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First Word on Bombing: Stopped Trains; Then Tales of Dead City

August 5, 1995

HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) _ The first reports were mundane, with no hint of human tragedy and historic sweep: Japanese radio said all the trains to and from Hiroshima had stopped running.

In the hours, days and weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb, it took time for the horror that was Hiroshima to trickle to the outside world.

President Truman announced that the atomic attack had been successful, and the U.S. government told reporters the city was engulfed in ``an impenetrable cloud of dust and smoke.″

For a war-weary world, the overriding reaction was one of joy, scarcely tempered even when the city’s suffering became clear. It was portrayed as the price of peace.

In London, people danced in the streets. In Washington, there was breathless anticipation of the Japanese surrender, which would not come for nine more days.

It was a full day before Japan and its censored newspapers acknowledged the attack. Tokyo accused the United States of moral bankruptcy _ and hinted Japan might counterattack with a terrible new weapon of its own.

``The history of war shows that the new weapon, however effective, will eventually lose its power,″ an official Japanese report said.

The extent of the bomb’s destructive force only became clear over the next few days. Japanese reports on the condition of the city were monitored by The Associated Press in San Francisco.

The greater part of Hiroshima was destroyed, the reports said, and the new bomb was ``even worse than poison gas in inhuman destructive power.″

Announcing Japan’s unconditional surrender nine days after the blast _ and six days after the second atomic bombing, at Nagasaki _ Emperor Hirohito declared that more such bombings ``would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.″

The first American reporters reached Hiroshima about two weeks after Japan’s surrender. Their dispatches depicted a city of the dead.

``Streetcars rattle along the streets where not a single building stands. A few deadpan citizens move slowly through the rubble,″ wrote Vern Haugland of The Associated Press. ``Block after block contains only a thin covering of rusting tin, a few stones and some broken bricks.″

Tom Sakamoto, an American soldier who served as a translator on that first trip, recently recalled reporters’ reactions when they visited Hiroshima’s Red Cross Hospital.

``We only got inside the door when the group quickly backed out. There was a terrible smell of rotting flesh,″ said Sakamoto, who is now retired and living in Saratoga, Calif. ``And the faces of the young babies, the elderly. The people looked so helpless. There were so many horrible-looking injuries.″

The bomb almost immediately set off public debate over the morality of the bomb’s use _ an argument that continues to this day.

The Zurich newspaper Die Tat criticized the use of the bomb and urged the Swiss government to protest the weapon.

There is a ``Christian distinction between legitimate and illegitimate weapons of war,″ The Catholic Herald of London editorialized Aug. 9. It called the bomb ``utterly and absolutely indefensible.″

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