Last night, after a 4-hour flight from China, we arrived in Hiroshima, the city where we start our road trip through Japan. Over the new few days, we will cruise through Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Mount Fuji before we end our trip in Tokyo and Yokohama. We chose Hiroshima as our starting point because of the chapter it wrote into history just 74 years ago. Walking around ground zero, listening to the eyewitness accounts of the survivors, getting a glimpse into how families suffered for decades after the attack and seeing the devastation it caused to the city was quite an emotional experience, to say the least. When we left the Hiroshima Peace Memorial this afternoon we only had the following conclusion – the biggest threat to mankind is mankind itself and the argument that justifies the action taken against Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the same argument that will justify our own extinction.

It was 6 August 1945, just another Monday morning here in Hiroshima. People drank their tea and enjoyed their breakfast, left their homes and went to work. Children were playing in the streets, ready to be picked up for school, just like they were the previous Monday, and the Monday before that – nothing out of the ordinary. These people were going about their morning routine exactly as you did this morning but had no idea that, within a few moments, a single act of man will wipe out their families, change the face of the city and alter the course of warfare.

At 08:00 am, an American B-29 bomber, code name “Enola Gay”, entered Hiroshima airspace at an altitude of 31,000 feet. One survivor said he saw the plane and knew it was an American plane because, at the time, Japanese planes couldn’t fly at that altitude. He described it as a silver dot in the morning sky and was under the impression that it was just passing by. At 08:15 am, the crew onboard the Enola Gay opened the bottom hatch of their B-29 bomber and dropped the world’s first-ever atomic bomb, code name “Little Boy”, on the city of Hiroshima. Little Boy, a 4000kg uranium-235 bomb, fell for about 43 seconds before it was detonated 600 metres above the ground. The blast was greater than 16-kilotons of TNT and instantly destroyed 90% of the city, killing more than 80,000 people. The Enola Gay’s crew made a desperate attempt to escape the blast and described the blinding light as a mushroom-shaped cloud boiling into the upper atmosphere. For the first time in history, a city and its population were wiped out in just one second.

Miraculously, some people on the ground survived the bomb. One survivor described in detail how the massive blast caused the world to tremble around him and how he saw a blinding light that was brighter than the sun. He closed his eyes and covered his face with both hands but the light was so bright that he could see the bones and veins inside his hands, just like you would on an x-ray. To some survivors, the blast caused permanent blindness and for some, it was just temporary. At the hypocentre (the centre point of the blast where the bomb was detonated) temperatures exceeded 7,000 degrees Celsius (12,600 Fahrenheit). This means, the combination of the heat and the powerful force of the blast literally caused people to disintegrate whilst turning buildings, roads and pretty much everything else into ash. The people close to, but not at the heart of, the hypocentre had their skin ripped off their bodies and their internal organs fractured or fried, some taking hours to die. And just to makes matters even worse for the people further out was the fact that the firestorm of the blast consumed almost all available oxygen, causing the people, who did not burn to death, to suffocate. Other survivors tell the story of how they ran through the streets to seek help and had to hear the deafening screams of people with broken skulls and penetration wounds lying in the rubble. Some families had remains to bury, others had to make peace with the fact that their fathers, mothers, daughters and sons had disappeared into thin air.

The really ‘lucky’ people, the ones much further away from the hypocentre, only sustained minor injuries but tells the story of how instant death would have been better. In the immediate aftermath of the blast, people were craving water due to the heat caused by the blast and the high levels of radiation exposure but the city was destroyed and water was nowhere to be found. The military moved in to assist survivors but had such limited supply of water that they refused to give water to people who they knew would die of their injuries. Imagine your spouse or kids lying in the street in pain, begging for water just to be told they’re not eligible for rescue. Then came a strange deliverance as dark raindrops began to fall from the clouds above the burning city. The rain was made black by the ash and smoke that was sucked up into the upper atmosphere during the blast and the ashes, mixed with cool humid air, formed thick, black, almost oil-like raindrops that fell out of the sky. The survivors on the ground, in a desperate attempt for survival, stood in the streets with their mouths open as they looked up. The drops that came down was so big that it caused a great deal of pain for people when it hit their skin but had no choice but to drink the disgusting water. To those with wounds, the rain was nothing but torture. What the survivors did not realise was that the rainwater was highly radioactive, poisoning those who drank it and killing thousands more. It was the darkest hour, day, month and decade any city has ever experienced.

Three days later, on the 9th of August, a second atomic bomb, code name “Fat Man”, was detonated over the city of Nagasaki causing a 22-kiloton blast which killed another 70,000 people in less than a minute. Even though Fat Man was more powerful than Little Boy, more people died in Hiroshima because of its flat terrain.

Nine days after the bombing in Hiroshima, on the 15th of Aug, the Japanese sounded their unconditional surrender which ended World War II. By the end of 1945, more than 140,000 people had lost their lives here in Hiroshima and the total number of deaths over the years that followed can only be estimated. For many more years, the city felt the horror of the bombing as babies were born with serious deficiencies and a large number of people developing cancer due to extreme radiation exposure. The bomb did not only wreak havoc on the day it was dropped but also cursed thousands of people for generations to follow.

“We pray for the peaceful repose of the victims and pledge on behalf of all humanity never to repeat the evil of war. We express the spirit of Hiroshima – enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all and yearning for genuine, lasting world peace.”   – Memorial Monument Hiroshima

May we never repeat the evil.

The world remembers.

 


The video below was taken at the Hypocentre today and shows an animated version of the blast.

The intense heat of the bomb turned the stone white-ish. The dark patch you see on the steps is where a person was sitting when the bomb went off, blocking the light for just a second. The only remains of the person sitting here are the shadow that was burned into the stone.