Skip

photographs of hiroshima
April 20, 2004 3:02 PM   Subscribe

The only photographs known to have been taken immediately after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The photographer's (Yoshito Matsushige) testimony from Hiroshima Witness, talking about taking the pictures. This article waxes on about how few exposures he made, how many he framed but did not take.
posted by crush-onastick (28 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
page load error.
posted by quonsar at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2004


Wayback Machine.
posted by stbalbach at 3:45 PM on April 20, 2004



page load error.

? :-)
posted by NewBornHippy at 3:50 PM on April 20, 2004


Our leaders make us do it to one another.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:14 PM on April 20, 2004


I can't get the enlargements to load, and the wayback machine didn't keep those...I found these tho, of Nagasaki. (Warning-graphic)

I've read that Hiroshima actually helped end the war in the pacific, but that Nagasaki was totally unnecessary.
posted by amberglow at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2004


There will always be an argument that the US didn't need to drop The Bomb on cities to bring the war to an end. I remember reading that there was some argument that the weapon could have been demonstrated somewhere in the Pacific to make the point that Japan could be destroyed if it did not surrender. Looking at these pictures, I am not sure the use of atomic weapons can ever be morally justified.
posted by tranquileye at 7:43 PM on April 20, 2004


Oh wow. That testimony is difficult to read all the way through. Thanks for this important link crush-onastick.
posted by vito90 at 7:58 PM on April 20, 2004


The Japanese would probably have seen a demo as weakness on the USAs resolve to use the weapon against civilians and not surrendered and we didnt have a stockpile of atom bombs to play with.
posted by stbalbach at 7:59 PM on April 20, 2004


Looking at these pictures, I am not sure the use of atomic weapons can ever be morally justified.

I can't be. It should never be allowed to happen again. Nor should civilians be used as target practice. Not then, not now...not ever.
posted by dejah420 at 8:50 PM on April 20, 2004


The Wayback link does work. You might need to fiddle a little.

Personally, I'm a little skeptical of people today second-guessing decisions like dropping the bombs. Asking yourself if this was right NOW is not the same as people asking it THEN -- you can't possibly put yourself in their shoes. Don't wring your hands over a past you can't change, but learn the lessons for when they may be applicable in the future.

And FWIW, and just to point out that things aren't as clear as they might seem, remember that firebombing cities killed far more Japanese people than the A-bombs. And don't forget Dresden, either.

Understand that I'm not necessarily proclaiming what was done was a good thing; of course it's horrible to contemplate. But if you feel a certain moral superiority that you could never order such a thing, I suggest there are circumstances that would prove you wrong, so don't be smug about it.

Thanks for the post, crush.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:21 PM on April 20, 2004


Agreed, pmurray. There is a pretty great essay about this by Paul Fussell, called "Thank God for the Atom Bomb." Fussell was an infantryman in the second world war, and is now an English professor -- he makes a good argument for the first bomb, and has a smart discussion on why the second might have been dropped.
posted by josh at 9:33 PM on April 20, 2004


Regarding the morality of dropping the bombs:
The japanese military was, even when it became clear that they could no longer win the war, determined to fight to the bitter end - and Japan was by now totally run by its military.

A conventional invasion of Japan would have cost far more civilian lives, as Japan was prepared to send ordinary housewives armed with bamboo spears (scroll to the end) to fend of US marines.

Therefore an overwhelming display of force was necessary, in the form of the Hiroshima bombing.
Unfortunately, a display of force is no use if the recipient can't believe it happened (immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima J. officials dismissed the reports as to wild to be true).
So in order to prove no only the power of their new weapon, but also that they had several which could be deployed to anywhere in Japan in a matter of days, the USA dropped a second one.

It might have been an inhuman, terrible and cruel act, but it was the lesser of several evils and ended one of the most violent despotic regimes of the 20th century.

Sometimes, use of force is justified, and using insufficient force is not always an act of mercy - in this case it would have only prolonged suffering and increased the number of civilian casualties.
posted by spazzm at 10:17 PM on April 20, 2004


Gar Alperovitz' The Decision to Use The Atomic Bomb, IMO, demolishes Fussell and every other A-bomb apologist.

He uses volumes of declassified memos -- the book is extensively footnoted -- to argue that the Japanese were ready to give up after Okinawa and the Allies knew it. Okinawa was a Japanese colony that the mainlanders effectively sacrificed in a war of attrition to forestall an invasion of the mainland. After it (and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians) fell, Tokyo was ready to cash in their chips.

Chillingly, Alperovitz says that one of Truman's advisers pushed the bombings for their "demonstration value" toward the Soviets, not for any strategic purpose. It's a great, very convincing book.

[Even if you don't buy his argument that neither bomb was necessary, it's pretty tough to argue that they weren't ready to surrender post-Hiroshima. Nagasaki was wholly uncalled for.]
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:20 PM on April 20, 2004


(Apologies for ranting, I just need to get this off my chest)
A second thing to consider when passing moral judgement on the decision to drop the A-bombs is the fact that US. military leaders must have realized that they could not expect to maintain monopoly on this weapon forever.

How to reduce the likelihood that they be used in the future, in a more volatile situation (say, between two nuclear-capable nations)?

Kilotons is such an abstract concept, it's far more efficient to give a practical demonstration - maybe the vivid and widespread images of the victims of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a contributing factor to the nuclear showdown between USA and CCCP never happened.

I remember chatting with an Indian acquaintance during the Pakistan/India brouhaha - he was spouting the usual jingoistic claptrap ("It's better to die with honor than to live in fear"). I showed him some pictures (some linked to above) and stories from the survivors along with suggestive commentary ("Is this your child?").

Gradually, he changed his opinion - something I would not have been able to achieve by quoting statistics from nuclear tests.
posted by spazzm at 10:36 PM on April 20, 2004


So, in order to prevent the future use of atomic weapons, we ... had to use atomic weapons?

It's true that these images are horrifying, and that no decent person can look at them without saying "never again." Wouldn't it have been better to just say "never," though?

Taken to its logical conclusion, spazzm, your argument would justify torturing innocents so we could take pictures of them, thereby showing future leaders considering the use of torture how bad the practice is.

Besides, if we needed a demonstration of the bomb's power, we could have blown up an uninhabited atoll (an option that was considered at the time).

And I'm curious: if Japan was really prepared to fight "to the bitter end," to the last man, woman and child -- why did they give up after the bombs were dropped?

I agree that all the consequences, long-term and short-term, should be weighed when making moral judgments. But there was no reason -- strategic, ethical, or otherwise -- to simultaneously immolate hundreds of thousands of innocents. It was neither necessary nor productive.
posted by jeffmshaw at 11:22 PM on April 20, 2004


"It's true that these images are horrifying, and that no decent person can look at them without saying "never again." Wouldn't it have been better to just say "never," though?"

As pointed out above, the average person (who has no concept of what a 'kiloton' is) would not have the strong urge to oppose nuclear weapons (saying 'never') if he/she did not have a vivid image in mind of what nuclear weapons lead to.

"Taken to its logical conclusion, spazzm, your argument would justify torturing innocents so we could take pictures of them, thereby showing future leaders considering the use of torture how bad the practice is."

Straw man.
Images of torture victims and images of a-bomb sites send an entirely different message.
To the prospective torturist: "This is what will happen to someone else if you go ahead."
To the prospective a-bomb attacker: "This is what will happen to you and your family if you go ahed."

While the a-bomb is a terrible weapon, I cannot see that it is morally any better to slowly slaughter millions in a drawn-out invasion than to instantly immolate hundreds of thousands.

But, as some wise person stated above, this is all in the past and there is no way we can put ourselves in the shoes of the decison makers of August, 1945.
posted by spazzm at 11:47 PM on April 20, 2004


Tokyo and Dresden were both bombed with conventional weapons and those attacks arguably inflicted more damage and loss of life than either of the atomic bomb attacks. A person killed by a fission bomb is just as dead as somebody roasted alive by an incendiary bomb.
posted by snarfodox at 12:48 AM on April 21, 2004


Tokyo and Dresden were both bombed with conventional weapons and those attacks arguably inflicted more damage and loss of life than either of the atomic bomb attacks. A person killed by a fission bomb is just as dead as somebody roasted alive by an incendiary bomb.

Doesn't make it right though, does it?
posted by chill at 2:33 AM on April 21, 2004


Doesn't make it right though, does it?

Is firebombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima more right for you? What about a land invasion? Is that more right because the number of people killed is spread over a longer period of time?
posted by SpaceCadet at 3:22 AM on April 21, 2004


I think that references to Tokyo or Dresden miss the point: using the atom bomb was an escalation.

The argument with most merits is the one about the risk of losing the monopoly on the bomb. In a war initiated by the opponent, "better 'em than us" can go a looooong way.
posted by magullo at 3:24 AM on April 21, 2004


I think that references to Tokyo or Dresden miss the point: using the atom bomb was an escalation.

It was already fast escalating towards a mass land invasion, which would have been bloody and drawn-out (resulting almost certainly in more death than the 2 A-bombs). The Japanese citizens were willing to die for the Emporer.
posted by SpaceCadet at 3:40 AM on April 21, 2004


glad that so many of you got something worthwhile out of the post.

though i agree that discussions of the decision to bomb both hiroshima and nagasaki continue to be relevant, what actually struck me about these photos was the man himself, grabbing two surviving cameras, going out with only 24 available frames, and shooting only seven. it's interesting that the discussion here didn't focus on that.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2004


crush, sorry the discussion got a bit derailed. The links were excellent. What I found most interesting was Matsuhige's rationale:

he explained that he could not take more photos that day because "it was so atrocious" and he was afraid burned and battered people "would be enraged if someone took their picture." He tried to capture more images but he could not "muster the courage" to press the trigger ... "I could not endure taking any more pictures that day. It was too heartbreaking."

This is an issue journalists often struggle with -- the obligation to record's conflict with, in many respects, simple humanity. Should I take this picture instead of looking for survivors in need of aid? Do I have a moral right to photograph this horribly burned, incapacitated person?

In most (some would say all) cases, the value of recording information outweighs these concerns. Still, the questions are unsettling at the very least.
posted by jeffmshaw at 9:56 AM on April 21, 2004


[And just to close the loop on the other stuff -- all the pro-bombing arguments depend on atomic warfare being the only alternative to a land invasion. But a land invasion wouldn't have been necessary, and the Allies knew it. Japan was prepared to give up Okinawa, because the people there are culturally and ethnically distinct, but not to risk prolonged assault on the mainland.]
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:00 AM on April 21, 2004


I've heard about the rationalization of Hiroshima ; kill a few thousands civilians to save a millions civilians and soldiers and stop the war. It shows how barbaric was and still is the rationalization of war.

Indeed they could have just dropped the bomb a number of miles away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki , the show would have been probably as horrible ...and still a real shock-and-awe from the military point of view, an immense display of power and omnipotence. A real deterrent.

Obviously radiation would still have a killed a number of citizens, but I don't agree with the logic of "better kill them now and not make them suffer radiation effects" ; as far as I know their understanding of radiation long term effects wasn't complete.

It is likely that the problem was mainly in the military brains, both U.S. and Japan ones : to show that you're serious about a war you have to kill, or they will not believe you. Probably somebody in the U.S. tought that to show the Japanese military they were very serious about obliterating them and not just doing fireworks they had to really h-bomb a city and kill thousands.

How insane is that ? They already did show their determination by convetional carpet bombing, which also caused immense fires (as far as i know) because of the wood-and-paper structure of many buildings.

The problem is in the military way of dealing affairs.
posted by elpapacito at 10:49 AM on April 21, 2004


Besides, if we needed a demonstration of the bomb's power, we could have blown up an uninhabited atoll (an option that was considered at the time).

But the argument goes that doing such a thing would not necessarily have demonstrated the willingness to actually use the weapon in war. Why not just send them them footage of the nuclear tests then? Japan very well could have thought, "they won't actually use it on people..." thus making the demonstration pointless. It's also not too difficult to see the Cuban missile crisis unfolding differently if the Soviets had thought, "well, they have them, but they won't actually use them because we all know Americas are weak..." (Although that wouldn't justify being the sole reason for the use of the weapons against Japan, were that the case.)
posted by Cyrano at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2004


i hadn't parsed his failure to take more pictures as the classic journalist moral dilemma of "do i take the picture or throw the drowning man a rope" (although he does wonder if they were thinking why was he taking their picture instead of helping them). it seemed to me, from his testimony, more a reaction of shock.

my first exposure to the story came from a blurb that highlighted the fact that he had 24 exposures, framed hundreds, and shot only seven. the only real lesson i ever learned in photography was that you shot five frames to get one shot. i wondered if yoshito also suffered some fear of choosing the wrong shot, given his limited resources and the awesomeness of what he witnessed, but it seems that he did not.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:15 PM on April 21, 2004


Winners write the history books.

I don't think any of us can sit here and look at a few pics and discuss (with any semblance of accuracy) whether it was right or not to drop the bombs on civilians. I think the ONLY way we can discuss this accurately is if we've spend time at the hiroshima monument, spoken with survivors, and seen the legacy the attacks caused.

I don't care if we chose the bomb sites to avoid destroying cultural artifacts. I don't care if it prevented more deaths due to a land invasion.

All I think about is that here are two cities of people, some of whom probably didn't even like the war (like we don't like the Iraq war now), have their lives, friends, family, homes etc. suddenly removed from them forever. Kids in school burned to a crisp. Young mothers crushed under falling buildings. The slow decay of the body due to radiation poisoning.

None of us have experienced anything close to this level of pain and suffering. How can we talk about whether it's right or not? We should be apologizing (just like the Japanese should be apologizing for their killings, and the Chinese, and the Russians, and the Indians, and the Pakistanis, etc etc etc) over and over.

One intentional death is one too many. Hatred begets hatred. Murder begets murder.
posted by Dantien at 1:00 PM on April 22, 2004


« Older Do Not Eat   |   beat-generation photos Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post