An Unforgettable Fire 75 Years Ago; America’s “Thin-Threaded” Power Still Today

Contributed by Dr. Timothy D. Neufeld, a marriage and family therapist in Fresno, CA, and an adjunct professor at Fresno Pacific University. He is the author of U2: Rock ’n’ Roll to Change the World along with numerous academic and popular essays on the intersection of U2 and pop culture. He hosts an innovative online chat community called The Crystal Ballroom and invites you to follow him on Twitter and Periscope at @timneufeld.

August 6, 1945. Hiroshima. Eighty thousand people killed in a flash.

August 9, 1945. Nagasaki. Forty thousand lives unmade in seconds.

In the days and months following the dropping of two atomic bombs by the United States 75 years ago this month, tens of thousands of Japanese died of radiation exposure, while hundreds of thousands faced severe complications from nausea, bleeding, and cancer. In Hiroshima, two-thirds of the buildings were destroyed, and most medical personnel were killed in the collapse of hospitals. Nagasaki’s heavy industrial complexes, as well as schools, churches and other services were obliterated.

America is the only country to unleash the horror of nuclear warfare. The U.S. created the term “ground zero” as a way of identifying the site of detonation. History’s telling of that event is contentious. Was it necessary to end a world war? Or, was it an act of singular barbarism?

In 1983, U2 stepped into Chicago’s Peace Museum to see an exhibit featuring artwork of blast survivors. The display, taken from a book of the same name, was titled “Unforgettable Fire.”

It’s here the Irish quartet found the heartbeat for its next album. Bono later recalled: “The images from the paintings and some of the writings stained me, I couldn’t get rid of them.”

Reflecting on that moment of America’s unprecedented use of nuclear weapons, psychoanalyst Carl Jung famously stated: “The world hangs on a thin thread, and that is the psyche of man.”

U2’s The Unforgettable Fire teases out that thread, reminding our collective soul of both the power of the American spirit — as particularly championed by Martin Luther King, Jr — and its potential for death and destruction. With prescient clarity, U2 continues to call out the protester and the patriot in each of us. The band’s reflection on Hiroshima and Nagasaki warns us that peace is fragile and a responsibility of all.


Browse through the Unforgettable Fire: Drawings by Atomic Bomb Survivors to experience what U2 drew inspiration from in 1983.

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