One scene shared by all of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts might have been lifted straight from The Road Warrior, or a Beckett play: spectral landscape; buildings obliterated; blasted trees; lifeless wasteland. The photographs in this gallery, for instance — pictures that starkly reference every bleak, war-battered panorama from Verdun to Iwo Jima to Chosin Reservoir to Pork Chop Hill — were made in September, 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
But far from chronicling the aftermath of a sustained, slogging campaign, these images depict the devastation produced in a few unspeakably violent seconds. We here present you pictures from both cities taken in the weeks and months following the bombings — bombings that killed a combined 120,000 people outright, and tens of thousands more through injury and radiation sickness. Included, as well, are scans of typed memos from photographer Bernard Hoffman — quietly revelatory notes like the one he wrote on September 3, 1945, to LIFE’s long-time picture editor, Wilson Hicks:
"We saw Hiroshima today — or what little is left of it. We were so shocked with what we saw that most of us felt like weeping; not out of sympathy for the Japs but because we were revolted by this new and terrible form of destruction. Compared to Hiroshima, Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne are practically untouched … The sickly sweet smell of death is everywhere."