The legacy of Hiroshima

Kylie Hatfield 06 August 2020

There's no doubt that the bombing of Hiroshima brought a swift end to WWII. But what were its lasting impacts on the world?

The bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and Nagasaki three days later on 9 August, were the final significant acts in the long and destructive Second World War.

Never before had a bomb of this magnitude been detonated. An estimated 120,000 people were immediately killed by the blasts, with thousands more dying from the after-effects in the months that followed. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito described the weapons as a ‘new and most cruel bomb’ when he announced Japan’s unconditional surrender on 15 August.

While the bombings served as a catalyst for the end of WWII, their impact on the world was significant and is still felt today.

The lead-up to the bombings

With the war in Europe coming to an end in May 1945, Japan was threatened with ‘prompt and utter destruction’ if they refused to surrender to allied forces. Japan rejected the demand in late July, and the United States, with the support of the United Kingdom, proceeded to drop newly developed atomic weapons over the Japanese manufacturing city of Hiroshima.

When Emperor Hirohito failed to surrender, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. With half of the total death toll occurring on the first days of the respective bombings and the evident wide-spread destruction of the cities, Emperor Hirohito finally announced Japan’s surrender on 15 August.

The end of the war

Japan’s surrender signalled the end of WWII. The date was recognised as VP Day, or Victory in the Pacific Day, in Australia, and VJ Day, or Victory over Japan Day in the United States, Britain and New Zealand. The day was declared a public holiday and crowds spilt into the streets in celebration.

But while the war was over, the impacts of the bombings were felt for years after.

The aftermath

In the weeks that followed the bombings, both US and Japanese research teams descended on Hiroshima to begin gathering insights into the impacts of a nuclear weapon. Studies aimed to understand the biological effect of the radiation, how people died from it and the medical effects on survivors. Research continues to this day on the atomic bomb survivors, known as hibakusha in Japanese, who are into their 80s and 90s, and their subsequent generations.

In the months and years that followed, many more people died from the effects of radiation, and increases in cancers, leukaemia, miscarriage, and infant death were noticeably higher.

Survivors and their second and third generations were also discriminated against over fears surrounding the unknown physical and psychological impacts. Women, in particular, experienced bias as people feared the potential genetic consequences of radiation on their offspring.

The cities were destroyed in the explosions and took years to rebuild. Hiroshima was re-established as a Peace Memorial City, with more than 60 monuments standing as reminders of the war and promotions of peace. The only building in the hypocentre of the bomb to remain standing, the Industrial Promotion Hall, remains untouched and is now home to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

The first and last nuclear bombs

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first and last time that nuclear weapons have been used in warfare, anywhere in the world. While several countries went on to develop and test nuclear weapons, and continue to house them, it’s thought the impact felt by the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the majority of whom were civilians – was too devastating for any country to use the weapons again since.

Survivors of the bombings have also long campaigned for a world free of nuclear weapons. In 1963, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was agreed to by the US, the Soviet Union and Britain, who agreed to the prohibition of nuclear weapon testing except for underground. In 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted: however, it is yet to be binding.


Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

  • History & commemoration