The Bombing of Nagasaki
Pictured above is a clock found in the rubble of Nagasaki after it was bombed by the Americans in WWII, frozen precisely at the time of the blast. 11:02 AM. 69 years, 3 months, 19 days, and some odd amount of hours and minutes ago, this clock was ticking. And then it stopped and never ticked again.
Everyone knows about the dropping of the atomic bombs and how they changed the world. With the dropping of these two bombs man pushed the boundaries of what he was willing to do to his brother further than had ever been known. The Americans didn’t bomb without knowing the sort of power they held, and they didn’t make any mistake in bombing a city of civilians. The effects were calculated and right on target.
Of course the American public didn’t know of the lives that were lived by the people on the ground, kids playing on playgrounds, moms making sandwiches for their kids’ lunches, couples holding hands on park benches–life possessing no fundamental difference from the life lived within the boundaries of the US. A different language, a different history, but really not all that different. This is how man is willing to destroy himself, not seeing the little things that actually make up life as it is really lived, and creating a delusion that he is destroying not himself, but an other.
What enables man to fight is his belief that he is fighting an other. Problems arise in war when soldiers begin to realize that their enemies aren’t so different from themselves. The system of hate unravels. (There’s a dense yet interesting book written solely on this phenomenon called Violence and the Sacred by René Girard).
I think the American public would have reacted differently to the bombing of Nagasaki if they had known that Nagasaki was the biggest (and really only) stronghold of Christianity in Japan.
Glass rosaries carried by Japanese Christians near the hypocenter of the blast. The heat was so hot that the glass melted like taffy.
Christian statues in front of Urakami Cathedral (St. Mary’s Cathedral), which, before the bombing, was the largest Catholic church in all of East Asia. Mass was attended on the day of the bombing. Everyone inside was killed.
Most Americans you will speak with don’t know so much about Nagasaki. I didn’t know anything before I visited. All I knew was what I was taught in school, that it was a place that was bombed by a technology whose destruction can liner on for years. Most people aren’t even aware that it is a livable city (let alone a thriving city). They hear the word Nagasaki and they think of rubble, char, and radiation.
One of the things that struck me most both in Nagasaki and Hiroshima is how much they’ve moved beyond the day that they were bombed, and how much of a past and history they had before these days. In visiting this city and sitting in cafes and hot springs with the locals, I was overwhelmed by a feeling that their bombing, although tragic, was simply a dot on a long continuum of history. A wound that they endured, but that is not definitive of who they are.
I got a haircut and a shave by a small man in a well-kept barber shop a few kilometers from the peace park. He was a perfectionist; it was the best cut I’ve ever had.
What disturbs me most about the dropping of the atomic bombs is not so much the dropping of these two bombs and our entrance into a new “atomic world”, but how knowledgeable the leaders of the US Army and government were that we were entering such a world, and how they were purposefully racing themselves into an antagonism with the USSR. There were many reasons for why America dropped the bombs, the most widespread taught to students in American schools being that it saved American lives and that the same amount of people would have died anyway in hand to hand combat had the bombs not been dropped (which may or may not have been true), but what isn’t talked about so much is that Japan was already at the brink of collapse by 1945. Moms were given cookbooks for how to cook insects and how to incorporate sawdust into meals as a stomach filler. Airplanes were without fighter fuel and elementary school students were sent out into the woods to dig up flammable tree roots that could be mixed with airplane fuel to make supplies last longer. Young kamikaze pilots weren’t diving their planes into American ships because of an extreme and cultish religious fervor towards the emperor, their air force was in shambles and they were out of bombs. Would Japan have surrendered had the atomic bombs not been dropped? Nobody knows. What is known though, is that the cold war between the USSR and the United States began before WWII ended.
After the bombing, US Army officers were sent to the bombing sites to bring back reports. They studied what sorts of shelters survivors hid in so that similar structures could be used in the US to protect against the Russians. Pictures of the demolished cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were shown to Americans, and they were told that if we did not build up our armies to defend against the Russians, these photos could just as well be of New York or Washington DC. Bombs were tested in the American midwest (sadly, within range communities of US citizens. Their struggle itself is a a topic worth reading into) to build bigger and louder forms of destruction. We didn’t slip into a world of war, we piloted ourselves into it. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove comes to mind.