Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The many retrospectives
Sixty-nine years ago, at 8:15 in the morning on August 6, the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Three days later, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Estimates vary as to the number of people who died in those blasts, but the figure of at least 130,000 deaths for Hiroshima seems to be generally accepted, with another 70,000 for Nagasaki as of surveys conducted in November 1945.
With the anniversaries of those events have come many news and comment stories in the press. But how best to put the bombings into perspective, especially after so much time has passed? The problem—to loosely paraphrase Joseph Stalin, no stranger to death on an industrial scale—is that “one death is a tragedy, while a million deaths is a statistic.” (This is particularly true when dealing with dry analytical reports about security, which inevitably use phrases like “collateral damage,” “kilotons,” and “battlefield scenarios”—masking the fact that there are large numbers of very real human lives involved on the receiving end of a nuclear weapon.)
Consequently, some of the most powerful and compelling articles about the atomic bombing bring things back to the individual, dealing with just a single person and the most intimate, small details of his or her life at the moment of the bombing, as shown in this BBC multimedia piece on Hiroshima survivor Shinji Mikamo. For example, after the blast, while looking through the ruins of his family home, Mikamo found his father’s watch, which had stopped at precisely 8:15 am. In Mikamo’s words: “The unimaginable intense heat that reached several thousand degrees Fahrenheit from the blast had fused the shadows of the hands into the face of the timepiece, slightly displaced, leaving distinct marks where the hands had been at the moment of the explosion. It was enough to clearly see the exact moment the watch stopped.”
Other articles, such as this one in the Washington Post, tried a different approach to bring home the horror of the blasts. It focuses on a large and well-known symbol of the bombing: the dome of a concrete-and-steel structure that was one of the few buildings to survive the atomic blast in 1945. Now known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the building has become the epicenter of yearly memorials and services to remember the victims… MORE