For Hiroshima’s survivors, memories of the bomb are impossible to forget

Nearly 75 years after the devastating bombing that helped end World War II, the city has moved on. But the memories—and the lessons of war—endure.

A mushroom cloud billows above the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare. Three days later a second atomic bomb destroyed the city of Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 15, bringing World War II to an end.
Archivo GBB/Contrasto/Redux

Nine days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, after his mother and year-old brother died and his home was incinerated, seven-year-old Masaaki Tanabe watched his father slip away. His last words: “I see no future as an army officer.” An implacable enemy of America, Tanabe’s father died with his sword at his side. Tanabe’s grandfather wanted to keep his son’s sword, but the occupation forces came and wrested it from him. “Barbarians,” young Tanabe thought. He was determined to take revenge against America, he says.

Understandable. He had nothing and almost no one left. His home had been next to Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the now iconic building with the skeletal dome, preserved as an appeal for nuclear forbearance.

Now in his early 80s, Tanabe is a handsome man, square jawed and silver browed. He is tradition personified in his gray jinbei robe with wide sleeves. He’s also resourceful and adaptive. He became a filmmaker and studied computer graphics so he could construct a cyber version of the city that the bomb had erased. The result: Message From Hiroshima, a film that includes interviews with survivors of the August 6, 1945, bombing that—along with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki three days later—would kill up to 200,000 people, force Japan’s surrender in World War II, and render unnecessary an Allied invasion of Japan that could have killed millions.

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