Why don’t we know the exact death toll from the bombing? (Part 1)
Jul. 9, 2018
Hiroshima city government estimates 140,000 victims
Every human life is precious, so this is an important question. To investigate, I first visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
In the exhibition, it states that the number of victims through December 1945 is "about 140,000," with a possible range of 130,000~150,000. This means that thousands of lives cannot accurately be accounted for. Why? Where does this death toll come from?
According to the city government, "This figure is the result of research by experts. In 1976, an estimate was required when the city appealed to the United Nations Secretary-General to abolish nuclear weapons."
More than 200,000?
In high school textbooks, we can find statements apparently based on this research, such as "By December 1945, the number of dead in Hiroshima numbered approximately 140,000" or "After five years had passed, more than 200,000 people had died as a result of the bombing." Another statement leaves out a time frame, but indicates that "120,000 lives were lost."
The figure of "more than 200,000" comes from an estimate by the city government in 1953. This statistic appears in the text of "Summary of the Project for A-Bomb Survivors' Relief (2006)" and is explained as follows: the population of Hiroshima at the time of the bombing was about 420,000; five years later, about 158,000 were confirmed to be still alive, so this number can be subtracted from 420,000; with other relevant data taken into account, the result is roughly 200,000.
At the same time, a report from a few years ago suggests that the victims numbered "in excess of 200,000" instead of "200,000." The idea of "hundreds of thousands" had been lost.
So I studied the Chugoku Newspaper in 1953. It quoted the city government's account of "in excess of 200,000 victims." And documents of "Hiroshima Prefectural History" include this same quote.
Since these statistics can become confusing, we should underscore the numbers that the city government has announced. From the bombing to the end of 1945, 130,000~150,000 people died. Then, by 1950, in excess of 200,000 people had died, this increase due to related injuries and illnesses.
Most victims' names are still unknown
According to the Atomic Bomb Victims Project, the number of people who died by the end of 1945, and whose names were known, totaled 88,979 (information as of August 6, 2006). If we subtract this number from 130,000 (the lowest estimate of the number of victims), the identities of more than 40,000 people are still unknown. More than 60 years have passed, but answers are difficult to find.
Tsukasa Matsumura, who directs the support for atomic bomb survivors provided by the city government, told me, "The figure of 140,000 can only be an estimate. I'll continue looking into this figure and try to offer further information."
Why don’t we know the exact death toll from the bombing? (Part 2)