The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Effects of the Atomic Bombings on the Inhabitants of the Bombed Cities

In both Hiroshima and Nagasaki the tremendous scale of the disaster largely destroyed the cities as entities. Even the worst of all other previous bombing attacks on Germany and Japan, such as the incendiary raids on Hamburg in 1943 and on Tokyo in 1945, were not comparable to the paralyzing effect of the atomic bombs. In addition to the huge number of persons who were killed or injuried so that their services in rehabilitation were not available, a panic flight of the population took place from both cities immediately following the atomic explosions. No significant reconstruction or repair work was accomplished because of the slow return of the population; at the end of November 1945 each of the cities had only about 140,000 people. Although the ending of the war almost immediately after the atomic bombings removed much of the incentive of the Japanese people toward immediate reconstruction of their losses, their paralysis was still remarkable. Even the clearance of wreckage and the burning of the many bodies trapped in it were not well organized some weeks after the bombings. As the British Mission has stated, "the impression which both cities make is of having sunk, in an instant and without a struggle, to the most primitive level."

Aside from physical injury and damage, the most significant effect of the atomic bombs was the sheer terror which it struck into the peoples of the bombed cities. This terror, resulting in immediate hysterical activity and flight from the cities, had one especially pronounced effect: persons who had become accustomed to mass air raids had grown to pay little heed to single planes or small groups of planes, but after the atomic bombings the appearance of a single plane caused more terror and disruption of normal life than the appearance of many hundreds of planes had ever been able to cause before. The effect of this terrible fear of the potential danger from even a single enemy plane on the lives of the peoples of the world in the event of any future war can easily be conjectured.

The atomic bomb did not alone win the war against Japan, but it most certainly ended it, saving the thousands of Allied lives that would have been lost in any combat invasion of Japan.