On the morning of August 6, 1945, a B-29 dropped an atomic bomb over the center of Hiroshima, killing at least 70,000 civilians instantly and perhaps 50,000 more in the days and months to follow, the vast majority women and children. Three days later, the U.S. exploded another atomic bomb over Nagasaki, slightly off target, killing 40,000 immediately and dooming tens of thousands of others. Within days, Japan had surrendered, and the U.S. readied plans for occupying the defeated country—and documenting the first atomic catastrophe.
The American public knew little about conditions there beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking many of the survivors, claims that most Americans took to be propaganda. Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent or censored. Life Magazine would later observe that for years “the world…knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction.” Many were still dying horribly from the new ‘A-Bomb disease’—that is, the effects of radiation–or burns from the original blast. Tens of thousands of American troops occupied the two cities. Few were urged to take precautions.