you are, it’s a pretty awful thing. Yes, you can approximate the city-wide effects of early atomic bombs with a fleet of conventional bombers dropping napalm — which personally I consider just as much a weapon of mass destruction as anything else... But being napalmed is not exactly a walk in the park for those being bombed, either.
So what’s the right view? An ugly, troublesome, disturbing one; right between those extremes. The atomic bomb was a weapon used to inflict tremendous human suffering. (This is true whether you think its use was justified or not.) If an atomic bomb were to go off over your city, the damage would be horrifying, the death toll staggering. But it’s a level of destruction that people should try to appreciate for what it is — a realistic possibility, not a clean science-fiction ending or a blow to be shrugged off.    
A final point. As Wellerstein would be the first to acknowledge, the photos he displays do not really capture the ugliness of the atomic bombings, because they do not show the victims, dead and alive. You can find photographs of horribly disfigured casualties online. But the best way to appreciate the suffering caused by the atomic bombs is to read John Hersey’s classic work of journalism Hiroshima, published in 1946."

See also: Memoir by Survivor of Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

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