Joe O'Donnell traveled to Nagasaki weeks after the atomic bomb and photographed a Japanese boy standing at attention, but why?
Do you have younger siblings or a younger relative who makes life a little brighter with their innocence and pure smile? I hope this never happens to you, but can you imagine if war broke out at this very moment and your younger sibling was suddenly exposed to the horrors of violence and destruction? To the uncertainty of whether they’ll live or not? What would you do to protect them?
Millions of children were forced to live these experiences during World War II. When they tell us these stories, they seem very inconsequential due to the historical distance, but once the devastating trauma is transported to a personal level, everything changes. Maybe it's time to understand and really let the magnitude of destruction sink in. On August 9, 1945, the two children you love the most wake up. The oldest of them is nine years old and the youngest is only five. They have lived very difficult days because their city has been bombed. They don’t know what is happening. A few months ago, life was all fun and games, but now everything has suddenly become dark.
That morning the bombing alert goes off again. Another attack is coming. Your two siblings run to your mother’s arms, so afraid they can’t feel anything else. Fear has paralyzed them once again. The streets are filled with screams and frenzy. Everything becomes chaos and despair. Minutes pass and the signal warning against danger shuts off. Everything is silent for a moment. People stop running and screaming. The little ones stop crying thinking that everything is over. That they are safe again.
Calm is interrupted by a fierce lightning. A second later the house catches on fire, the air becomes suffocating as if hell itself had been unleashed on earth. The Apocalypse has begun. The nuclear bomb in Nagasaki has gone off.There are no words that describe what happened next. The most horrible things in the universe fell on that city, on all of those people. Did they deserve it? Do you think your younger sibling deserves to live a hell just like it?
Months after the explosion, American photographer Joe O'Donnell traveled to Nagasaki to do one thing: capture the consequences of the atomic bomb. Of all the material that he photographed, the following image had an impact in the entire world.
The child appearing in the picture ran into his mother's arms minutes before the detonation. He carried his younger brother on his back. This boy is dead now, as are his entire family and a large part of his community.
"I saw a boy about ten years old walking by. He was carrying a baby on his back. In those days in Japan, we often saw children playing with their little brothers or sisters on their backs, but this boy was clearly different. I could see that he had come to this place for a serious reason. He was wearing no shoes. His face was hard. The little head was tipped back as if the baby were fast asleep. The boy stood there for five or ten minutes" said Joe O'Donnell.
According to O’Donnell, the boy was in front of a pair of men wearing white masks, the men who were responsible for incinerating lifeless bodies. He stood before them having done his duty and returned to stand at attention, as a clear show of how militarism had influenced civilian life. Seconds after the photo was taken, the boy handed over the body of his brother so that he would be thrown into the flames, shedding the last thing he had in the world.The older sibling looks at the scene. He does not move. He doesn’t cry or make a gesture. He is standing there watching how fire consumes his family. When the flames transform the body into ashes, the boy turns around and goes away in silence, just like he arrived.
“The men in white masks walked over to him and quietly began to take off the rope that was holding the baby. That is when I saw that the baby was already dead. The men held the body by the hands and feet and placed it on the fire. The boy stood there straight without moving, watching the flames. He was biting his lower lip so hard that it shone with blood. The flame burned low like the sun going down. The boy turned around and walked silently away”
This is the story behind the photograph that shocked the world and the one image that made it clear why such an event should never repeat itself.