by Michihiko Hachiya, M.D.
THE LITERARY WORK
An eight-week diary of events following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945; published in America in 1955.
A hospital director records his own experiences as a victim and as a doctor treating victims of the atomic bomb that was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan.
Dr. Michihiko Hachiya was director of the Communications Hospital about 1500 meters (about one mile) from the “hypocenter,” the site exactly under the aerial detonation of the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. When it exploded 500 meters above ground, the doctor was at his own home, a few hundred meters farther from the hypocenter than the hospital. He made his way to the remains of the hospital even though wounded by debris nearly 150 times. Badly hurt and sewn together with more than 400 stitches, the doctor regained his intellectual and professional curiosity enough within two days to begin a two-month record of observations on the effects of the bomb.
The evolution of Japan
The foundation for the Japanese events of 1945 have a history that dates back to at least 1853. Before that year, unfortunate experiences with both British and Dutch traders had resulted in Japan’s closing its borders to foreigners. In 1853 Admiral Matthew Perry took an American fleet into Tokyo harbor and forced the nation, which at the time was divided by competing clans, into accepting foreign traders. Soon Japan had entered into trade agreements with the United States, Britain, France, and the Netherlands.
With power in the hands of a few dominant clans, the emperor was relegated to the status of a figurehead and there was no one to speak for all of Japan. Progress in international trade came haltingly. Finally, in 1868 the Meiji Rebellion overturned feudal rule and set Japan on a course toward modernization and a more democratic government, which included not only an emperor but also a representative council.
Modernizing the formerly feudal state was difficult, for Japan had few natural resources with which to build. As the nation entered into international trade, demands for new resources grew and Japan sought ways to expand its territory. To Japanese leaders, the logical direction for expansion was toward the Asian mainland; Korea appeared to be the most favorable first target. In 1894-95 and again in 1904-05, Japan fought for control of Korea, first with Russia and later with China. By 1910 Japan had solidified its position so that it could claim the Korean peninsula as its protectorate.
By the end of World War I, a war in which Japan participated only marginally, it had become one of the three major sea powers of the world, along with the United States and Great Britain. When a new emperor came to power in 1926, turmoil within Japan allowed the military to seize control of the government. The military dictatorship now focused on Asia, setting out to establish a pan-Asian government under Japanese control. In 1931 Japan embarked on this course by invading Manchuria, China. Yet despite this victory, the military was not altogether popular at home. Five years of unrest followed in Japan before the military dictators were able to cast aside any semblance of civilian participation in a democratic government. In 1936 Japan isolated itself by withdrawing from the League of Nations and a year later became involved in a conflict with China, which proved to be more difficult than originally expected. The Japanese military had, in the process, committed or allowed what seemed to be horrendous atrocities against the Chinese.
While still embroiled in the war with China, Japan’s military turned its attention toward Southeast Asia. When the United States objected to this expansionism, the military dictatorship of Japan aligned itself with Germany and Italy. On December 7, 1941, Japan made clear its position in World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii without the formality of a declaration of war. There followed a hundred days of Japanese victories that suggested a possible conquest of all the areas around Asia, if not all of the Pacific. The Japanese military captured territory as distant as the Solomon Islands near Australia, which had been under the control of Great Britain, and several other areas that had been under American control. Among the captured U.S. territories were the Philippines, Wake Island (1,500 miles east of the Philippines), and some of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska.
During this time, the United States military was recovering from its lack of preparation at Pearl Harbor. U.S. troops and their allies spent the next four years gradually regaining the outlying regions in the Pacific that had been occupied by the Japanese. By 1945 the United States was poised for a final assault on the Japanese homeland.
Over the course of Japan’s military victories and later losses, the emperor was regarded as the symbol of Japanese unity. Emperor Hirohito had, in fact, begun his reign convinced that the Japanese government should be a constitutional one, and he had refused to make government decisions without the input of his constitutionally provided advisors. Military leaders took this behavior to be a sign of weakness and were determined to use the emperor for their own purposes. In fact, the military dictators took special care with their propaganda to build the image of a divine emperor and then to use the emperor’s supposed approval to persuade the populace of the infallibility of any government act. Even pictures of the emperor were preserved and treated in very special ways—moved from one place to another, for example, with very clearly defined safeguards. Decrees from the military were announced as if coming from the emperor and were therefore taken by the people to be almost divine revelations. In this way, the Japanese became united in their trust in the military and in the ultimate goals of their conflicts—Japan would emerge victorious because the military and the “emperor” said it would.
The reality of the situation was kept from the people, who were instead bombarded with accounts of glorious army and navy victories. In reality, after the first hundred days, Japan’s scant resources, especially petroleum, began to become seriously depleted. There was also a manpower shortage. Conscription in Japan exceeded its age limits, reaching beyond them to include fifteen-year-old boys and forty-year-old men, along with some girls taken for special assignments such as guarding prisoners. Boys were drafted into an army that had no guns to supply them. They went off to battle with very constricted supply lines. The Japanese tradition of self- and family-reliance contributed to the shortages; for every Japanese soldier there was said to be only one official supporting agent in the supply system (by contrast eighteen service workers supported every American fighter). All this hardship was accepted by most Japanese people because it was demanded in the name of the emperor through the military leader and prime minister Hideki Tojo, who called on the Japanese to fight to the death for their homeland.
The state of affairs in 1945
Except for the nation’s commitment to fight to the end, even if its people were reduced to using bamboo spears as weapons, Japan’s ability to wage war had been nearly eliminated by 1945. The vaunted military had made almost no plans for homeland defense. American bomber planes ravaged Japan’s largest cities from the air. Between March and August 1945, B-29 bombers destroyed forty percent of the city of Osaka and fifty percent of Tokyo, Kobe, and Yokohoma. Some 241,000 people were killed in these raids and nearly a third of a million injured. Much of these urban areas had been constructed of wood, and the U.S. military took advantage of this fact in their use of incendiary bombs. Still there was no sign that the Japanese military would capitulate.
Meanwhile, the Americans had memories of the vigor and bitterness with which the Japanese fought. Allied forces had finally captured the island of Okinawa, but not until 100,000 Japanese and 75,000 Okinawans died in its defense. The willingness to endure such tremendous losses and the ability of the Japanese military not to waver under the heavy conventional bombings guided American strategy, especially when it was confirmed that the U.S. had developed an atom bomb. Perhaps not completely informed of the rapidly deteriorating conditions inside Japan, but well aware of the great commitment of the Japanese soldiers and people to fight to the death, President Harry Truman, in consultation with his World War II allies, made the decision to use the new weapon. The first target was to be the heavily militarized city of Hiroshima.
Hiroshima in 1945 was a thriving commercial and military center located on the Inland Sea, a body of water separating some large islands in the south of Japan. It is variously reported to have had a population of between 243,000 (Committee, p. 346) and 500,000 (Wells in Hachiya, p. xxiii). The actual population is a mystery partly because by the summer of 1943 many changes had been made in preparedness for anticipated bombings from Allied aircraft; B-29s had already been bombing such important cities as Tokyo and Osaka. One raid on Tokyo had resulted in more than 150,000 casualties because of the tremendous fires among the mostly wooden residences there. The Hiroshima Prefecture attempted to minimize similar damage by moving at least 7,500 citizens out of the city and by destroying many wooden structures to create fire breaks throughout the central city.
Hiroshima, a comparatively small city, had not yet been attacked by the bombers and remained a thriving shipping, tourist, and military center. Across a short span of water lay the sacred island of Miyajima, one of the most beautiful places in the nation. During the long series of wars that Japan had entered into during the previous decades, Hiroshima had also become an important site to the military. Beginning at the north end of Hiroshima proper and extending to the Gokoku Shrine that marked the middle of the city lay the vast Hiroshima Military Barracks. Hiroshima served also as a supply center for two large naval establishments and a naval air station—all located within thirty miles of the city. Two hospitals were among the prominent structures of the city. The 400-bed Red Cross Hospital sat in the heart of the city, while the smaller, 125-bed Communications Hospital, located on the northeast edge of the Military Barracks, served postal, radio, and telegraph workers.
In Japan, patients in hospitals traditionally brought their own bedding, along with food and cooking equipment as well as a relative or friend to do the cooking and serve as a nurse’s aide. In addition, Japanese hospitals served more outpatients than actual overnight residents. Because of these factors, both institutions sheltered more people and served a great deal more of the community than the number of beds suggests.
Hiroshima residents and officials had expected that eventually the city would come under the heavy bombing to which larger Japanese cities had been subjected. Japanese military intelligence was poor, however, so the citizens were unaware of what was going on in the United States. By June 1945, the atom bomb was ready for use, and a month of study and debate by U.S. military and government authorities followed. The result was the recommendation that the bomb be used as soon as possible in an effort to bring a quick end to the massacres of conventional warfare and the upcoming invasion of Japan.
In the early daylight hours (8:15 a.m.) of August 6, 1945, one of three B-29s flying over the center of the city unleashed the four-ton weapon. The bomb was detonated above the city, creating a temperature of more than 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,400 degrees Fahrenheit) in the immediate vicinity, destroying more than 70,000 buildings, and instantly killing 60,000 people. So strong were the heat and resulting pressure change that many Hiroshima residents were numbed to the tremendous roar (in Japanese descriptions, don) and saw only the split-second-earlier very bright flash (pika). The “pikadon,” as the atomic explosion came to be called, left the city in total chaos, with dead lying in the streets, stunned survivors wandering the rubble waiting for death, and people who had been terribly disfigured by the heat and pressure searching for aid that no longer existed. Many Hiroshimites fled to the nearby river in their attempt to escape the heat, and a number of them drowned there.
Only the most strongly reinforced buildings, among them the Communications Hospital and the adjoining Communications Center, survived the blast, which, of course, had left even these
buildings without windows, doors, roofs—any parts that would burn or melt.
Michihiko Hachiya, a trained and skillful doctor, was director of the Communications Hospital and lived only a few hundred meters from it. He had been on twenty-four-hour duty the day before, and was just rising and preparing to go to work on August 6 when a great flash spread across the sky and his home began to break up. Bits of wood and glass exploded into the room, inflicting life-threatening wounds on the doctor. He was surprised, too, to find that, whatever the cause of the flash had been, it had removed all his clothing. Nevertheless, he joined his less injured wife and struggled toward the Communications Hospital.
The hospital had been gutted. Only its strong reinforced concrete walls remained. Nevertheless, some of the twenty staff members had begun to assemble there and do what they could for the bomb’s victims. Initial opinions by these staff members held that Dr. Hachiya would not survive the deep cuts he had sustained. Still, within two days the doctor’s condition was sufficiently improved so that he could begin to keep a record of his hospital observations and later of his perceptions as he moved about the city. From August 8 to September 30, Dr. Hachiya recorded daily accounts. The diary includes initial accounts of terribly burned people who arrived for treatment at a hospital with no windows, no medicines, no mats for beds—in fact, with no supplies at all. It records the heroic attempts of hospital staff members to secure supplies and tend to the sick and dying, even though most of these staff members were injured or ill themselves.
Patients in the hospital, the diary records, could look through the window spaces to see the great fires built by survivors to burn the bodies of the dead. It also became necessary to improvise a crematory to dispose of the many who died in the hospital. Besides those obviously suffering from major wounds, like blown-off body parts or severe burns, some patients entered the hospital with nausea and diarrhea. As time progressed, some of these patients seemed to improve, but then began to suffer again from diarrhea and to show spots from hemorrhaging beneath the skin. Most of the patients who developed these spots soon died. Unaware that the traumas were the result of an atom bomb and without tools such as microscopes, Dr. Hachiya recorded the struggles of his staff to understand this new illness. The doctor himself believed the ailment was due to the great change in air pressure that had resulted when the bomb exploded.
It was not until a microscope arrived from Tokyo—the diary gives the date as August 20—that the staff could examine blood samples. The examinations revealed that the body mechanisms for defense had been undermined—that white blood cells were badly depleted in the bodies of dying victims. Later the doctors discovered that the blood platelets—the instruments of clotting—had been destroyed as well. The spotty skin was a sign of great, unchecked internal bleeding. In the second month after the bomb, autopsies confirmed that many victims suffered massive bleeding in most organs of their bodies.
THE AMERICAN OCCUPATION
Three days after the bomb struck Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, a shipping center with about 250,000 residents that also held a major military arsenal. The second atomic bomb effectively ended the war; total surrender was announced on August 15. For seven years after 1945, American forces managed the affairs of Japan. The Japanese army and navy were dismantled as U.S. General Douglas MacArthur became the virtual prime minister of the conquered nation. The old military leaders were brought to trial for war crimes, but MacArthur carefully preserved the emperor as the symbol of Japanese unity.
Along with the medical reports, the diary presents a picture of a disrupted city—short of supplies, with most of those that existed held firmly by the large military establishments. Desperate citizens had been turned by the single blast from a community of peaceful cooperation to a lawless mob that stole and scavenged among the ruins for whatever might help them survive. It was a city with little hope, in which the great military establishment abandoned the citizens in this time of crisis.
Amid the confusion, the hospital staff searched desperately for the causes and remedies of a strange new disease, and the destroyed city struggled in its first efforts to pick up the pieces and begin a new. Ending here, Dr. Hachiya’s diary had spanned the period from the end of the war to
the beginning of Japan’s Occupation by the American army.
The military, the emperor, and the Japanese people
Before the war’s end, the Japanese army and navy had usurped the emperor’s power and relegated him to figurehead status by 1945. Meanwhile, propaganda by the military under the name of the emperor had built the sense that the Japanese were a superior people who could conquer all and would reply to every setback with victory. Misled by their own propaganda, the military, headed by Hideki Tojo, had not given much thought to defending Japan itself.
The atom bomb brought respect for the military to an abrupt halt. Hachiya’s diary, spanning less than sixty days, reveals the changing attitude of most Japanese. The diary’s report of the sentiments in the hospital when total surrender was announced by the emperor on August 15 reflects the thinking of the Japanese people, their feelings for their emperor, and their changing attitude toward the military:
August 15. This was the day for the broadcast…. I had been prepared for the broadcast to tell us to dig in and fight to the end, but this unexpected message left me stunned. It was the emperor’s voice and he had read the Imperial Proclamation of Surrender! Like the others in the room, I had come to attention at the mention of the Emperor’s voice, and for a while we all remained silent and at attention… out of the blue sky, someone shouted: “How can we lose the war!… There is a limit to deceiving us!”
(Hachiya, Hiroshima Dairy, p. 82)
The deception was ascribed to the military, or, more exactly to its leader, Tojo, described as “the only actor on the stage” and a man who did whatever he pleased, regardless of the emperor’s wishes (Hiroshima Diary, p. 83).
In contrast to its disenchantment with the military, Japanese reverence for their emperor remained high. The diary reports that when a portrait of the emperor was discovered in a dangerously damaged building, an honor guard was formed even as people lay dead in the streets and others suffered openly from serious wounds and burns. The portrait was escorted in appropriate style to the Ota River, a boat was conscripted, and the symbol of the emperor transported to a safe place.
Dr. Hachiya had not intended his diary to be published. He wrote it in the spirit of a serious investigator keeping notes on his observations of a civic disaster. Even though friends encouraged him to share it with the world, he had some personal concerns about the effects the horrible memories might bring. His friends, however, persisted—focusing on the value of the technical material in the eight-week diary. Finally Hachiya agreed to publish the diary as a serial in a medical journal, Teishin Igaku, of the Japanese Communications Ministry.
In 1950 Dr. Warner Wells accepted the position of surgical consultant to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission established by the United States government. The assignment took him to Hiroshima, where in 1951 he met Dr. Hachiya and obtained the diary and the journal articles. It was at this point that Dr. Wells began to translate the exceptional record into English.
Concerns about the new weapons
Between 1945 and 1955, actions related to the bombings took two major directions. There were concerns about both the aftereffects of the bombs and about the secrecy of how to manufacture them. Little was really known about the aftereffects of the bombs. Reports, for example, that Hiroshima would be uninhabitable for seventy-five years proved to be false. By 1955 Hiroshima was again home to 286,000 Japanese. Committees were organized in both Japan and the United States to gather whatever data was available relating to the initial effects of the detonations and to the lingering effects of radiation that the bombs produced.
The second concern was over controlling the information about how to produce the bombs. Great Britain, Canada, and the United States had worked together on developing the first atomic bombs. By 1949 it was clear that the Soviet Union had also developed atomic bomb capabilities. Great Britain followed with a test of its own nuclear warhead on October 3, 1952. France, Israel, and other nations soon began to develop nuclear technology as well.
In 1951 the United States unveiled the hydrogen bomb, a weapon capable of spreading immediate harm to a much greater area than the atomic bombs had. On August 12, 1955, reports confirmed that the Soviet Union had tested the H-bomb as well. By this time, the United States had tested some sixty nuclear explosive devices, most of them deeply buried in a remote region of Nevada.
Amid these disturbing reports, others were attempting to divert the nuclear technology to peaceful uses. In 1955, when Hiroshima Diary was published in America, a two-week world conference was organized to discuss peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Though Dr. Hachiya had published his observations in a small medical journal during the Occupation, it was not until after his meeting with Dr. Warner Wells that the idea of a book began to form. Six years after the bomb fell on Hiroshima, Dr. Wells began his translation and transformation of Hachiya’s diary into book form, with the aid of Dr. Neal Tsukifuji. Ten years after the day of the atomic blast, the book was ready for publication in English.
The effects of the two bombs had created such horror that by the time Hiroshima Diary was published, several first-hand accounts about the incidents had been released. Hiroshima Diary was unique in that it had been recorded by a trained medical professional who survived the blast even though he was within a mile of the hypocenter. Yet it was just one of many books and articles written about the subject, and received only mild attention outside academia; nevertheless, it was reviewed very favorably and frequently. A. E. Kane, writing for the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, became one of the strongest advocates of the book; “everyone,” he declared, “should read this short but fascinating and terrible story” (Kane, p. 202). The Atlantic Monthly of September 1986 recommended the book, assuring readers that while full of horrors, it was not depressing. Other reviews lauded the book for its technical information, while some recommended it simply because all available information about the horrible events should be fully known.
Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
Cook, Haruko Taya, and Theodore F. Cook. Japan at War: An Oral History. New York: New Press, 1992.
Hachiya, Michihiko. Hiroshima Diary. Translated by Warner Wells. 1955. Reprint, with a forward by John W. Dower. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Harries, Meirion, and Susie Harries. Soldiers of the Sun. New York: Random House, 1991.
Kane, A. E. Review of Hiroshima Diary. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 302 (November 1955): 202.
Wynden, Peter. Day One: Before Hiroshima and After. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.