Early one August morning, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was preparing to return home from the town where he had spent the last three months on business. Employed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan as a draftsman, he had been working over the summer on a shipbuilding project. He was heading out on a bus to the station with two of his colleagues when he realized he had left something behind. His friends continued on while he returned to the company dormitory to retrieve it. Once he did, he began walking back toward the shipyard.
Mr. Yamaguchi remembered the day well:
“It was a flat, open spot with potato fields on either side. It was very clear, a really fine day, nothing unusual about it at all. I was in good spirits.”
But that would change in an instant for him and the approximately 245,000 others in Hiroshima that day—Aug. 6, 1945. The Americans had dropped 720,000 leaflets two days earlier warning that the city would be obliterated—but no one paid any heed. Now the reality had come.
“As I was walking along I heard the sound of a plane, just one. I looked up into the sky and saw the B-29, and it dropped two parachutes. I was looking up into the sky at them, and suddenly … it was like a flash of magnesium, a great flash in the sky, and I was blown over,” he explained ( quoted by Richard Lloyd Parry, “The Luckiest or Unluckiest Man in the World?” The Times [London] website, March 29, 2009 ).
The plane he saw was the Enola Gay. It just completed its mission of dropping the first atomic bomb ever used in a military operation.
“When the noise and the blast had subsided I saw a huge mushroom-shaped pillar of fire rising up high into the sky. It was like a tornado, although it didn’t move, but it rose and spread out horizontally at the top. There was prismatic light, which was changing in a complicated rhythm, like the patterns of a kaleidoscope. The first thing I did was to check that I still had my legs and whether I could move them. I thought, ‘If I stay here, I’ll die.’
“Two hundred yards ahead, there was a dugout bomb shelter, and when I climbed in there were two young students already sitting there. They said, ‘You’ve been badly cut, you’re seriously injured.’ And it was then I realized I had a bad burn on half my face, and that my arms were burned.”
Mr. Yamaguchi’s story is one of thousands of first-hand accounts of the horrifying devastation that one bomb created. One patient of Michihiko Hachiya, who was the director of the Hiroshima Communications Hospital, recounted this story, which Hachiya kept in a diary along with dozens of other stories he heard from patients at that time:
“The sight of the soldiers … was more dreadful than the dead people floating down the river. I came onto I don’t know how many, burned from the hips up; and where the skin had peeled, their flesh was wet and mushy … And they had no faces! Their eyes, noses and mouths had been burned away, and it looked like their ears had melted off. It was hard to tell front from back” (Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb , 1986, p. 726).
With one bomb, approximately 140,000 people were killed. Every individual who survived had his or her own account of the suffering they witnessed, and those accounts numbered in the tens of thousands.
The magnitude of the destruction is beyond comprehension. No words can adequately describe it.
How could we do this?
The capacity of people to kill each other entered an entirely new and never-before-imagined age that day. For the first time in history, the dreadful prophecy that mankind would face extinction if not for the return of Jesus Christ was conceivable (Matthew 24:22 Matthew 24:22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×).
Over the next several decades following World War II, ever more powerful atomic weapons were developed across the globe in the period known as the Cold War. The most powerful one ever tested was a Russian hydrogen bomb with an explosive power more than 3,000 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Today, the nuclear arsenal of just the United States and Russia (to say nothing of India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, France, China and other countries known to possess nuclear weapons) is sufficient to destroy the inhabited portions of the earth multiple times over.
Why did the United States drop the bomb in Japan that day? To more quickly end the war, which had already claimed millions of lives. The American military was gearing up for a massive land invasion of Japan, but if the bomb could be used and proved effective in forcing Japan to an unconditional surrender first, then the lives of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Allied servicemen and millions of the Japanese could be spared.
In his history of the Second World War, British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill summarized the thinking behind the decision:
“To avert a vast, indefinite butchery, to bring the war to an end, to give peace to the world, to lay healing hands upon its tortured peoples by a manifestation of overwhelming power at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance” (quoted by Rhodes, p. 697).
Of course this was still an unimaginable toll for those who lived in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And since then the world has lived in the shadow of the Bomb.
The peace achieved in this world always comes with other problems.
To get a picture of the events Jesus foretold that will happen before He comes back, imagine the desolation in Hiroshima on that horrible day and multiply it the whole world over. In that coming time of worldwide turmoil and disaster, every citizen of every country of the world will be at risk.
The final chapter of the book
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, quoted from in this article, is titled “Tongues of Fire.” Its account of Hiroshima’s devastation—beginning months in advance with the American military preparing an island from which to launch this and other attacks on Japan, and concluding with page after page of firsthand survivors’ recollections of the misery they witnessed that day—is enough to make one’s heart begin to pound (as mine did). Rhodes relates this chilling account:
“‘There was a fearful silence which made one feel that all people and all trees and vegetation were dead,’ remembers Yoko Ota, a Hiroshima writer who survived. The silence was the only sound the dead could make … They were nearer the center of the event; they died because they were members of a different polity and their killing did not therefore count officially as murder; their experience most accurately models the worst case of our common future. They numbered in the majority in Hiroshima that day” (p. 715, emphasis added).
Only one thing can give us hope in the face of such unspeakable destruction remaining a possibility for the world at large—God’s promise of intervention and salvation.
“How can they keep developing these weapons?”
Whatever happened to Mr. Yamaguchi? After getting his bearings and finding cover at an air raid shelter that terrible day, his wounds were bandaged, and he spent the night. The next day he and his companions managed to return to their hometown—Nagasaki. Despite his wounds, he reported for work two days later, Aug. 9, 1945.
At work, he and his boss were having a conversation when the second atomic bomb detonated above the city, killing tens of thousands as the first blast had done in Hiroshima. Mr. Yamaguchi was not injured in the second blast, and he and his wife both went on to live into their 90s. They both died in 2010, and are survived by three children. He is the only person officially recognized by Japan for having survived both atomic blasts, though there were others.
“I can’t understand why the world cannot understand the agony of the nuclear bombs,” he said in an interview not long before his death at age 93 (quoted by David McNeill, “How I Survived Hiroshima—and Then Nagasaki,” The Independent, [London], March 26, 2009). “How can they keep developing these weapons?”
There will be a day Mr. Yamaguchi will have his wish fulfilled. God speed that day!