“The most striking psychological feature of this immediate experience was the sense of a sudden and absolute shift from normal existence to an overwhelming encounter with death.” In Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, an air raid siren went off at approximately 7am. Hiroshima had been receiving air raid sirens on a regular basis for a few weeks at this point, and the fact that Hiroshima had not seen hardly any bombs dropped on the city created a nervous feeling among the citizens. The all-clear sound went off at approximately 8am. Despite the uneasy feeling felt among the citizens of Hiroshima, the all-clear sound gave them “a false sense of immediate security, as well as a total incapacity to imagine the nature of the weapon that was about to strike them.” Fifteen minutes later, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Each survivor has a unique story to tell of what they experienced in that moment. Akiko Takakura, who was 300 meters away from the hypocenter, shared her experience, saying
“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. For a few years after the A-bomb was dropped, I was terribly afraid of fire. I wasn’t even able to get close to fire because all my senses remembered how fearful and horrible the fire was, how hot the blaze was, and how hard it was to breathe the hot air.”
Though every experience was unique, most of the survivors experienced what Robert Lifton calls a “sense of a sudden and absolute shift from normal existence to an overwhelming encounter with death.” For a soldier at war, their ‘normal existence’ is a regular encounter with death, but citizens in a city that are removed from the direct experiences of war, this experience would obviously have a profound psychological impact on the survivors. For the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, death was nowhere, then in a moment, everywhere.