On August 6, 1945, a B-29 named “Enola Gay” dropped an atomic bomb called “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima Japan. On August 9, 1945, another B-29 dropped a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki. This second bomb exploded in an airburst at fifteen hundred feet. The results of a nuclear explosion are well known now. First, there is an extremely bright flash and a powerful explosion. Then there is an extraordinarily hot, fast wind that emanates from ground zero out to a certain point, and the recoils back on itself to the point of the explosion. Following this comes fallout from the radiation. The radiation permeates everything on the ground. The radiation can persist for long periods of time, depending on bomb tonnage, explosive yield, weather conditions and terrain.
People who survived the blast normally did so because they were sheltered by something solid. Air raid shelters, mountains, hills, valleys, ditches and large boulders saved peoples’ lives. Some people survived by laying faced won on the ground and covering their faces and exposed skin. Although may people were killed outright by the nuclear blast and the heat wave, most casualties were caused by radiation sickness. Radiation sickness causes a feeling of disorientation, nausea and weakness. It has been compared to sea sickness.
The physical effects of a nuclear strike have been well documented. The psychological ones have not. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki underwent not only physical but severe emotional trauma; a significant emotional event that altered their lives forever.
Nuclear war induced feelings of severe paranoia in survivors. They were constantly under stress and were frightened of being bombed again. People found that their moral compass had changed. They no longer cared about doing wrong, or committing sin. Survivors did things they would not have done under ordinary circumstances. They no longer helped their neighbors as they had in the past. They thought nothing of looting houses or ruins for food and valuables. They also expressed the feeling that they should live for today, because there might be no tomorrow.
Survivors suffered extreme feelings of guilt, because they had been spared death. They wondered why the lived, when their loved ones, relatives, friends and neighbors had been killed. People who have suffered a significant emotional event will attempt to rationalize and find an answer for why something so traumatic has happened to them. They gather all of the information available to them and try to determine the solution. Some survivors believed that the bomb was God’s wrath, and that somehow, the people who were killed deserved death, because they had sinned. The bombings left emotional chasms between people. People withdrew from each other emotionally.
The survivors became so used to experiencing death that they became immune to the sight of dismembered, burned and mutilated bodies. Children would walk by corpses and think nothing of it. Death became a part of everyday life. People began to joke about death as a defense mechanism against the ever present horrors. Death, normally treated with great ceremony and respect, lost its meaning. Corpses were burned in the open. Survivors argued about to whom a persons remains belonged to.
The effects of nuclear war changed the survivors forever. They found themselves displaced, with no homes and none of the social networks they had lived within. Sometimes they felt reborn. More often, survivors felt spiritually dead while physically alive.
Reference: Nagai, Takashi. We of Nagasaki. NewYork: Duell, Sloan, 1951.