Archive for the ‘MILITARY’ Category

Q&A: Sebastian Junger

‘Restrepo’ film directors Sebastian Junger (left) and Tim Hetherington (right) at the Restrepo outpost in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Photo credit: ©Tim A Hetherington

In a new book and film, the author of The Perfect Storm shows war from a soldier’s point of view.

Interview by Corey Seymour

Sebastian Junger first went into Afghanistan in 1996 to report for this magazine on a group of Americans taken hostage in nearby Kashmir. “There were rumors of Al Qaeda training camps outside of Jalalabad,” he says, “so I went there — what did I know? — and one of the local Afghans told me, ‘There are Arabs up in the hills training, and we don’t know what they’re training for, but even Afghans can’t go up there, or we’ll be killed.’ Obviously no one realized it was going to be what it became. Then 9/11 happened, and I started going back there more frequently.”

A lot more frequently: After a series of five monthlong embeds with the U.S. Army’s Battle Company stationed in the epicenter of Afghanistan’s combat operations, the Korengal Valley, he’s written a book (War) and, with photographer Tim Hetherington, directed a documentary (Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Documentary prize at Sundance in January) about men in combat. We sat down with him at the Half King, his bar in Manhattan.

MJ: Neither your book nor your film is about strategy or politics or what the U.S. might do differently in Afghanistan. What made you decide to approach them this way?

SJ: I had this idea that combat is the same whether it’s a good war or a bad war, whether you’re winning or losing, whether it’s 2008 or 1968 or 1942. I’m never gonna be a soldier; I’m 48 years old. But what I could do is effectively join a platoon as a journalist. I didn’t try to get an interview with Admiral Mullen, because the soldiers can’t interview Mullen. I don’t need to know why we’re in the Koren-gal. Fact is, we are. What interested me was young men in combat, end of sentence.

MJ: Had any of the company read The Perfect Storm or seen the movie?

SJ: The youngest guy was seven years old when my book came out. I might as well have been Hemingway. They really didn’t give a shit. The fact that I owned a bar — that meant about a hundred times as much to them.

MJ: Did you do special training?

SJ: I was already in decent shape — I’ve run my whole life. But I tore my Achilles tendon over there. I didn’t write about that in the book.

MJ: Why not?

SJ: It wasn’t that interesting. It just sucked. I was out there for three weeks and I couldn’t walk right when I was going out on patrol. I was literally hopping for cover in firefights.

MJ: Did you plan for the movie to have the same point of view as the book, or was it more a case of working with the material you ended up with?

SJ: It has the same idea. Early on we made the decision: no interviews with family members, nothing about the context of what they’re doing. There’s no moral debate — no, are we winning or are we losing? All the stuff that liberal filmgoers expect in a documentary about war is not there. The only people you see in the film are men who are fighting in the Korengal. We wanted to give viewers a 90-minute deployment.

MJ: Was it a surreal experience showing the film amid the scene of Sundance?

SJ: In that whole weird world there was a core of seriousness. After every showing there were military families or soldiers who would come up to us, visibly emotional, a lot of them crying. One guy literally couldn’t talk. I said, “Do you have someone in the military?” All he could do was nod, and then he started sobbing and then he ran away.

MJ: You’re quite frank in the book about the growing incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric fallout. Does war create damaged people?

SJ: If you get an infection, you get a fever; the fever is your body dealing with the infection. If you get traumatized, your mind and your brain have a reaction to that trauma. If you’re not dreaming about it, something’s probably wrong. So I wouldn’t say they’re damaged. I’d say they’re in some way trying to heal themselves.

MJ: Did you sustain any lasting effects — at least that you’re aware of?

SJ: I was in a Humvee that was blown up by a roadside bomb. It went off under the engine block instead of under us, and as a result we were all uninjured. Three weeks earlier a guy lost both his legs in the same kind of incident, and I became obsessed with the idea that 10 feet separated me from that guy. It messed me up. I had nightmares and got very short-tempered and depressed. I still jump at certain noises. A distant tapping sound can send me straight to the ground.

MJ: What does that sound mean to you?

SJ: A machine gun at a distance. A sound like bang-bang-bang right next to me doesn’t do anything at all, but that does.

MJ: In a 1998 essay for MJ, you wrote that you got into war reporting because you “wanted to be changed.” Has being so close to war changed you?

SJ: I’ve been covering war for a long time, and I knew it was exciting. It just is. It’s also a lot of other things, but the idea that it’s purely horrible is a kind of liberal fiction. I really liked the combat, and I got to see a strand of the fabric of human society. There were guys out there who at times couldn’t stand each other, but they’d all die for each other. The consequences of war are horrible, but the experience of war isn’t, necessarily.

MJ: How do you mean?

SJ: There were a number of situations where I didn’t know what was going to happen — nobody did. And it made me think about what I was risking. I have a wonderful life, and I was consciously betting that on a poker table I didn’t have control over. War made me think about these things in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Maybe a spot on your lung in an X-ray would do the same thing. I haven’t had that experience. But this is my version of it.

MJ: And when you’re not betting your life in a war zone, where are you? I’m guessing you have better digs now than when you were working as a climber for a tree-removal company when we first met.

SJ: Actually, I still do a fair amount of tree work. My wife, Daniela, and I live in an old house from 1810 with three fireplaces at the end of a dead-end dirt road on Cape Cod, so I turn the trees into firewood for us and a friend of mine sells the rest. I was out on a job yesterday.

Restrepo opened June 25 in New York and Los Angeles, and starts Friday, July 2 in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, among other cities. To see if it’s playing in your area, check the film’s website.


NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – A decade after the raising of the Confederate submarine Hunley off the South Carolina coast, the cause of the sinking of the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship remains a mystery. But scientists are edging closer.

On Friday, scientists announced one of the final steps that should help explain what happened after the hand-cranked sub and its eight-man crew rammed a spar with a powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic off Charleston in February, 1864.

Early next year the 23-ton sub will be delicately rotated to an upright position, exposing sections of hull not examined in almost 150 years.

When the Hunley sank, it was buried in sand listing 45 degrees to starboard. It was kept that way as slings were put beneath it and it was raised and brought to a conservation lab in North Charleston a decade ago.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the raising of the Hunley, discovered five years earlier by shipwreck hunter Clive Cussler.

As thousands watched from boats and the shoreline, the Hunley was brought from the depths and back to the lab by barge. Thousands turned out again in April 2004 when the crew was buried in what has been called the last Confederate funeral.

During the past 15 years, about $22 million has been spent excavating and conserving the Hunley, according to Friends of Hunley, the nonprofit group that raises money for the project.

About $10.8 million came from the state and federal government, with the rest raised through donations and tour ticket and merchandise sales. About a half million people have seen the sub that sits in a tank of water at the conservation lab.

An economic analysis earlier this year estimated the project has returned its investment many times over.

The study found that publicity from hundreds of news stories, a half dozen documentaries and a made-for-TV movie has generated at least $30 million in a state where tourism is an $18 billion industry.

“I have absolutely no misgivings,” said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, the chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission. “The state is spending millions of dollars to get its message out to get people to visit here and the Hunley, in just one new historic revelation, makes history and makes news all over the world.”

U-Haul also has the picture of the Hunley on the side of 1,200 of its rental trucks that travel throughout the country, essentially free advertising that the company says would otherwise be worth $117 million.

Rotating the sub will allow scientists to, for the first time, completely examine the Hunley’s hull.

It’s a delicate operation, involving replacing the existing slings before the sub is turned upright. The pressure on the straps will be monitored electronically and a laser will monitor to make sure the surface doesn’t get warped.

The Hunley is “a ghost of an iron object,” said senior conservator Paul Mardikian, adding it has “hundreds of different parts and everything has to move together.”

Putting it upright should provide clues to the sinking.

Was it damaged by fire from the Houstonic or perhaps struck by a second Union ship coming to the aid of the blockade vessel? Were the Hunley sailors knocked out by the concussion of the explosion that sank the Housatonic?

The clues indicate the crew died of anoxia, a lack of oxygen which can overtake a person very quickly, and didn’t drown. The remains showed they were at their crank stations and there was no rush for an escape hatch.

McConnell concedes he didn’t expect the project to take so long and thought it would have been in a museum by now.

“The Hunley is a very complex artifact and we decided we had only one chance to do it and that was to do it right,” he said.

He estimates the Hunley could now be displayed in a museum by 2015.

Conservation of such artifacts often takes years, underwater archeologists say.

It was almost 30 years before the Swedish royal warship Vasa, which sank in 1628 in Stockholm Harbor and was raised in 1961, went on display in a permanent museum.

Scientific reports on the Vasa are just coming out, said Lawrence Babits, director of the Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University.

“The Hunley is iron and the iron isn’t very thick and iron that has been in salt water is in a very nebulous state,” he said. Putting it in shape where it can be displayed “does take time.”

Frederick Hanselmann, a field archaeologist at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M said the most painstaking part of conserving iron objects is removing the salts from years in sea water.

Conserving a ship cannon alone can take three to four years, he said.

“For conservation it’s not an unusually long time, especially considering they are conserving an entire submarine,” said Mark Gordon, the president and chief executive officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration.

The company salvaged more than 50,000 coins and other artifacts from the wreck of the SS Republic off Savannah, Ga., in 2003 and while many of those coins are being displayed, some of the artifacts are still being conserved seven years later, Gordon said.

Hunley archaeologist Maria Jacobsen isn’t surprised the cause of the sinking hasn’t been found and expects a new series of questions and answers when the Hunley is rotated.

“I do think with persistence and patience and a good deal of luck we will get there,” she said.

Moscow, August 12 – RIA Novosti. – This day marks five years since the disaster of the Kursk, a major Russian nuclear-powered submarine, in the Barents Sea, which killed the whole crew of 118. Below is the day-by-day record of that tragedy.

AUGUST 12, 2000: The K-141 Kursk, part of a Northern Fleet exercise in the Barents Sea, fails to respond to radio calls. In the night, an explosion is detected where the submarine was thought to operate.

AUGUST 13, 2000: The Kursk is found on the sea bottom, 350 feet underwater.

AUGUST 14, 2000: A Navy spokesman says there is radio contact with the submarine. According to other Navy officials, the crewmen are safe and get fuel and oxygen through a Bell rescue unit. Having received an on-scene surveillance report from submersible video cameras, the Navy says the Kursk ran into the bottom at an angle of about 40 degrees, and the fore end, where the floating rescue chamber should be stored, went into pieces. Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov says there is little hope to save the crew.

AUGUST 15, 2000: The Navy Headquarters officially declares the beginning of a rescue operation. The rescue is hampered by a sea storm. A Northern Fleet official tells reporters that knocks are heard from inside the submarine, indicating that there are alive people onboard.

AUGUST 16, 2000: A rescue submarine Priz repeatedly fails to get into the Kursk. Navy Commander officially calls the West for help and says Russia will accept any assistance.

AUGUST 19, 2000: The second, international, leg of the rescue operation begins late in the day as the Norwegian ship Normand Pioneer delivers the British LR5 rescue mini-sub to the scene.

AUGUST 20, 2000: Minutes after midnight, the Norwegian rescue boat Seaway Eagle brings a deep diving team to the Kursk. After final negotiations, the Northern Fleet rescue force begins a practical Russian-Norwegian-British concerted rescue effort.

SEVERAL HOURS LATER: The Norwegians survey the hull of the submarine for cracks and are looking for air bubbles where people could survive. They de-block the emergency hatch but access to the boat is still hampered. The Norwegian team hastily creates makeshift entry accessories.

AUGUST 21, 2000: In the morning, Norwegian divers enter the 9th rear compartment through an emergency hatch and find it filled with water. A remote-controlled video camera shows a dead body in the compartment thought to be the only one where air bubbles could save lives. Northern Fleet Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak officially confirms the deaths of all crewmen.

AUGUST 22, 2000: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Severomorsk, the main base of the Northern Fleet, to meet victims’ relatives and friends. He fails to explain what happened to the submarine and why the crew was not saved.

Ilya Klebanov, the then deputy prime minister and head of the government commission investigating into the Kursk disaster, says:

“As far back as late August 14, we were all but certain that there were no living people onboard… But we could not state [officially] that all of them were dead. There was still hope, albeit more in theory, for an air bubble in the 9th compartment.”

Klebanov also says the real rescue began on August 13, 6:30 PM Moscow time. The official theory of what caused the crash remains a collision with a large underwater object. Military experts point the finger at a British submarine, amid widespread rumors of a U.S. submarine having been somewhere around when the Kursk collapsed.

DAYS LATER: The New York Times reports two U.S. Navy submarines, one of them Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Memphis later to be found in the Norwegian seaport of Bergen, cruised near Kursk’s operational area at the time of its last exercise. A source tells the Times the Kursk was downed by the explosion of an unfired torpedo. Russians still suspect Kursk’s collision with a foreign submarine the highest probability – a theory U.S. and U.K. officials dismiss and say there were no U.S. and Royal Navy ships when and where the Kursk hit the bottom.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2000: The U.S. shares all information on the Kursk disaster with Russia, including the time of what is thought to be an onboard explosion within a second.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2000: Vladimir Putin takes decision to start the salvage operation on the Kursk.

OCTOBER 2, 2000: Rubin, a St. Petersburg-based design bureau appointed as the head contractor of the salvage, signs a contract with the Norwegian office of Halliburton AS, a major international oil service firm.

OCTOBER 25, 2000: The salvage team begins operation to lift the bodies of the crewmen.

OCTOBER 26, 2000: The divers enter the submarine and examine the bodies. Some people in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th (fore to aft) compartments are said to have been alive after the explosion. The team finds a farewell message on Dmitry Kolesnikov, the 9th compartment crew leader: “1:15 PM. All men from the 6th, 7th, and 8th compartments are now in the 9th, all in all 23 people. We took this decision after an emergency. There is no way out for us.” The rest of the text is said to be too personal and therefore cannot be published. Vice Adm. Motsak of the Northern Fleet later tells reporters two to three men tried to escape through an emergency hatch but failed because the compartment was full of water.

LATER THAT MONTH: All salvage operations in the aft compartment are suspended.

NOVEMBER 2, 2000: The salvage team attempts to enter the 3rd compartment but fails: The video cameras show what is reported to be “considerable damage, debris of equipment, mechanisms, and instruments.”

NOVEMBER 7, 2000: Salvage in the 4th compartment is suspended due to entry-prohibitive damage inside. The salvage operation is terminated. All Kursk hatches are sealed.

MAY 18, 2001: Russia signs a salvage contract with the Netherlands-based Mammoet Transport BV.

JULY 16, 2001: The first leg of a three-month lift-up operation begins; the 1st compartment is to be separated and special lift-up holes are to be made in the hull.

OCTOBER 7, 2001, EVENING: The lift-up begins. The Kursk remains are lifted on 26 hold-downs operated from the Gigant-4, a surface barge, at a rate of around 10 meters per hour. As the hull is lifted 58 meters (190 feet) from the bottom, the sub is towed by the Gigant-4 to the base.

OCTOBER 10, 2001: The barge with the Kursk hull underneath arrives at the Roslyakovo naval repairs base on the Arctic Kola Peninsula.

OCTOBER 27, 2001: Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov says the whole submarine was on fire, with 8,000 degrees Celcius in the epicenter, after which the submarine was filled with water “within six to seven hours, maximum eight,” according to Ustinov. He says the damage was unbelievable, all bulkheads were “cut off as a knife cuts butter.” However, the nuclear reactor in the 6th compartment was left intact, as were 22 SSN-19 cruise missiles the submarine was armed with. 115 of 118 crew members’ bodies, including that of Captain First Class Gennady Lyachin, the commanding officer, are found and identified.

JUNE 19, 2002: Klebanov as head of the investigative government commission tells reporters the “explosion of a torpedo” remains the only viable theory, amid media reports that the fire was caused by failed tests of the new silent and fast torpedo, Shkval.

JULY 26, 2002: In an official end-of-story statement, General Prosecutor Ustinov says the submarine sank “because of an explosion… in the training torpedo storage… with subsequent explosions of torpedo charges in the 1st compartment of the submarine.”

Every conceivable type of waste was piled high in the pit — plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals, even human body parts — and burned, with a dousing of jet fuel. A huge black plume of smoke hung over the pit, nearly blinding Ms. Clifford on her twice-a-month visits, and wafted over the entire base.

By 2005, Ms. Clifford, who had been a serious runner, began to cough up phlegm, and soon found it difficult to do any physical training. As her breathing got worse and other symptoms became more serious, doctors discovered that her lungs were filling with fluids.

“The doctors say they have never seen anyone like me, and they don’t know what to do,” she said.

Ms. Clifford, who retired from the Army with full disability in April, is one of the first veterans to receive an official ruling from the military that exposure to open-air burn pits at American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused medical problems. Hundreds of other veterans have complained of similar illnesses that they believe were caused by exposure to the pits, forcing the Pentagon to restrict their use and the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin an investigation.

About 300 victims or their families have joined a class-action lawsuit against KBR, the military contractor that operated some of the burn pits at bases in Iraq. The company is fighting the suit, filed in federal court in Maryland, claiming that it operated some pits at the military’s direction, while most were operated by the Army.

The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs are proceeding cautiously in linking soldiers’ symptoms to the burn pits. While dealing with disability claims on a case-by-case basis, like Ms. Clifford’s, they have not developed a broad policy on the issue.

“At this point in time, there is no medical data to indicate any specific illness or illnesses have been caused by exposure to burn-pit smoke,” Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, said in a statement.

In response to complaints from hundreds of veterans and growing pressure from Congress, the V.A. has provided money for the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to conduct a large-scale study, scheduled to be completed next year, of the possible consequences of burn-pit exposure. This year, the V.A. issued new guidelines for its staff to be on the lookout for veterans with illnesses that may have been caused by burn-pit exposure.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is conducting a separate review of burn pits and their current status in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Congress has passed legislation requiring the military to justify any further use of them. Many of them in Iraq have been shut down as a result.

As of May, 42 were still operating in Iraq, and 184 more in Afghanistan. The burn pits began as a makeshift solution in a war zone, and critics say they remained in place long after alternatives, like incinerators, could be used.

Some veterans complained that the Pentagon has moved slowly and only reluctantly to deal with their medical complaints. Former Sgt. Kimani Grant of Cleveland said that after he served on an American base near Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005, where he lived and worked near a large burn pit, he developed persistent shortness of breath.

“It’s difficult for me to walk or run,” said Mr. Grant, who is 28. “I used to be real active in sports, and now I can’t do any of it. But when I went to the Army doctors, they never told me I had any kind of disease.”

While medical experts caution that it can be difficult to establish causality between environmental exposure and illness, several physicians who have conducted independent studies of the problem said that military medical officials have played down any connection. They pointed to a 2008 study by the military that found no evidence of a significant health risk tied to burn pits in Iraq.

“I’ve been concerned that the military really seems like they are trying not to find much of a link,” said Dr. Robert F. Miller, a pulmonary expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who has conducted extensive studies of veterans returning from Iraq with respiratory diseases.

He has treated dozens of soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., who served in Iraq, and he said he has found a pattern of unusual respiratory and pulmonary disease. He said he saw soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who had fought a major sulfur mine fire in Iraq in 2003, many of whom had developed constrictive bronchiolitis. He then found other soldiers who had not been involved in fighting that fire but had similar symptoms that he believed might be linked to burn-pit exposure.

“How big a problem is it?” Dr. Miller asked. “I think it’s pretty big. The soldiers know more about it than the physicians. I get calls from soldiers all over the country.”

Dr. Anthony Szema of the Stony Brook University Medical Center published a study this week that found that soldiers from Long Island who were deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2007 had a higher rate of asthma than those who remained in the United States. Of 900 soldiers from Long Island who were deployed to Iraq during that time, 6.6 percent came back with new diagnoses of asthma, compared with 4.4 percent of those who stayed in the United States.

In an interview, Dr. Szema said that the study “raises the concern of whether this is really asthma, or lung injuries. All of the soldiers in our study passed through Camp Anaconda, where a burn pit was going full blast. It doesn’t prove causality, but we know that if you burn things slowly in an unregulated manner, it creates more air pollution than if you use an incinerator.”

Officials of the Disabled American Veterans said they had been contacted by more than 500 veterans complaining of illnesses they believed were caused by burn-pit exposure. Representative Timothy H. Bishop, a Democrat from Long Island who has taken the lead on the matter in Congress, said he believed that the burn-pit issue could grow as the health effects are more widely recognized.

“To me, this is very evocative of the experience we’ve had with the exposure to toxins at ground zero in New York,” Mr. Bishop said. “Just like with ground zero, we are going to see the numbers of people who contract illnesses grow dramatically as the years pass.”

One would hope that these amazing Soldiers are Never Forgotten! True American Heroes in every way!!!

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear Attack

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear Attack

We’re used to see atomic bombs images. From afar, they even look beautiful. But when one explodes near you, that immaculate light will burn your skin and make you bleed spontaneously. 65 years ago today, this is how that felt.

On August 6, 1945, the B-29 bomber Enola Gay took off from the North Field airbase on Tinian, in the West Pacific. At 8:15, 509th Composite Group commander Colonel Paul Tibbets arrived to the destination: Hiroshima. 30 minutes before that, 2nd Lieutenant Morri Jeppson had removed all safety devices from “Little Boy”, an atomic bomb loaded with 130 pounds of uranium-235—the first to be exploded over any population in the planet. 32,333 feet below, this is what that population experienced.

300 feet from Little Boy’s explosion hypocenter.
Hiroshima, Japan

Akiko Takakura.
Age at impact: 20 years.
One of the very few who survived so near the hypocenter.

TAKAKURA: After the air-raid the alarm was called off, I walked from Hatchobori to the Bank of Hiroshima in Kamiya-cho. I arrived at the bank some time around 8:15 or so, and signed my name in the attendance book. When I was doing my morning routine, dusting the desks and things like that, the A-bomb was dropped. All I remember was that I saw something flash suddenly.

INTERVIEWER: Can you explain the flash?

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackTAKAKURA: Well, it was like a white magnesium flash. I lost consciousness right after or almost at the same time I saw the flash. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the dark. I heard my friends, Ms. Asami, crying for her mother. Soon after, I found out that we actually had been attacked. Afraid of being caught by a fire, I told Ms. Asami to run out of the building. Ms. Asami, however, just told me to leave her and to try to escape by myself because she thought that she couldn’t make it anywhere. She said she couldn’t move. I said to her that I couldn’t leave her, but she said that she couldn’t even stand up. While we were talking, the sky started to grow lighter.

Then, I heard water running in the lavatory. Apparently the water pipes had exploded. So I drew water with my helmet to pour over Ms. Asami’s head again and again. She finally regained consciousness fully and went out of the building with me. We first thought to escape to the parade grounds, but we couldn’t because there was a huge sheet of fire in front of us. So instead, we squatted down in the street next to a big water pool for fighting fires, which was about the size of this table.

Since Hiroshima was completely enveloped in flames, we felt terribly hot and could not breathe well at all. After a while, a whirlpool of fire approached us from the south. It was like a big tornado of fire spreading over the full width of the street. Whenever the fire touched, wherever the fire touched, it burned. It burned my ear and leg, I didn’t realize that I had burned myself at that moment, but I noticed it later.

INTERVIEWER: So the fire came towards you?

TAKAKURA: Yes, it did. The whirlpool of fire that was covering the entire street approached us from Ote-machi. So, everyone just tried so hard to keep away from the fire. It was just like a living hell. After a while, it began to rain. The fire and the smoke made us so thirsty and there was nothing to drink, no water, and the smoke even disturbed our eyes. As it began to rain, people opened their mouths and turned their faces towards the sky and try to drink the rain, but it wasn’t easy to catch the rain drops in our mouths. It was a black rain with big drops.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackINTERVIEWER: How big were the rain drops?

TAKAKURA: They were so big that we even felt pain when they dropped onto us. We opened our mouths just like this, as wide as possible in an effort to quench our thirst. Everybody did the same thing. But it just wasn’t enough. Someone, someone found an empty can and held it to catch the rain.

INTERVIEWER: I see. Did the black rain actually quench your thirst?

TAKAKURA: No, no it didn’t. Maybe I didn’t catch enough rain, but I still felt very thirsty and there was nothing I could do about it. What I felt at that moment was that Hiroshima was entirely covered with only three colors. I remember red, black and brown, but, but, nothing else. Many people on the street were killed almost instantly. The fingertips of those dead bodies caught fire and the fire gradually spread over their entire bodies from their fingers.

A light gray liquid dripped down their hands, scorching their fingers. I, I was so shocked to know that fingers and bodies could be burned and deformed like that. I just couldn’t believe it. It was horrible. And looking at it, it was more than painful for me to think how the fingers were burned, hands and fingers that would hold babies or turn pages, they just, they just burned away.

0.31 miles from hypocenter

Taeko Teramae.
Age at impact: 15 years old.

TERAMAE: When the bomb fell, I was 15 years old. I was a third grader at the girls’ junior high school. I saw something shining in the clear blue sky. I wondered what it was, so I stared at it. As the light grew bigger, the shining thing got bigger as well.

And at the moment when I spoke to my friend, there was a flash, far brighter than one used for a camera. It exploded right in front of my eyes. There was a tremendous noise when all the buildings around me collapsed. I also heard people crying for help and for their mothers. I was caught under something which prevented me from moving freely.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackI was so shocked that I couldn’t believe what had happened. I thought maybe I was having some kind of nightmare, but of course, I wasn’t. I felt pain when I pinched myself to see if it was real. I thought the bomb had been dropped on the central telephone office. The dust was rising and something sandy and slimy entered my mouth. I couldn’t figure out what it was since I couldn’t move or see. I couldn’t see anything in the dark.

A little later, I smelt something like sulfur. It smelt like the volcano, Mt. Aso and I threw up. I heard more voices calling “Mother! Mother!” But when our class teacher, Mr.Wakita, told us to behave like good students and stop crying, all the cries for help and for Mother stopped all of a sudden.

0.62 miles from hypocenter

Hiroko Fukada.
Age at impact: 18 years old.

INTERVIEWER: What was the color of the light?

FUKADA: I remember it was yellow. I clearly remember it now and despite the shower of glass, fortunately I didn’t have any major injuries. I thought it was hopeless because I thought the buildings directly head and I went out of the building because I thought it would be dangerous to stay inside. Soon I found soldiers walking in this direction. I was with my friends and we thought it would be safe to go with soldiers, and so we came here.

INTERVIEWER: What were the conditions outside the building?

FUKADA: Everybody was terribly injured. We were even embarrassed because we were not injured. I have no words to describe the scene. A flood of people went down this cliff just like dominoes down.

Mamoru Yukihiro.
Age at impact: 36 years old.

INTERVIEWER: Uh….how was it when you saw the ray?

YUKIHIRO: Immediately after I saw the strange yellow ray, the office was totally destroyed almost instantly, without any warning. It was as if a box of matches has suddenly been struck by a hammer and crushed to pieces. I didn’t even hear any sound. I sat still for a while, and then, I saw the sun ray come in above me. So I managed to get up, but I couldn’t find any of the 200 employees. Even though I myself had 3 wounds on my head and one on my back, I was so surprised that I walked out, I walked out onto the street with the blood running down my body. In the street, all I found were wounded people and destroyed houses.

0.74 miles from hypocenter

Akira Onogi.
Age at impact: 16 years old.

ONOGI: I was in the second year of junior high school and was mobilized work with my classmates at the Eba Plant, Mitsubishi shipbuilding. On the day when A-bomb was dropped, I happened to be taking the day off and I was staying at home. I was reading lying on the floor with a friend of mine. Under the eaves I saw blue flash of light just like a spark made by a train or some short circuit. Next, a steamlike blast came.

INTERVIEWER: From which direction?

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackONOGI: Well, I’m not sure, anyway, when the blast came, my friend and I were blown into another room. I was unconscious for a while, and when I came to, I found myself in the dark. Thinking my house was directly hit by a bomb, I removed red soil and roof tiles covering me by hand and for the first time I saw the sky. I managed to go out to open space and I looked around wondering what my family were doing. I found that all the houses around there had collapsed for as far as I could see.

INTERVIEWER: All the houses?

ONOGI: Yes, well, I couldn’t see anyone around me but I heard somebody shouting “Help! Help!” from somewhere. The cries were actually from underground as I was walking on. Since no choose were available, I’d just dug out red soil and roof tiles by hand to help my family; my mother, my three sisters and a child of one of my sisters.

Then, I looked next door and I saw the father of neighboring family standing almost naked. His skin was peeling off all over his body and was hanging from finger tips. I talked to him but he was too exhausted to give me a reply. He was looking for his family desperately. The person in this picture was a neighbor of us. I think the family’s name was the Matsumotos.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackWhen we were escaping from the edge of the bridge, we found this small girl crying and she asked us to help her mother. Just beside the girl, her mother was trapped by a fallen beam on top of the lower half of her body. Together with neighbors, we tried hard to remove the beam, but it was impossible without any tools.

Finally a fire broke out endangering us. So we had no choice but to leave her. She was conscious and we deeply bowed to her with clasped hands to apologize to her and then we left. About one hour later, it started raining heavily. There were large drops of black rain. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts and it was freezing. Everybody was shivering. We warmed ourselves up around the burning fire in the middle of the summer.

INTERVIEWER: You mean the fire did not extinguish by the rain?

ONOGI: That’s right. The fire didn’t subside it at all. What impressed my very strongly was a 5 or 6 year-old-boy with his right leg cut at the thigh. He was hopping on his left foot to cross over the bridge. I can still record this scene very clearly. The water of the river we looking at now is very clean and clear, but on the day of bombing, all the houses along this river were blown by the blast with their pillars, beams and pieces of furniture blown into the river or hanging off the bridges.

The river was also filled with dead people blown by the blast and with survivors who came here to seek water. Anyway I could not see the surface of the water at all. Many injured people with peeled skin were crying out for help. Obviously they were looking at us and we could hardly turn our eyes toward the river.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackINTERVIEWER: Wasn’t it possible to help them?

ONOGI: No, there were too many people. We took care of the people around us by using the clothes of dead people as bandages, especially for those who were terribly wounded. By that time we somehow became insensible all those awful things. After a while, the fire reached the river bank and we decided to leave the river. We crossed over this railway bridge and escaped in the direction along the railway.

The houses on both sides of the railroad were burning and railway was the hollow in the fire. I thought I was going to die here. It was such an awful experience. You know for about 10 years after bombing I always felt paralyzed we never saw the sparks made by trains or lightning. Also even at home, I could not sit beside the windows because I had seen so many people badly wounded by pieces of glass. So I always sat with the wall behind me for about 10 years. It was some sort of instinct to self-preservation.

0.87 miles from hypocenter

Akihiro Takahashi.
Age at impact: 14 years old.

TAKAHASHI: We were about to fall in on the ground the Hiroshima Municipal Junior High School on this spot. The position of the school building was not so different from what it is today and the platform was not positioned, too. We were about to form lines facing the front, we saw a B-29 approaching and about fly over us. All of us were looking up the sky, pointing out the aircraft.

Then the teachers came out from the school building and the class leaders gave the command to fall in. Our faces were all shifted from the direction of the sky to that of the platform. That was the moment when the blast came. And then the tremendous noise came and we were left in the dark. I couldn’t see anything at the moment of explosion just like in this picture.

We had been blown by the blast. Of course, I couldn’t realize this until the darkness disappeared. I was actually blown about 10 m. My friends were all marked down on the ground by the blast just like this. Everything collapsed for as far as I could see. I felt the city of Hiroshima had disappeared all of a sudden. Then I looked at myself and found my clothes had turned into rags due to the heat. I was probably burned at the back of the head, on my back, on both arms and both legs.

My skin was peeling and hanging like this. Automatically I began to walk heading west because that was the direction of my home. After a while, I noticed somebody calling my name. I looked around and found a friend of mine who lived in my town and was studying at the same school. His name was Yamamoto. He was badly burnt just like myself.

2.3 miles from hypocenter

Isao Kita.
Age at impact: 33 years old

KITA: Well, at that time, I happened to be receiving the transmission over the wireless. I was in the receiving room and I was facing northward. I noticed the flashing light. It was not really a big flash. But still it drew my attention. In a few seconds, the heat wave arrived.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear Attack

After I noticed the flash, white clouds spread over the blue sky. It was amazing. It was as if blue morning-glories had suddenly bloomed up in the sky. It was funny, I thought. Then came the heat wave. It was very very hot. Even though there was a window glass in front of me, I felt really hot. It was as if I was looking directly into a kitchen oven. I couldn’t bear the heat for a long time. Then I heard the cracking sound. I don’t know what made that sound, but probably it came from the air which suddenly expanded in the room.

By that time, I realized that the bomb had been dropped. As I had been instructed, I pushed aside the chair and lay with my face on the floor. Also as I had been instructed during the frequent emergency exercises, I covered my eyes and ears with hands like this.

And I started to count. You may feel that I was rather heartless just to start counting. But for us, who observed the weather, it is a duty to record the process of time, of various phenomena. So I started counting with the light flash. When I counted to 5 seconds, I heard the groaning sound. At the same time, the window glass was blown off and the building shook from the bomb blast. So the blast reached that place about 5 seconds after the explosion.

We later measured the distance between the hypocenter and our place. And with these two figures, we calculated that the speed of the blast was about 700 meters per second. The speed of sound is about 330 meters per second, which means that the speed of the blast was about twice as fast as the speed of sound. It didn’t move as fast as the speed of light but it moved quite rapidly.

2.54 miles from hypocenter

Hiroshi Sawachika.
Age at impact: 28 years old

SAWACHIKA: I was in my office. I had just entered the room and said “Good morning.” to colleagues and I was about to approach my desk when outside it suddenly turned bright red. I felt very hot on my cheeks. Being the chief of the room, I shouted to the young men and women in the room that they should evacuate. As soon as I cried, I felt weightless as if I were an astronaut.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear AttackI was then unconscious for 20 or 30 seconds. When I came to, I realized that everybody including myself was lying at one side of the room. Nobody was standing. The desks and chairs had also blown off to one side. At the windows, there was no window glass and the window frames had been blown out as well. I went to the windows to find out where the bombing had taken place.

And I saw the mushroom cloud over the gas company.

The sound and shock somehow suggested that the bomb had been dropped right over the gas company. I still had no idea what had happened. And I kept looking towards the gas company. After a while, I realized that my white shirt was red all over. I thought it was funny because I was not injured at all. I looked around and then realized that the girl lying near by was heavily injured, with lots of broken glass stuck all over her body. Her blood had splashed and made stains on my shirt.

This It How It Feels to Be Under a Nuclear Attack

These testimonies are part of “Voice of Hibakusha”, from the Hiroshima Witness program, produced by the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Center and NHK. The transcripts were distributed on Usenet in 1990.

1945: The United States becomes the first (and remains the only) country ever to use an atomic weapon in warfare, obliterating the Japanese city of Hiroshima and instantly killing 70,000 people. (Many thousands more would die later from the effects of radiation poisoning.) Three days later, the port city of Nagasaki is destroyed by a second atom bomb with the ultimate loss of 140,000 lives. Japan surrenders shortly thereafter, ending World War II.

Several countries, including Nazi Germany, had pursued the development of an atomic weapon but none matched the U.S. Manhattan Project in terms of the resources, energy or scientific manpower devoted to making the bomb a reality.

The atomic age dawned with the discovery of fission in a Berlin laboratory in 1938, news that alarmed many émigré scientists who had come to the United States to escape Nazism. Fearing that Germany might be first to actually develop this ultimate weapon, they appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to make nuclear research a high priority. After some initial skepticism, FDR was persuaded and a joint civilian-military committee was formed, which led to the establishment of the Manhattan Project.

Development of the bomb followed two paths, one using uranium-235, which occurs naturally, and the other man-made plutonium. In the end, both were built and used: The uranium-based “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, while the plutonium-based “Fat Man” laid waste to Nagasaki.

How heavily populated cities came to be chosen as the targets remains a matter of controversy. The scientists involved in developing the bomb favored demonstrating their weapon to the Japanese in an isolated area, but military and political planners rejected the idea, arguing that the shock of total destruction would have a more profound impact.

The United States maintains to this day that the decision to drop the bomb was made primarily to avoid the necessity of invading the Japanese home islands, an undertaking that would have resulted in enormous casualties on both sides. But that argument ignores the deterioration of Japanese resolve by that point in the war.

Although the emperor’s government rejected the Potsdam Declaration in late July, which called for an immediate and unconditional surrender, the Japanese had been sending out peace feelers through the Soviet Union, and early signs of starvation, even on the main island, were apparent.

Many historians believe that the real U.S. motive for dropping the bomb was to end the war quickly before the Russians could become involved, thereby denying them a postwar stake in the Pacific — and, by practical example, to send a message to Stalin.

Whatever the reasons, the bombs were dropped, and most of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project later expressed remorse for what they had wrought.

Source: The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History

Photo: A victim of the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare is seen in September 1945, at the Ujina Branch of the First Army Hospital in Hiroshima, Japan. The explosion’s thermic rays burned the pattern of this woman’s kimono upon her back.
Associated Press

This post first appeared on Aug. 6, 2007.

See Also: