Q & A about Hiroshima

(21)Why was giving water to victims of the atomic bombing discouraged?


I heard that people were discouraged from giving water to victims of the atomic bombing who were begging for a drink. Why?


Safely giving water depends on the state of injury

It is commonly reported, from survivors or in writings about the bombing, that victims were pleading for water but people were warned not to give them any.

First, I checked with Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and found a reference which suggested that permitting the gravely wounded to drink water could result in releasing their tension and hastening their death.

I then spoke with someone who actually gave water to a victim. Iwao Nakanishi, 77, was at the Army Clothing Depot when the bomb exploded and afterwards provided aid to the wounded. He gave water to a young woman, but her face turned pale and she passed out. A soldier then surprised him by saying, "If you give water to the victims, they'll die."

Mr. Hosokawa visits the bank of the Kyobashi River and remembers the students who begged for water that day.

Naoe Takeshima, 79, who was a student in nursing school at the time, cared for victims of the bombing and recalls that she was taught, before the bombing even occurred, not to give water to the wounded.

But why?

Fear of heavier bleeding

To find out, I called on Dr. Hiroo Dohy, 62, director of Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital & Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital.

He told me that taking in liquid typically increases blood flow, which can lead to heavier bleeding in the wounded. Because of this, he added, "Soldiers with experience of war may have passed on this instruction."

But in the case of survivors with less obvious bleeding, Dr. Dohy commented, "It really depends on the particular case, such as the seriousness of the burns or whether there were internal injuries. But if the victim was already dying, drinking water would have little relevance to his ultimate death." Thus, for the average person with no medical knowledge, it would have been difficult to judge whether water could be safely given or not.

Lingering regret

Koji Hosokawa, 79, was 1.4 kilometers from the hypocenter when the bomb exploded. Even today, he remains haunted by the frail voices of students pleading with him for water on the bank of the Kyobashi River. They were students of Sotoku Junior High School who had collapsed from their injuries on the riverbank.

Mr. Hosokawa noticed water gushing from a broken pipe near him, but he was wounded, too, and unable to offer them a drink. "When I see students of the same age, I always think of those injured students on the riverbank," he said. "I heard later that they had all died. I wish I could have given them water." Mr. Hosokawa's regret, in fact, had prevented him from returning to that riverbank until the day he accompanied me there. (Takashi Kenda, staff writer)


  • Army Clothing Depot

    The facility that produced and repaired clothing and shoes for soldiers. It was located about 2.7 kilometers southeast of the hypocenter and was used as a temporary aid station after the bombing.