The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945

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Hiroshima Flattened by the Atomic Bomb

The flattened remains of Hiroshima, Japan. August 1945. USAF via Getty Images

On August 6, 1945 a US Army Air Force B-29 called the Enola Gay dropped a single atomic bomb on the Japanese port city of Hiroshima. The bomb flattened much of Hiroshima, instantly killing between 70,000 and 80,000 people - about 1/3 of the city's population. An equal number were injured in the blast.

This was the first time in human history that an atomic weapon was used against a foe in war. Approximately 3/4 of the victims were civilians. It marked the beginning of the end of World War II in the Pacific.

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Radiation Burn Victims in Hiroshima

Radiation burn victims in Hiroshima. Keystone / Getty Images

Many of the people who survived the bombing of Hiroshima suffered serious radiation burns over large portions of their bodies. Nearly five square miles of the city was completely destroyed. Traditional wood and paper homes, typical buildings for Japan, offered virtually no protection against the blast, and the resulting firestorm.

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Piles of the Dead, Hiroshima

Piles of dead bodies, Hiroshima after the bombing. Apic / Getty Images

With so much of the city devastated, and so many of the people killed or grievously injured, there were few able-bodied survivors around to take care of victims' bodies. Piles of the dead were a common sight in the streets of Hiroshima for days after the bombing.

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Hiroshima Scars

Scars on a victim's back, two years later. Keystone / Getty Images

This man's back bears the scars of his close brush with atomic annihilation. This photo from 1947 shows the lasting impact that the bombing had on the bodies of survivors. Though less visible, the psychological damage was just as serious.

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Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima

The dome that marks the epicenter of the Hiroshima bombing. EPG / Getty Images

This building stood directly under the epicenter of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, which allowed it to survive the blast relatively intact. It was known as the "Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall," but now it is called the Genbaku (A-bomb) Dome. Today, it stands as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a potent symbol for nuclear disarmament.

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Nagasaki, Before and After the Bomb

Nagasaki before, top, and after, below. MPI / Getty Images

It took Tokyo and the rest of Japan some time to realize that Hiroshima had been essentially wiped off the map. Tokyo itself had been nearly razed to the ground by American firebombing with conventional weapons. US President Truman issued an ultimatum to the Japanese government, demanding their immediate and unconditional surrender. The Japanese government was considering its response, with Emperor Hirohito and his war council debating the terms when the US dropped a second atomic bomb on the port city of Nagasaki on August 9.

The bomb struck at 11:02 am, killing an estimated 75,000 people. This bomb, called "Fat Man," was more powerful than the "Little Boy" bomb that obliterated Hiroshima. However, Nagasaki is in a narrow valley, which limited the scope of the destruction to some degree.

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Mother and Son with Rice Rations

A mother and son hold their rice rations, one day after the Nagasaki bombing. Photoquest / Getty Images

Everyday life and supply lines to Hiroshima and Nagasaki were totally disrupted in the aftermath of the atomic bombings. Japan was already reeling, with any chance of victory in World War II quickly slipping away, and food supplies were dangerously low. For those who survived the initial radiation blast and the fires, starvation and thirst became major concerns.

Here, a mother and her son hold rice balls that were given to them by aid workers. This meager ration was all that was available the day after the bomb fell.

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Atomic Shadow of a Soldier

The 'shadow' of a ladder and a Japanese soldier after the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki by the U.S., 1945. The soldier had been on watch two miles from the epicentre when the heat from the explosion burned the paint from the surface of the wall, except where it was shaded by the ladder and by the victim's body. Authenticated News/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In one of the eeriest effects of the atomic bombs, some human bodies were instantly vaporized but left dark shadows on the walls or sidewalks showing where the person stood when the bomb went off. Here, the shadow of a soldier stands beside the imprint of a ladder.  This man was on guard duty in Nagasaki, standing about two miles away from the epicenter, when the blast occurred.

After this second atomic bombing, the Japanese government immediately surrendered.  Historians and ethicists continue to debate today whether more Japanese civilians would have died in an Allied ground invasion of Japan's home islands. In any case, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were so shocking and devastating that although we have come close, humans have never again actually used nuclear weapons in war.