Remembering Hiroshima: Reflections on the Nuclear Age


August 6th marks the the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On August 8, 1945, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki City. To commemorate these tragedies, the Japanese people hold moments of silence, pray for those who died and float small lanterns on the rivers near ground zero.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs were the largest weapons of mass destruction ever used on human civilian populations. According to wikipedia, “Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day.”

It was a terrible tragedy, and afterwards many nations vowed not to use such nuclear devices, except as a last resort. But tensions developed between the Capitalist and Communist blocks and so began “The Cold War.” In reality, the military actions of that time were far from “cold.”

From 1948 until 1963, over five hundred nuclear bombs were exploded above ground, spreading massive amounts of nuclear radiation underwater and into the atmosphere. For anyone watching from space it must have looked like World War III, just that these bombs weren’t dropped on the population centers of “enemies.” Instead, each nation exploded bombs in their own territories, spreading toxic clouds of radioactive fallout out onto the farmlands, cities, towns and fishing regions of their own citizens and friends.

In the United States, the Nevada tests radiated more than 50% of the interior of the nation. In 1953, there was an event called “The Troy Incident” where radiation drifted all the way east, eventually raining down on the people of Troy, New York. While you’re not likely to find this story in any history textbooks, or even wikipedia, you can read about it here.

During the 1950’s the British began testing nuclear devices in Australia’s interior, spreading radiation over much of their ally’s continent. The French exploded bombs into the atmosphere of Algeria, while the Russians detonated their nuclear devices up north of Siberia and within the borders of the former U.S.S.R. The largest bomb ever exploded was by the Russians; it was nicknamed the Tzar bomb. It’s featured in this documentary of the era.

I mentioned that from outer space it must have looked like WW III. A Japanese researcher gives us that perspective in the following time-lapse video. Here he maps out the time and location of all atomic bombs exploded on our planet from 1945 to 1998.

As hard as it is to believe, there was radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere or oceans from each detonation up until October of 1963. After that, the U.S., U.S.S.R. and Britain moved all their tests underground. But quite a few countries never signed the treaty. France relocated their atmospheric tests (and radioactive fallout) from central Africa to the tropic islands of Polynesia.

According to wikipedia, “a total of 193 nuclear tests were carried out in Polynesia from 1966 to 1996. On 24 August 1968, France detonated its first thermonuclear weapon—codenamed Canopus—over Fangataufa.” France currently has the second largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. Here’s a video of the Canopus “test.”

China is another nation that declined to sign the treaty and conducted numerous above ground tests during the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. All were detonated within the borders of China, so the radioactive fallout fell on their own people, water supplies and farmland, as well as nations father east most probably, such as Korea and Japan.

Just exactly how much radiation was dumped into the oceans, forests, farmland and the atmosphere during the 20th century is unknown. If you find that someone has done the math, please let me know. How many people around the world were sickened, got cancer or died from all this radiation that was released is also unknown.

There have been some attempts to calculate the damage. In 1999, the U.S. National Cancer Institute completed a study and produced this map with calculations of I-131 radiation exposure to the continental United States. They concluded that “Americans born between 1936 and 1963, who were children at the time of testing,” are at higher risk of developing cancer.


People immediately to the north and west of the Nevada test site are often referred to as “downwinders” in the local news of their regions. I’ve been waiting to see the story shared on 20/20, 60 minutes, TIME or Newsweek but as far as I know it’s not something the U.S. national media wants to draw attention to. Search the Internet or youtube though and you will find quite a few local news stories, such as this one where Nevada downwinders tell how they used to go outside with drinks and food to watch the atomic bomb tests, the way people watch 4th of July fireworks nowadays.

There’s been many stories of hushed up nuclear accidents and disasters that I didn’t mention here, regions around the world where radiation releases have devastated communities or made the landscape uninhabitable. Most of the information is available on Wikipedia. Look up the Kyshtym disaster, the “Windscale fire, the Goiânia accident or the Hanford Downwinders.

When I present this information to my University students, they are shocked. Like most people around the world they assumed that Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only major incidents involving large releases of nuclear radiation that harmed people.

How (and why) we humans try to hide the truth and compartmentalize history like this has always amazed me. I wonder if – on some level – people in the 1950’s knew that the radiation from all those bombs was in their food, water and air?

Do a little digging, the information is available, none of these stories are conspiracy theories or secrets, they’ve just been ignored by the mainstream media. It’s not something people like to think about, or that the weapons industry and “leading nations” of the world want you to think about. See the 1935 classic “War is a Racket” by Major General Butler, for some thoughts on why this may be so.

Still, what happened to the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in August of 1945, was unique and horrific. Two nuclear devices were dropped on densely populated Japanese civilian areas by the United States- exploded directly above homes, schools, hospitals, shops, churches, temples and factories. This was followed by decades of massive weapons testing by the world’s most powerful and supposedly “advanced” nations, spreading still unknown amounts of radioactive fallout all over the globe.

Clearly, human beings do not think logically or thoughtfully in times of war and fear. We can see examples of this in the news, every single day. Hopefully, by recognizing our shared capacity for ignorance, and reflecting on our violent history as a species, we may grow wiser.

Christopher Chase
Creative Systems Thinking

About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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10 Responses to Remembering Hiroshima: Reflections on the Nuclear Age

  1. Bob OHearn says:

    Thanks for the history, Chris! Beyond secret nuclear mishaps and testings, there has also been quite a bit of biological weapons testing that has been kept from the public eye. For one example I am aware of (because I was involved as a test subject), the whole city of San Francisco was submitted to an airborne biological release of some experimental compound toxin, to test how a city would fare. This was during the 50’s. Moreover, there is ongoing testing of more exotic devices now on civilians, such as the HAARP array. This is not to even mention the ongoing Chemtrailing in our skies as I write. It seems that humans are always searching for ingenious new ways to control, manipulate, and destroy each other. It appears to be hard-wired into the human mainframe.
    Are we ever going to grow wiser? I remember the folk singers back in the 60’s singing “When will they ever learn?” Most of those singers are dead now, but the human slaughter has shown no signs of abating. Here’s a pertinent Q & A with the nondual sage Nisargadatta Maharaj which touches on the subject:

    Q: We were talking the other day about the ways of modern Western mind and the difficulty it finds in submitting to the moral and intellectual discipline of Vedanta. One of the obstacles lies in the young European’s or American’s preoccupation with the disastrous condition of the world and the urgent need of setting it right.

    They have no patience with people like you who preach personal improvement as a pre-condition for the betterment of the world. They say it is neither possible nor necessary. Humanity is ready for a change of systems – social, economic, political. A world-government, world-police, world-planning, and the abolition of all physical and ideological barriers: this is enough, no personal transformation is needed. No doubt, people shape society, but society shapes people too. In a humane society people will be humane; besides, science provides the answer to many questions which formerly were in the domain of religion.

    Maharaj: No doubt, striving for the improvement of the world is a most praiseworthy occupation. Done selflessly, it clarifies the mind and purifies the heart. But soon man will realize that he pursues a mirage. Local and temporary improvement is always possible and was achieved again and again under the influence of a great king or teacher; but it would soon come to an end, leaving humanity in a new cycle of misery. It is in the nature of all manifestation that the good and the bad follow each other and in equal measure. The true refuge is only in the unmanifested.

    Q: Are you not advising escape?

    Maharaj: On the contrary. The only way to renewal lies through deconstruction. You must melt down the old jewelry into formless gold before you can mould a new one. Only the people who have gone beyond the world can change the world. It never happened otherwise. The few whose impact was long lasting were all knowers of reality. Reach their level and then only talk of helping the world.

    Q: It is not the rivers and mountains that we want to help, but the people.

    Maharaj: There is nothing wrong with the world, but for the people who make it bad. Go and ask them to behave.

    Q: Desire and fear make them behave as they do.

    M: Exactly. As long as human behaviour is dominated by desire and fear, there is not much hope. And to know how to approach the people effectively, you must yourself be free of all desire and fear.

    Thanks again, Chris, for exploring tese matters!

    • Thanks Bob. Same to you. Always appreciate hearing your perspective.

      I think there is an idealism motivated by attempts to destroy dysfunctional systems, to create a better “order” in the world, that perpetuates problems. Communism fell into that trap and many “liberal” ideas have fallen flat because they are not “free of fear and desire” as Maharaj said, or are corrupted by less than compassionate intentions. Much of what we’ve seen proposed by “liberal” government in the U.S. recently is of this sort, nice words not backed by wisdom and loving intentions, in my opinion.

      But much in the world is good, functional and healthy because of people who act with love, integrity, mindfulness and wisdom. I don’t agree with the view that everything humans do is doomed to failure and to cause suffering. My field is education and we can see this clearly. The factory model of education that has dominated for the last hundred years is not the only way that learning can be organized. I’ve written about this extensively with this blog (see: Real Learning is a Creative Process), teach this way my self and have observed other teachers successfully teaching this way first-hand.

      It is not inevitable that humanity keeps falling into greater darkness and despair. We can grow wiser as a species. Whether we “way up” in that way soon enough to avoid a collapse of social and environmental systems is unknown, but I do believe we can do this.

      The Hour is Getting Late: Time for Humanity to Wake Up

      • Bob OHearn says:

        I do appreciate your idealism, but I discovered for myself that there is a very good reason Buddha termed this realm “Samsara”. That is not to say that there are not wonderful things going on every day, or that we are powerless to create positive change. However, what I have come to understand in my own research is that this planet, and perhaps quite a few like it, were designed as primitive testing grounds, where souls could experience extreme conditions in order to learn that love is the only truly viable approach to existence.

        That is why conditions here are the way they are, and why this classroom is not itself in any need of being changed. It serves perfectly well for what is designed to be — a virtual reality where such basics of how to behave are learned, and when they are, we are ready for more a advanced curriculum, as mature citizens of the greater universal community. These basics involve eliminating greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance, and instead choosing a life of integrity, founded on and expressing real love.

        The props on this stage may change, but the fundamental purpose and character is not likely to, which is why I say we are not here so much to change the world as we are to be changed by it.


      • Everything changes. We are entering a tunnel now, change is needed or current systems will collapse. Actually, I think collapse is inevitable, but my observations of nature have been that out of death comes new life and growth. Certain forests actually require fires to help them to thrive and survive.

        I’m optimistic, though realistic. We learn from challenging opportunities. I would say folks now would be wiser to invest in creating sustainable gardens, loving their children, being creative, dancing and planting trees then to bet money on the survival of Wall Street…

        In other words, many are ready “for more a advanced curriculum, as mature citizens of the greater universal community. These basics involve eliminating greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance, and instead choosing a life of integrity, founded on and expressing real love.”

      • Bob OHearn says:

        On that we certainly can agree!

      • It’s the only way a human community on this planet can survive and thrive. So given that my sons and their children will still have to live here that’s what I put my focus on.

      • Bob OHearn says:

        The planet has seen countless civilizations rise and disappear, long before this current one began recording its own brief history. All sorts of actors and dramas have played out their roles and scenes on this stage, and that will continue.

        Nisargadatta Maharaj: “The world is but a show, glittering and empty. It is, and yet is not. It is there as long as I want to see it and take part in it. When I cease caring, it dissolves. It has no cause and serves no purpose. It just happens when we are absent­minded. It appears exactly as it looks, but there is no depth in it, nor meaning. Only the onlooker is real. Call him Self or Atma. To the Self the world is but a colourful show, which he enjoys as long as it lasts and forgets when it is over. Whatever happens on the stage makes him shudder in terror or roll with laughter, yet all the time he is aware that it is but a show. Without desire or fear he enjoys it, as it happens.”


      • “When I cease caring, it dissolves. It has no cause and serves no purpose.”

        Well, that is perhaps true from a certain perspective, but it lacks the compassion this planet needs right now, imo. I’ll stick with what Buddha and Jesus taught, which relates to what you said earlier, dear friend, that its time “for a more advanced curriculum, as mature citizens of the greater universal community. These basics involve eliminating greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance, and instead choosing a life of integrity, founded on and expressing real love.”

        More love is needed, not less caring. This is what most people came here to learn, imo. Time to roll up our sleeves and open our hearts, not detach from living. I think you’ve said this yourself numerous times, Bob, no?

        We can all move on to those more advanced lessons when we get the basics figured out.

      • Bob OHearn says:

        Yes, you are right that it is a matter of perspective, or level of awareness. Nisargadatta spoke from the highest level of realization, and what he expresses is consequently that of the highest compassion. His teaching work was a demonstration of that high compassion. Most resist his words, because they cling to the dream that he would rouse them from — the dream of doership. Indeed, his life was a reflection real love in action. He offered no comforting half-truths, but called it like it is.
        Buddha spoke similarly in his teachings, pointing out the true nature of our appearance here. The teachings attributed to Jesus actually are cobbled together from a variety of sources, but do include the admonition to resist not well as relinquishing the idea of trying to establish a heaven here on earth.
        The more advanced curriculum I am speaking of is beyond this dense dark realm of endless conflict. It is the domain of the non-returners, to use Buddhist terminology. It represents a graduation from this kindergarten, in other words. Once we have learned what is needed, we move up and off this rock (unless there is a conscious choice to return here and help others move on). This vibratory frequency is one of the slowest, as befits its position in the cosmos as a crib for babies learning how to behave, but once we have learned how to ride our bikes, we discard our training wheels.
        Just so, this planet is not our destination, and we are certainly not here to perfect it. It is perfect as it is. Our destiny is beyond it.
        Certainly, Nidargadatta’s words can be misinterpreted out of context to mean some sort of aloofness, but all he is really talking about is detaching from the investment in the dream, which is the same detachment Buddha pointed to. If this is not understood, then one will continue to be tossed around by their concepts and desires, their wishes and hopes, and so remain locked in the prison of their own mistaken identity.
        This is a particularly hard lesson for some, especially those who cling to the world as real. And so they must pursue their intentions, their dreams and wishes, until all of that is revealed to them as errors of recognition.
        It is a razor-sharp line that one walks here, as they are beginning to wake up. There is no question that the truth of unconditional love must awaken within the heart, but it must also be accompanied by wisdom, the wisdom of clear seeing, otherwise there will be no balance. The way forward requires that balanced combination of love and wisdom, otherwise the poisons will never be transcended, and one will just continue to spin through endless repeats of elementary school.
        There is no end to caring, but few ever bother to inquire as to who or what exactly is the one doing this caring. That’s the key the sages are pointing to. They do not urge us to go out and do social work. They ask us to find out who we truly are. The rest will unfold naturally from that recognition,but without it, we are just spinning our wheels.


      • Bob OHearn says:

        Chris, you may find Chapter 7 of the Vimalakirti Sutra enlightening in regard to our consideration:

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