5. Victims of the Bombing

“Hiroshima was an increasingly military city, deeply involved in the war effort. When the American military dropped an atomic bomb on that city, not only did it lose all military functions, it lost its entire urban infrastructure. Not only the survivors and the A-bomb orphans, but also repatriated soldiers and those coming back from evacuation sites, and other residents who escaped the bombing lost their homes and their workplaces. However, the citizens, in the confusion after the bombing and the enormous changes wrought by surrender and occupation, while struggling with food shortages, lack of funds, and lack of materials, each arose and worked to rebuild their lives.”

Those children that were evacuated to the countryside during the war lost their parents in the bombing, earning the name ‘A-bomb orphans’. It was estimated that there were between 2000 and 6500 A-bomb orphans, and despite the attempts to care for them they had to live with the pain of losing both parents to the bombing for the rest of their lives.

In 1947 the Atomic Bomb Casualty (ABCC) was established in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to study the long-term effects of the A-bomb on the human body. The damage done to human bodies by the atomic bombing continued over time and particularly obvious was the horror of radiation damage. Japanese research on A-bomb-related diseases was prohibited during the occupation but gradually started after the country regained independence. Images of survivors suffering from after-effects began to reach the public. The A-bomb Medical Law was enacted in 1957 and the Hibakusha Special Measures Law in 1968. In 1995, the measures under these two laws were unified in the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Support Law, which provided for comprehensive assistance measures from medical care to welfare.

The way the museum communicates the information above to the visitor is quite graphic and shocking, with photographs of the damage radiation did to people’s bodies; the keloids, hair loss, and other horrible effects. The obvious message is: ‘Look what it does to the survivors; how can you do this to people?’ Visitors are left with the distinct feeling that the use of nuclear weapons on people cannot be justified, along with a certain amount of nausea.

This section also deals with the forced overseas workers:

“During the war, Japan funnelled all resources into the war effort and forcefully brought thousands of people to work in Japan from Korea and other countries. Many forced labourers died in the A-bombings in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Many experienced the bombings but survived to return to their countries of origin after Japan’s defeat.”

As the museum says, these hibakusha were at first ignored, but it stresses that in February 1967, the Korean A-bomb Sufferers Relief Association was founded in Seoul. At about the same time, voices were raised in Japan calling for aid to Korean hibakusha. Through citizens’ groups, hibakusha living in Korea were invited to Japan and medical teams were sent to Korea.

I thought it was good that again the museum chose to display a narrative that did not focus on Japanese suffering, but indeed included all the victims of the war.

“Occupation policies included a press code established in September 1945 that provided for strict censorship of published and broadcast reporting. Particularly severe censorship of material related to the A-bomb delayed for years full reporting of the damage done. As a result, the Japanese people only very slowly came to understand the devastation that had occurred and the implications of atomic weapons.”

Much guilt is laid on the Allied forces in this section; not only for dropping the bombs in the first place and causing all the suffering, but also for then keeping that information from the Japanese, who only learnt what really happened in Hiroshima a long time after it happened.

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