Life After Nuclear War

For much of the world, the United States’ 1945 atomic bombings of Japan represented an end to a long and costly global war. But for tens of thousands of survivors who barely escaped death beneath the mushroom cloud, their new lives as hibakusha (atomic bomb–affected people) had just begun.

In the late morning of August 9, 1945—three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—the people of Nagasaki moved through another day of hunger and wartime routine. At 11:02 a.m. a brilliant flash illuminated the sky, followed by an explosion equal to 21,000 tons of TNT. With searing heat and an annihilating force that defies imagination, the blast tore through factories, shops, and homes, carrying unprecedented levels of radiation that penetrated the bodies of people and animals. Approximately 74,000 people were killed, and another 75,000 were wounded.

Nagasaki takes us on the astonishing journeys of five survivors, all teenagers at the time of the bombing. From 1945 to Nagasaki today, we watch them and hibakusha across the city navigate an uncertain future with punishing injuries, acute and late-onset radiation-related illnesses, and haunting fears that they would pass on genetic disorders to their children and grandchildren. In a remarkable demonstration of human resilience, a small number of hibakusha made the very personal choice to speak out about their experiences, even as U.S. policies kept their suffering hidden in both in their own country and across the world. The survivors’ goal: To ensure that Nagasaki remains the last atomic-bombed city in history.

Susan Southard spent more than a decade researching and interviewing hibakusha and atomic bomb historians, physicians, and specialists to reconstruct the days, months, and years after the bombing. Using powerful eyewitness accounts, Southard unveils this neglected story of the enduring impact of nuclear war. Published for the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki expands our understanding of the atomic bomb and its impact and will help shape public discussion of one of the most controversial wartime acts in history.