History26 Oct 2008 06:34 pm
On August 6, 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman authorized the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively concluding six months of intensive fire-bombing of some sixty-seven other Japanese cities. Never one to tarry and determined to finally end the War, Truman ordered the dropping of the nuclear weapon, “Little Boy” on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by the detonation of “Fat Man” over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. These two bombs killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945 (approximately half of the casualties occurred immediately). The remaining fatalities that year are variously attributed to radiation sickness, burns and the lack of medical resources available to survivors. Moreover, thousands of those lucky enough to have survived the bombing and its immediate aftermath eventually succumbed to radiation-induced cancer and other related illnesses.
The Japanese call the survivors of the bombings Hibakusha, which literally translates to “explosion-affected people.” In the chaos that ensued immediately after the bombing, the Hibakusha were forced to cope with the overwhelming loss of life, physical devastation, guilt and fears of the lasting effects of radiation exposure. Puzzlingly, while both the short-term and long-term physical effects of the bombing have been extensively studied, research regarding the psychological impact on the Hibakusha has been limited. The first reported psychological study was conducted in November 1945, on fifty randomly chosen hospital inpatients who had survived the bombing of Nagasaki. The study reached the highly questionable conclusion that only four of the test subjects suffered from any appreciable mental disorders. Many contemporary psychologists explain these dubious findings by pointing out that the interviewees were still “in shock” when this study was conducted. Dazed and emotionally numb, many of the subjects of this study could not recall their initial reaction to the explosion, or even provide a satisfactory visual description.
Since the 1945 study, psychological research on the Hibakusha has been limited. This is attributed in part to the fact that the symptoms commonly complained of by survivors- including general fatigue, amnesia, a lack of concentration, the sensation of burning or chill, an increased sense of unresponsiveness and immobility-closely resemble the effects of radiation exposure. This made it difficult for researchers to determine the extent of which symptoms were actually psychological and which were from radiation sickness. However, the recent identification and interest in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has renewed interest in studying the emotional fallout of the bombing on the Hibakusha. (PTSD) is a psychological condition that is prompted by the traumatic experience of great terror, such as a natural disaster, warfare or physical assault. Contemporary psychologists studying the Hibakusha hope that their research will provide insight into the progression of PTSD over time, and better help them identify and treat sufferers of the disorder.
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