HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI is among the most important studies of recent years, one upon which the future of our planet could depend, and its shattering pages should be widely read, particularly by those responsible for national policy.

Although we all are living in the shadow of nuclear destruction, the world community, except for Japan, knows litle of the realities of atomic bombing -- and this is the first scientific inquiry in depth of the major aspects of the deadly peril that has been facing mankind for 36 years. It has been compiled by 34 Japanese specialists in the fields of physics, medicine, social sciences and the humanities with the help of three editors. Not merely a collection of essays, it is a single work cooperatively produced with no government supervision or funding. Its conclusions, therefore, are refreshingly candid and nonpolitical.

Immediately after the two bombings Japanese medical scholars and natural scientists did their utmost to determine the details of the twin catastrophes, but they were inhibited by Allied occupation directives, not only prohibiting them from undertaking any study of A-bomb damage without permission, but banning publication of their findings. The San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 at last freed the Japanese to conduct scientific research openly.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the fruit of the extensive research that followed. Conceived as a mission to awaken the world, it consists of four parts: the first demonstrates the enormous power of the bomb and the resultant physical damage; the second geographically details the various damages to humans; the third treats the overall collapse of society following atomic destruction; and the fourth, after summarizing efforts to survey and analyze A-bomb damages, relates the growth of the antinuclear movement.

The chapters describing the latent effects of the bombings are particularly chilling. Leukemia among those exposed was first discovered in 1948. Its incidence rose gradually, reaching a peak by 1953. Then followed a general trend in the increase of throid, breast, lung, and salivary gland cancers. Microcephaly and developmental disturbances were also encountered among infants exposed as fetuses. Those who survived began to feel the doses of whole body radiation from the beginning; and this "atomic bomb illness" continued in many cases for years. "It destroyed the actively regenerating cells in the body and greatly devasted the vital defensive mechanism. These heavy doses were the main reason for the poor repair, the prevalence of infection, and the extremely high mortality in atomic bomb injury." Reparative and regenerative processes of the body were hindered. Moreover whole body radiation injured the nuclei of the cells.

The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were totally unprepared for such massive devastation. Families and neighborhood groups as well as "the entire network of community life, all the social systems, structures, and functional organs built up over many years, were burned and blasted into oblivion." The survivors had lost parents, children, mates, friends, neighbors; their homes and places of business were obliterated. The whole society was laid waste.

Added to social and economic loss were the aftereffects of both heat and radiation injuries, seriously handicapping the victims' efforts to restore their health and livelihood. A-bomb damage became so complex and extensive that it could not be reduced to any single characteristic. "It must be seen overall, as an interrelated array -- massive physical and human loss, social disintegration, and psychological and spiritual shock -- that affects all life and society . . . . The essence of atomic destruction lies in the totality of its impact on man and society and on all the systems that affect their mutual continuation."

The tragedy of the hibakusha, the A-bomb victims, has been compounded by the failure of both the U.S. and Japanese governments to give them adequate help. The former from the first discouraged publicity of atomic damages, abandoning the survivors to their own fate as if they were normal war casualties; the latter adopted no official policy to help the hibakusha until 1954 and, although government care has been gradually expanded and systematized, it is still woefully inadequate.

Written for the most part with remarkable scientific detachment by those whose compatriots were savaged, the book does come to two questionable conclusions. The authors state categorically that the two atomic attacks "were needed not so much against Japan -- already on the brink of surrender and no longer capable of mounting an affective counteroffensive -- as to establish clearly America's postwar international position and strategic supremacy in the anticipated cold war setting." The cruel fate of the hibakusha did not come "from the Allies' desire to end the war quickly and restore peace; it came, as we know now, from the United States' expectation of a postwar confrontation with the Soviet Union and its wish to make a show of force by demonstrating the bomb's incredible might."

In my own research I have found nothing to this effect. Granted that the decision was perhaps tainted by racism and revenge for Pearl Harbor, the essential motive was to end the war without further Allied casualties. I do agree that it was not necessary to drop the bomb. Top officers of the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army as well as high ranking civilians opposed the decision. Leahy, Arnold and Eisenhower all took behement issue with Marshall's claim that it was either the bomb or a costly invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Pandora's Box once opened, the world now had to face the awesome consequences. "The release of atomic energy," warned Einstein, "has so changed everything that our former ways of thinking have been rendered obsolete. We therefore face catastrophe unheard of in former times. If manking is to survive, then we need a completely new way of thinking." The Japanese did not need Einstein's admonition. Having learned from experience, they are leading the crusade for an end to the use of all nuclear arms. In the forefront of the movement are the hibakusha . At first they felt hatred toward the enemy, then resentment towards their own government but eventually the great majority saw their tragedy as universal and now have a single-passionate goal: "No more Hiroshimas or Nagasakis."

It is difficult to imagine any reader of Hiroshima and Nagasaki irnoginr the appeal of the only humans who have experienced an atomic attack. The pictures and moving recollections of the bomb vicitms alone should persuade even those in the corridors of power to end somehow the irrational nuclear race. "I secluded myself at home and spent hours before the mirror looking at my own face," wrote a 14-year-old hibakusha . "What I saw was ugly hunks of flesh, like lava oozing from a crater well, covering the left half of my face, with the eyebrows burned off and my eye and lips pulled out of shape. My neck was pulled over to one side, and however much I tried to straighten it, it wouldn't move back to the normal position."

It could happen to your 14-year-old.