PHOTOGRAPHS BY HARUKA SAKAGUCHI | INTRODUCTION BY LILY ROTHMAN
When the nuclear age began, there was no mistaking it. The decision by the United States to drop the world’s first atomic weapons on two Japanese cities—Hiroshima first, on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later—was that rare historical moment that requires little hindsight to gain its significance. World War II would end, and the Cold War soon begin. New frontiers of science were opening, along with new and frightening moral questions. As TIME noted in the week following the bombings, the men aboard the Enola Gay could only summon two words: “My God!”
But, even as world leaders and ordinary citizens alike immediately began struggling to process the metaphorical aftershocks, one specific set of people had to face something else. For the survivors of those ruined cities, the coming of the bomb was a personal event before it was a global one. Amid the death and destruction, some combination of luck or destiny or smarts saved them—and therefore saved the voices that can still tell the world what it looks like when human beings find new and terrible ways to destroy one another.
Today, photographer Haruka Sakaguchi is seeking out those individuals, asking them to give a testimony about what they lived through and to write a message to future generations. As the anniversaries of the bombings approach once again, here is a selection of that work.