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Harry Truman and Hiroshima: Inside His Tense A-Bomb Vigil

Ever since August 6, 1945, when the first atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima, the human race has lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. In the annals of history, few events have had more import than this first atomic bombing, and no historical figure has been associated with ...read more

The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was preparing to leave Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell. The 29-year-old naval engineer was on a three-month-long business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and August 6, 1945, was supposed to be his last day in the city. He and his ...read more

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On August 6, 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation ...read more

Hiroshima: History and Legacy

Join us as we reflect on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 75 years later. The Museum’s Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian, Dr. Rob Citino, will host a discussion on the history, artifacts, and Museum’s educational initiatives about the atomic bomb and Hiroshima.

Join us as we reflect on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 75 years later. The Museum’s Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian, Dr. Rob Citino, will host a discussion on the history, artifacts, and Museum’s educational initiatives about the atomic bomb and Hiroshima. Rob will be joined by Dr. Ed Lengel of the Museum’s Institute for the Study of War and Democracy to discuss the history of the bombing while museum curator Larry Decuers will explore artifacts in the Museum’s collection related to Hiroshima, and Dr. Kristen Burton, with the Museum’s WWII Media and Education Center, will discuss how the history of the atomic bomb is taught to students and teachers today.

This webinar is part of regular programming commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II made possible by Bank of America.

Ground zero

When I interviewed Ms. Kondo in the lobby of a boxy, modern hotel on Peace Boulevard, she told me about August 6, 1945. Although she was too young then to remember the events herself, her mother told her about the day—but not until Ms. Kondo was much older.

"I could not ask my parents how I survived," she told me. "I knew if I asked, they would have to recall the worst day of their life. When I was 40, she told me what happened. The whole house crashed, everything on top of her body, which protected me. She was unconscious, and when she came to, it was dark. There was no light coming through. She heard a baby’s crying voice—it was mine. It was her own baby. She thought it was someone else’s. My mother called, 'Please, help!'—but no one came. Then she could see the small light coming through the [rubble]. And she moved little by little and made a hole, and got out with me." All they saw when they emerged was fire engulfing their neighborhood.

Ms. Kondo also showed me a family photo album from the years that followed. Then she opened a plastic bag and took out the tiny pink cotton dress she’d worn that day. Remarkably intact, the garment brought the catastrophe to life for me. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is filled with such humanizing artifacts: a broken watch that stopped exactly at 8:15 A.M., a scalded tricycle unearthed from the ruins.

After the interview, we strolled to a small Italian restaurant near the museum for lunch. I noticed that many American businesses had set up in the city McDonalds and Starbucks franchises loosely ring Peace Memorial Park. After lunch we visited the memorials and monuments in the park. Visitors lined up before the Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims, several bowing quietly before it. We walked back to the Aioi Bridge, the Enola Gay’s target. When the bomber dropped Little Boy, it drifted in the air and detonated slightly off-target. Where, I asked Ms. Kondo, is the literal hypocenter?

She led me to an empty, three-block-long street nearby and stopped in front of a low-rise medical building with graying tiles on its exterior. Next door was a 7-Eleven. Here, she said, and pointed to a small plaque in front of the medical building.

“The first atomic bomb used in the history of humankind exploded approximately 600 meters above this spot,” it read. “The city below was hit by heat rays of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 degrees C, along with a blast wind and radiation. Most people in the area lost their lives instantly.”

I found myself irrationally looking straight up into the air, almost as if expecting to see something there too, some impossible remnant or marker. But all I saw was the blue sky above—as sun-filled as it had been on the morning of August 6, 1945.


Before writing Hiroshima, Hersey had been a war correspondent in the field, writing for Life magazine and The New Yorker. He followed troops during the invasions of Italy and Sicily during World War II. [5] In 1944, Hersey began working in the Pacific Theater and followed Lt. John F. Kennedy through the Solomon Islands. [6] One of the first Western journalists to view the ruins of Hiroshima after the bombing, Hersey was commissioned by William Shawn of The New Yorker to write articles about the impact of a nuclear explosion by using witness accounts, a subject virtually untouched by journalists. [6] Hersey interviewed many witnesses he focused his article on six in particular.

Publication in The New Yorker Edit

The issue of August 31, 1946, arrived in subscribers' mailboxes bearing a light-hearted cover of a summer picnic in a park. There was no hint what was inside. Hersey's article began where the magazine's regular "Talk of the Town" column usually began, immediately after the theater listings. At the bottom of the page, the editors appended a short note: "TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors." One of the few people other than the principal editors of The New Yorker tipped to the forthcoming publication was the magazine's principal writer E. B. White, to whom Harold Ross confided his plans. "Hersey has written thirty thousand words on the bombing of Hiroshima (which I can now pronounce in a new and fancy way)", Ross wrote to White in Maine, "one hell of a story, and we are wondering what to do about it . [William Shawn, managing editor of The New Yorker] wants to wake people up, and says we are the people with a chance to do it, and probably the only people that will do it, if it is done." [7]

Literary reception Edit

Containing a detailed description of the bomb's effects, the article was a publishing sensation. In plain prose, Hersey described the horrifying aftermath of the atomic device: people with melted eyeballs, or people vaporized, leaving only their shadows etched onto walls. [8] The New Yorker article Hiroshima was an immediate best seller and was sold out at newsstands within hours. [5] Many requests for reprints were received by the magazine's offices. The ABC Radio Network preempted regular programming to broadcast readings of the complete text by well-known actors in four half-hour programs. [9] Many radio stations abroad did likewise, including the BBC in Britain, where newsprint rationing that continued after the war's end prevented its publication Hersey would not permit editing of the piece to cut its length. [3] [10] The Book of the Month Club rushed a copy of the article into book format, which it sent to members as a free selection, saying "We find it hard to conceive of anything being written that could be of more important [sic] at this moment to the human race." [3] [7]

Published a little more than a year after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the American public was shown a different interpretation of the Japanese from what had been previously described in the media. [11] The Americans could let go of some of the guilt knowing that the Japanese did not blame them for this terrible act of war. [11] After reading Hiroshima, a Manhattan Project scientist wrote that he wept as he remembered how he had celebrated the dropping of the atomic bomb. [11] Scientists along with the American public felt shame and guilt at the suffering of the people of Hiroshima. [11] As voiced by witnesses in Hiroshima, the people of Hiroshima did not blame the Americans for the infliction but instead their own government. [4] [12] Many Japanese believe that the dropping of the atomic bomb saved Japan and it was widely thought that the Japanese Government would have destroyed the entire country before losing the war. [11]

The 31,000 word article was published later the same year by Alfred A. Knopf as a book. [13] Hersey's work is often cited as one of the earliest examples of New Journalism in its melding of elements of non-fiction reportage with the pace and devices of the novel. Hersey's plain prose was praised by critics as a model of understated narrative. Hersey rarely gave interviews and abhorred going on anything resembling book tours, as his longtime editor Judith Jones recalled. "If ever there was a subject calculated to make a writer overwrought and a piece overwritten, it was the bombing of Hiroshima", wrote Hendrik Hertzberg "yet Hersey's reporting was so meticulous, his sentences and paragraphs were so clear, calm and restrained, that the horror of the story he had to tell came through all the more chillingly." [14]

The author said he adopted the plain style to suit the story he strove to tell. "The flat style was deliberate", Hersey said 40 years later, "and I still think I was right to adopt it. A high literary manner, or a show of passion, would have brought me into the story as a mediator. I wanted to avoid such mediation, so the reader's experience would be as direct as possible." [7]

The founder of The New Yorker Harold Ross told his friend, author Irwin Shaw: "I don't think I've ever got as much satisfaction out of anything else in my life." But The New Yorker's publication of Hersey's article caused trouble with respect to Hersey's relationship with Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time-Life and Hersey's first mentor, who felt Hersey should have reported the event for one of Luce's magazines instead. Despite Luce's misgivings about Hersey's choice of The New Yorker to print the Hiroshima story, the magazine's format and style allowed the author much more freedom in reporting and writing. The Luce publications – Time, Life and Fortune – had nothing similar. Moreover, The New Yorker went to unprecedented lengths to keep the Hersey story secret. The weekly magazine's top editors observed complete secrecy about the printing of the article. While editors Harold Ross and William Shawn spent long hours editing and deliberating every sentence, the magazine's staff was not told anything about the forthcoming issue. Staffers were baffled when the normal weekly proofs were not returned, and their inquiries were not answered. Even the advertisement department was deliberately not informed. [7]

Time magazine said about Hiroshima:

Every American who has permitted himself to make jokes about atom bombs, or who has come to regard them as just one sensational phenomenon that can now be accepted as part of civilization, like the airplane and the gasoline engine, or who has allowed himself to speculate as to what we might do with them if we were forced into another war, ought to read Mr. Hersey. When this magazine article appears in book form the critics will say that it is in its fashion a classic. But it is rather more than that. [11]

The magazine later termed Hersey's account of the bombing "the most celebrated piece of journalism to come out of World War II." [15]

It was also met with approval by The New Republic which said "Hersey's piece is certainly one of the great classics of the war". [16] While the majority of the excerpts praised the article, Mary McCarthy said that "to have done the atomic bomb justice, Mr. Hersey would have had to interview the dead". [17] It was quickly a book in the Book-of-the-Month Club it was distributed for free because of the questions it raised about the humanity of the human race. [18] Hiroshima was also read word for word on the radio by the American Broadcasting Company, amplifying its effects. [2] [19]

Publication in Japan Edit

Although the US military government (headed by Douglas MacArthur) [20] dissuaded publishers from bringing out the book in Japan, small numbers of copies were distributed in January 1947 Hersey gave a reading in English in Tokyo. [2] A Japanese translation of Hiroshima was first published in 1949 Japan (it has not been out of print since). [5] [21] [22] According to Gar Alperovitz in The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, "Occupation authorities suppressed various accounts of the atomic bombings. A noteworthy instance involved the denial in later 1946 of a request by the Nippon Times to publish John Hersey's Hiroshima (in English)." [23] MacArthur said in 1948 that despite numerous charges of censorship made against the censors office by the US news media Hiroshima was not banned in Japan. [24]

The article begins on the morning of August 6, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped, killing an estimated 135,000 people. [25] The book begins with the following sentence:

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.

Hersey introduces the six characters: two doctors, a Protestant minister, a widowed seamstress, a young female factory worker and a German Catholic priest. [27] It describes their mornings before the bomb was dropped. Through the book, the lives of these six people overlap as they share similar experiences. Each chapter covers a time period from the morning of the bombing to one year later for each witness. An additional chapter covering the aftermath 40 years after the bombing was added in later editions.


Dan Kuramoto, Hiroshima's leader, is from East Los Angeles. He attended California State University, Long Beach, then led its Asian-American studies department. Through playing in a band on weekends he met June Kuramoto, a native of Japan who grew up in Los Angeles and played koto, a Japanese stringed instrument. Kuramoto admired Earth, Wind, and Fire for the way it combined jazz and R&B, and Santana for his identification with Latinos. He wanted to create a band that would represent Asian Americans. He named it after the Japanese city Hiroshima, which was mostly destroyed by an atomic weapon at the end of World War II. [2]

Hiroshima's debut album sold more than 100,000 copies in its first three months. The band's second album yielded the song "Winds of Change", which received a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Instrumental. Hiroshima got its first gold album in 1985 with Another Place and the second with Go which followed it. The album Legacy was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2010. Hiroshima has sold more than four million albums worldwide. In 1990, the band was the opening act for Miles Davis, [2] and in 1988 they played with T-Square at the Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall.

Hiroshima consists of Dan Kuramoto (saxophone, flute, keyboards, shakuhachi), June Kuramoto (koto), Kimo Cornwell (Keyboards), Dean Cortez (Bass guitar), and Danny Yamamoto (drums and taiko). [2]

Hiroshima was given the Visionary Award by East West Players, the oldest Asian Pacific American theatre company in the United States, [3] for the band's "Impact on the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their artistic excellence and support of the Asian Pacific American performing arts." [4]

Commemorating the Past

Hiroshima preserves the memory of the world’s first nuclear attack through memorials, eye witness testimony, and annual anniversary ceremonies.

Every year thousands gather at 8:15 AM on August 6, the moment of the bomb’s blast, for the striking of a peace bell. The same evening, people light candles in a Toro Nagashi ceremony, roughly translated to the Flow of the Lanterns. Colorful, glowing paper illuminates the same waters the injured and dying waded through for relief. Each symbolizes a soul lost on that day, and more than 80,000 are lit every year.

Monuments throughout the city pay tribute to life lost in the blast and afterward. There are statues for the 20,000 Korean nationals killed, and a Children's Peace Monument that honors Sadako Sasaki, a young survivor who later died of leukemia. There is even a little known plaque for the American prisoners of war who perished. All of Hiroshima’s symbols convey a similar message. As the cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park reads: Rest in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated.


There are two significantly different types of Okonomiyaki. First, the Kansai or Osaka style, in which the ingredients are all mixed into a batter and then grilled. Second, the Hiroshima style, in which a small crepe-like pancake is grilled and then other ingredients are layered on top. The Hioshima style uses much more cabbage than the Osaka style.

Kansei / Osaka Style

This is the type of Okonomiyaki that our "Best Okonomiyaki Recipe" is focused on. All the ingredients are mixed into a batter which is grilled on both sides and then has various topping added. At some restaurants this is just served up, with a couple variations to choose from, sometimes grilled in a huge sheet and an individual portion cut out, and you add your own condiments. At other restaurants you choose exactly the ingredients you want and the Okonomiyaki is cooked right in front of you, either by the chef or by yourself.

Hiroshima Style

In the Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki, a small thin pancake is grilled and then other ingredients are layered on top, starting with a large amount of shredded cabbage. Other ingredients are added in layers, and then the pancake is flipped onto fried eggs on one or both sides before serving. Hiroshima style also often include fried noodles.

Okonomiyaki Nikudama or Nikutama includes noodles and pork.
(Nikutama-soba with thin yakitori noodles or Nikutama-udon with thicker udon noodles)

These photos courtesy of and Copyright (C) 2007 Hiroshima Prefecture -Tourism Promotion Office of the Hiroshima Prefectural Government


Negiyaki is very similar to Okonomiyaki, but instead of cabbage uses all green onions. It's similar to a Korean pancake, Pajeon.

Tokyo Style - Monjayaki


Takoyaki is not really an Okonomiyaki, but is similar and often served at the same restaurants. It is a batter with Tako (Octopus) that is cooked into a ball and served in a similar way, with the same condiments (sweet sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, seeweed flakes).


Hiroshima: How bombing civilians became thinkable

On Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and incinerated 140,000 people, President Harry Truman issued a warning: If the Japanese “do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

While the scale of immediate destruction in Hiroshima — and, three days later, Nagasaki — certainly had “never been seen,” the bombing of civilians on a mass scale was, in a sense, nothing new. Aerial bombardment of cities and factories during the previous five years had been so rampant — from London to Dresden to Tokyo — that a war crimes prosecutor at the Nuremberg tribunals would go so far as to declare the practice “innocent” its universal adoption by all sides, including the Japanese, had made it a "recognized part of modern warfare."

In the popular imagination, Hiroshima and Nagasaki may still be seen as uniquely horrible moments, but scholars over the past seven decades have placed the bombings squarely within the context of modern warfare. Swedish historian Sven Lindqvist, in his seminal 1999 work “A History of Bombing,” traces aerial bombardment of civilians from Tripoli in 1911 to the modern era of “low-intensity” conflict. Lindqvist argues that while the weapons used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were novel, these bombings used well-established justifications for killing civilians. Whether to demoralize the enemy or exact just reprisal, whether protected by a sense of racial superiority or a physical and psychological distance from the act itself, Lindqvist argues, states have found many ways to justify the bombing of civilians, and they continue to do so.

Radio address on Aug. 9, 1945

Fears of flying death machines have been around since the early days of aircraft. In 1907, four years before the Italians dropped the first bomb on Tripoli, diplomats signed the Hague Convention to ban the bombing of “undefended” areas. Bombing did not play a prominent role in World War I, but it found widespread application in the colonial conquests of the 1920s and 30s. From the shade and safety of their cockpits, Lindqvist writes, pilots targeted troublesome natives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, advancing the “civilizing mission” of colonialism through a tactic that became known as “control without occupation.” International law did not apply to “savage tribes who do not conform to codes of civilized warfare,” as the British Air Force headquarters in India explained in a letter to a British administrator in 1922, shortly after the Third Afghan War. Women in Afghan society, for example, were considered “a piece of property somewhere between a rifle and a cow,” so their deaths could not be equated with those of European civilians.

It wasn’t until the Spanish Civil War in 1937, when German and Italian forces dropped 5,771 bombs on the undefended Basque town of Guernica that civilian bombardment hit home in Europe. Hundreds were killed, earning Guernica the distinction of “the most gruesome episode in history of modern war,” as one reporter put it. Guernica revived early anxieties, posed by novelists, military strategists and diplomats alike, that an era of “total war” would soon be upon them, with bombers in the sky making no distinction between combatant and non-combatant. As Giulio Douhet, an Italian general and theorist on aerial warfare during the 1911 campaign over Tripoli, put it: “The safest place may be the trenches.”

Hiroshima: The great taboo

Analysis: The US has struggled to accept the legacy of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into its collective memory

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, there was a last minute, largely futile scramble to spare civilians the brunt of the violence. The Americans called for bombing to be restricted to “combat areas,” a plea that, if observed, might have prevented Truman from targeting Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But in 1940, British and German bombing campaigns spiraled rapidly out of control. Vague stipulations of “proportionate” response, mandated under international law, were tossed out the window. Advocates of bombing industrial and, later, residential targets argued that if the aim of war was psychological defeat of the enemy, civilians must be harmed. The Holocaust and both sides' aerial campaigns may both have amounted to the “well-organized mass murder of innocent people,” Lindqvist writes, but the Allies saw a critical distinction: They didn’t want to exterminate German civilians they just wanted them to surrender.

That was the stated rationale behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki, too. We “have given the Japanese people adequate warning of what is in store for them,” Truman said in a radio address on the evening of August 9, 1945. “Our warning went unheeded.” At the same time as Truman argued that the bombs had ended the war early and saved countless American lives, he sought downplay the devastation, too. The first bomb had been dropped on “Hiroshima, a military base,” to avoid, “in so far as possible, the killing of civilians,” he explained in the same address. Not until journalists tracked down survivors and photographs surfaced of human ashes burnt into the ground like shadows, did Americans begin the long and painful process of rethinking their government’s narrative.

Japan did, indeed, surrender, on Aug. 15, and not long afterward, the European powers resumed their practice of bombing rebellious colonies — Kenya, Libya and French Indochina. While civilian bombardments may have temporarily suppressed certain uprisings, the colonial powers eventually all lost control. The U.S. made its next attempt to bomb an enemy into submission in Korea. In 1950, Truman again found justification for bombing: The United Nations had ruled the North’s invasion of the South an unwarranted aggression. But instead of unconditional surrender, as proponents of air war had hoped, the end result was a permanently divided Korea and more than 2.5 million civilians dead or wounded over the three-year war.

Professor of History, New York University

In Vietnam, Lindqvist argues, the road to mass civilian slaughter was a phased escalation over more than a decade of conflict. Observers were gradually desensitized to the steady stream of violence, until American jets were regularly showering farmland with napalm. As Robert McNamara, defense secretary from 1961-68, told President Lyndon B. Johnson as the violence raged in 1967, “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny, backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.”

Since Vietnam, military historians have argued that the age of “major war” — conflict fought directly between two superpowers — is over. But even this age of “low-intensity conflict” has afforded few protections to those civilians trapped in conflict areas. To use a contemporary example, in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has used century-old justifications to explain its treatment of the uprising against his rule. Regime forces have been accused by human rights groups and Western governments of barraging Syrian citizens with crudely fashioned, internationally prohibited barrel bombs, which explode and scatter shrapnel indiscriminately. The bombs have killed more than 1,331 civilians since the war began in 2011, according to activist group Violations and Documentation Center in Syria. Assad has denied the allegations but broadly explains his brutal crackdown with variations on a catchphrase: “We need to fight terrorists because they are killing innocent people, and we have to defend these people.”

A History Buff’s Guide to Hiroshima

While Hiroshima is perhaps best-known outside of Japan for the solemn events that took place there during World War II, Hiroshima City and the prefecture at large have a rich history that played an important role in Japan’s shift from a feudal to modern society.

Modern-day Hiroshima is located in the Chugoku region, the area west of Kansai, where it shares its northern border with Shimane prefecture and has its southern border on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. On that side, it faces the island of Shikoku with numerous islands dotting the sea between the two. The prefectural capital, Hiroshima City, is one of the most famous sightseeing destinations in Chugoku.

Watch the video: What to do in Hiroshima u0026 Miyajima. 6 Must Try Travel Ideas (May 2022).