The Bombing of Nagasaki

1D4A4630

 

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.

1D4A4647

 

1D4A4648

 

1D4A4653

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.

1D4A4638

Glass rosaries carried by Japanese Christians near the hypocenter of the blast. The heat was so hot that the glass melted like taffy.

1D4A4776
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.

1D4A4725
Above is a peace sculpture in Nagasaki Peace Park. Below are some words from the artist.
1D4A4733

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.

1D4A4674

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.

2 thoughts on “The Bombing of Nagasaki

  1. As always your posts are poignant and thought provoking! After visiting Hiroshima with my parents I started thinking a lot about Americas decision to drop the bombs. I understood why our government was secretive about the development and use of the bombs. Obviously it would have been catostrophic if the technology had fallen into German hands during WWII, but they had already surrendered before we had the chance to use it. (Germany was the original target after all.)
    Something I didnt know about Japan was that the people were so in the dark about the war effort that it was MONTHS before most other cities had heard about what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The government had censored any and all information about the attack. The peoples ignorance was also part of the reason that Japans war machine just kept pushing and pushing, willing to sacrifice the lives of every last woman and child. Of course America knew they were defeated, but the people werent the ones that could sign a declaration of surrender. The bombs were meant to shock the leadership into surrender instead. Lives lost overall meant nothing to them considering how many were lost in the Tokyo firebombings vs. dropping the atomic bombs.

    • Hm, thoughtful. I don’t normally like to comment on political/historical issues as if I know anything, because I don’t; all of this was before my time. I/we’ve just read a lot of books and have talked to a lot of people-all secondhand/contemplative experience. But I suppose its more fun to engage.

      Also, I don’t really like it when people reply to messages that I send line for line, but I’ll do it anyway just because you covered a lot.

      “Obviously it would have been catostrophic if the technology had fallen into German hands during WWII, but they had already surrendered before we had the chance to use it. (Germany was the original target after all.)”

      I think the fear of the Germans developing the bomb (they were developing one) might have been a factor for secrecy, but I think the governments of both countries were well aware of what the other country was working on. I think in war its generally just protocol not to keep citizens too informed about constructing death machines, but to discuss the necessity of their use after the fact. Otherwise, they would never be used (there would be too much debate, and generals don’t have time or interest for debate).

      “Something I didnt know about Japan was that the people were so in the dark about the war effort that it was MONTHS before most other cities had heard about what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The government had censored any and all information about the attack. The peoples ignorance was also part of the reason that Japans war machine just kept pushing and pushing, willing to sacrifice the lives of every last woman and child.”

      Yes, this is quite interesting. The ignorance was deepened even further in time due to the American occupation after Japan’s surrender. Like you said, it took people in other areas of Japan months to hear that something had happened to these cities, but even then, what they were told was very vague. They had been bombed. There were no details and photos like you’d see today in a museum. There was definitely a good deal of willful vagueness/censorship there, but you have to remember, in regards to the atomic bombings, this would be mostly on behalf of the American forces, as Japan surrendered shortly after the bombs had been dropped. Japan was allowed to rebuild and be its own country, just not a country that was anti-American. And yes, I think you’re totally right in the way you explain lack of information in general during war being one of the biggest enabling factors that allows war to go on. I agree, I don’t think the people would have fought so hard if they had known how bad of a condition the nation was in, even before they entered war with the USA (they had been fighting all over asia for more than 10 years before Pearl Harbor). Most people were told that Japan had firm control all over Asia in the other countries that they invaded and that they had plentiful resources and would conquer if they just kept pushing, but the reality was far from this. Not only do I agree, but I think the only real force that allowed Japan to go on and fight as hard as it did was the ignorance of its citizens. But perhaps this is the case with all war.

      “The bombs were meant to shock the leadership into surrender instead. Lives lost overall meant nothing to them considering how many were lost in the Tokyo firebombings vs. dropping the atomic bombs.”

      yes, it seemed that the government didn’t give a shit about its people and it probably didn’t (though again, this isn’t very Japanese as much as it is a quality of a ruling party pushing its people into war). The bombs certainly did lead to a quick surrender. I don’t think that there is anything that could convince me, however, that Japan’s surrender was the primary factor motivating the USA to drop the bombs. It was a desired result, but I think more than anything the US wanted to showcase its power to the world, namely the USSR.

      Also, limiting the deaths of US soldiers and shortening the war was definitely important, but the most desired thing about this surrender was that it be to the US, and not the USSR (who declared war on Japan immediately upon receiving word that Hiroshima had been bombed).

      I think that General Groves and others responsible for the bombings would have been incredibly disappointed if Japan had surrendered without the bombs being dropped. They had been drooling for that moment (instantaneous death of 80,000+ civilians) for years. Pretty sick, but the truth.

      But yes, although I think most people responsible for the bombings were Dr. Strangelove-esque maniacs, I think it is undeniable that there were some people who genuinely felt that from a utilitarian standpoint dropping the bombs was the right thing to do, not just for America, but for Japan as well.

      I had a very strange conversation with an old man living in Nara once. He thanked me for nuking Japan. He said that although the bombs were terrible, if America had not defeated Japan, the USSR would have swallowed it. After the war, America helped Japan become the beautiful free nation that it is today. If the USSR had taken Japan though, he told me that Japan would be no different from North Korea. A strange gratitude, but very much authentic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: