The First Few Minutes…

Rare photograph of the "Little Boy" nuclear detonation over Hiroshima, snapped from Kaitaichi, part of present-day Kaita, six miles east of Hiroshima's center.  August 6th, 1945.

Rare photograph of the “Little Boy” nuclear detonation over Hiroshima, snapped from Kaitaichi, part of present-day Kaita, six miles east of Hiroshima’s centre. Taken 2-3 minutes after the blast. August 6th, 1945.

“The detonation was a matter of nanoseconds. In one 10-millionth of a second, gamma rays escaped the core at light speed, followed by a spray of neutrons. Electrons were stripped from every atom of air and ‘a plasma bubble began to form, producing a thermal shock that spiked hotter than the Sun’s core and glowed billions of times brighter than the surface.’ By the time it had slowed to biological time, 3/10 of a second later, the bomb itself was gone. People on the ground were vaporized, their bodies converted into gas and desiccated carbon. Some left thermal shadows, ghosts on bleached asphalt. Away from the hypocenter, death came minutes or hours later. Some died as “alligator people,” skin burned crisp by the flash, some were ripped apart by the blast, still others sickened from radiation poisoning and bled out. A few, miraculously, survived, saved by shock cocoons or mere, capricious chance.”
Joseph Kanon, Washington Post, February 7, 2010

As John Hersey wrote in his 1946 article/book Hiroshima, those people annihilated in the opening flash of the bomb were the luckier ones. For the rest came the firestorms, the nuclear wind, a tour of their scorched landscape, and the sight of those who’d had the skin ripped and seared from their muscle tissue and yet still lived. Others walked the blackened streets with their skins hanging off their bodies like loose, blistered latex. Later came the radiation sickness and, if they survived that, eventual ostracisation from their communities as ‘hibakusha’. Unlike other catastrophic events like the fire bombing of Tokyo, ‘Little Boy’ would linger to poison his victims, their children and the unborn long after the last fires were put out, and ushered in the nuclear age and the 45 year-long Cold War.


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