Eleanor Roosevelt in Hiroshima

As part of a world tour, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Japan for five weeks in June 1953. The former First Lady and newspaper columnist wrote of her travels in her widely circulated column “My Day,” including of the few days she spent in Hiroshima.

She arrived in Hiroshima and was humbled by the experience:

To arrive in Hiroshima is an emotional experience. Here is where the first A-bomb ever to be dropped on human beings, actually was used.

The people of the U.S. believe that the President and our military leaders thought long and carefully before they used this dreaded weapon. We know that while the head of the state must think first of the welfare of his own people, consideration was given to the fact that if the war went on, there would be in many parts of the world great loss of life and much damage done, and in Japan itself step by step fighting from one end to the other would mean complete devastation and incalculable loss of life. In spite of this conviction we still cannot see a city and be told of the area that was destroyed, the people who died or were injured, some of them still suffering from the results of those wounds; we cannot go and look at the model of the city showing what it looked like after the bomb had dropped and fire had swept through the city; we can’t see the photographs of some of the victims without a deep sadness. To see the orphanage where children whose parents died are still being cared for is impossible without wishing with our whole hearts that men could learn from this that the time has come when we know too well how to destroy and we must learn instead how to prevent destruction.

It is useless to say that Germany started the war and began the research which we were then obliged to take over and which led to the discovery of the atom bomb.

I can remember only too well my husband’s feeling and the feeling of the people of the U.S. when we first heard of Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was only the final action which resulted from years of growing misunderstandings and antipathies throughout the world. Out of all this came Hiroshima. But it is not only here that civilian men and women suffered. All over the world civilians suffered as a result of the last war and the increase in our power of destruction. So it seems to me the only really helpful thing we can do is to pledge ourselves to strive for the elimination of the causes of war and for the greater awareness of the people, and to bringing about such arrangements as can only be made through the use of the U.N.. If we use the machinery set up through an organization such as the U.N., time must elapse before wars can be begun, people may then understand a little better and may have more chance to be heard.

As one contemplates Hiroshima, one can only say God grant to men greater wisdom in the future.

“My Day” June 16, 1953

The next day she visited Miyajima, calling it a “most beautiful island.” She returned to Hiroshima by boat and met with, among others, women who had been burned by the atomic bomb.

(via Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library)

From the women’s meeting we went to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission which is an American research group commissioned to watch the effects on sufferers from injuries caused by the atomic bomb.

Since fires started immediately after the dropping of the bomb, there are many casualties which are caused by fire and are not actually considered atomic injuries but, nevertheless, the people feel they have caused as much suffering and the fire was a direct consequence of the bomb.

After my meeting with women, some girls who had been injured by the fire after the bomb were waiting to see me. They said they did not wish to blame anyone but they did wish to make me realize how necessary it was to prevent it occurring again to blight young people’s lives … I had already been told that some of the people who were cooperating for examination by the American doctors, have come to have a vague feeling, somehow or other, that they were being used partly for experimentation and not enough was being done for actual recovery. But our research group is limited by its mandate and also by the fact that they must not undermine the work being done by Japanese doctors. I came away convinced that through our doctors’ efforts much was being done to cooperate with the Japanese doctors and thereby help the people generally.

“My Day” June 17, 1953

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  • George Baily

    “a vague feeling, somehow or other, that they were being used partly for experimentation and not enough was being done for actual recovery.” — I wonder what the mandate exactly was for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission on the ground there?