Teacher's Guide: Fallout

After the atomic bomb ended World War II, nuclear power is promoted as the key to cheap and unlimited energy. Then the danger of radiation and nuclear accidents emerges and public protest grows.

Unit Themes and Topics:
activism and protest
the bombing of Hiroshima
government secrecy
human rights
nuclear accidents
nuclear weapons and energy

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
World War II 1939 - 1945 Belgium, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Soviet Union "Total War"

Sumiteru Taniguchi
(teenager in 1945, Japan)

"After the bomb had gone off, I lay on my stomach, unable to move, for a year and nine months waiting for my wounds to heal... Nobody thought I would survive."
photographic portrait of Sumiteru Taniguchi

Note to Teachers

This program contains graphic scenes and emotionally powerful material that raise sensitive issues. We recommend that you preview the program before using it in the classroom.


Before Watching

1. As students watch the program, have them note how secrecy was associated with nuclear weapons or nuclear energy.

After Watching

1. How were speakers in the program involved in or affected by nuclear weapons and energy? In each case, how much were they told about the effects of these technologies? What information was withheld? What were some reasons for the secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons and energy?

2. How did citizens' responses to the development of nuclear weapons and energy change over time? Why do you think many Americans still support the decision to use atomic weapons in World War II?

3. In what situations, if any, do you think a government has the right to keep secrets from its citizens? Who should decide how much citizens should know about the government's actions? What are some of the consequences for citizens and society if they don't know all the facts about a government action?


Have students research recent controversies surrounding nuclear weapons and energy. Controversies might include the reexamination in 1995 of Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima; recent assessments of damage caused by the Chernobyl nuclear accident; revelations of secret radiation experiments sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission; nuclear testing by France; re-evaluation of the impact of nuclear testing by the United States; and residents' protests against unsafe disposal of radioactive waste at military sites. Students should consider people's motives and arguments on both sides of the issue they research.

Using their findings, ask students to create two editorialsone for and one against the issue. Ask students to present to the class the editorial they most agree with and to explain why.

Unleashing the Atomic Bomb

The following lesson focuses on a program segment about the creation and dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Scientists, soldiers, and survivors describe their experiences in the bombing.

Program Segment
approximately 11 minutes

The beginning of the program

Sheldon Johnson says, "It was a beautiful, great thing."


Before Watching

1. As a class, brainstorm a list of reasons why the bombing of Hiroshima was an important event in world history. Discuss which reasons might be controversial and why.

After Watching

1. Why do you think Sheldon Johnson describes the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as beautiful? If you could respond to his description, what would you tell him? Does Sumiteru Taniguchi's quotation support or oppose Johnson's view of the dropping of the bomb?

2. What were the emotional and physical effects of the atomic bomb? How are nuclear weapons similar to or different from other military weapons?

3. Have your feelings or thoughts about the atomic bomb changed after watching the program? If so, how?


To increase students' awareness of the human impact of nuclear weapons, have them read and discuss the following excerpts from Hiroshima by John Hersey (Vintage Books, 1946): pages 35-40, 45-51, and 61-65. The first two excerpts describe how six bombing survivors cared for one another immediately after the bombing, and the third excerpt describes their response to Japan's surrender. After students read the excerpts, discuss the following questions: How does the book emphasize the unique aspects of nuclear warfare? How does it downplay those aspects? Why do you think the book had a powerful effect on American readers?

Have students research why Hiroshima was selected as a target, what other options were presented to President Truman and by whom, and what information President Truman used to make his decision. After students complete their research, create a class list of President Truman's options. Ask students to write a briefing for President Truman that explains their position on whether or not the bomb should be dropped.

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