Mention August 6 to most Americans, young or old, and my guess is you’ll get a blank stare. “What about August 6?” Mention Hiroshima and you might get a second blank stare. Most Americans can’t name the date that the first atomic bomb was dropped, Aug. 6 1945 on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped, on the southern port city of Nagasaki. Today is the 65th anniversary of that bombing, August 9.
Tens of thousands of civilians were killed instantly in both bombings, some leaving just shadows like stationary, permanent ghosts on walls next to where they had been standing. But because of the raging fires caused in the blasts’ aftermath, and the deadly radiation poisoning from the black rain fallout that followed, up to 166,000 people in Hiroshima, and 80,000 in Nagasaki were killed within a few months. People who survived the blast suffered injuries, burns and deformities; some are still dying today from cancers that lay dormant for decades.
In Japan, the atomic bombings are national tragedies that are commemorated to this day, much like we probably will commemorate 9/11, fifty years from now.
But here in the United States, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have over the years become historical factoids, questions on tests, for most people. Sure, there are recent Japanese immigrants and U.S. anti-war activists who remember and mark the anniversaries, but for most Americans — even, I’m afraid, most Japanese Americans — there isn’t much thought given to the devastation suffered by either of those cities so long ago and far away.