Today let us remember the tragic events that occurred 68 years ago today at Nagasaki. In the 1500’s the Portuguese set up a trading post there. St Francis Xavier arrived in 1549 and brought Christianity. In 1614 the Japanese authorities banned Christianity for over 250 years. During their banishment hundreds died a martyr’s death. It was officially recognized in 1889 and the community at Urakami was found to be largely Christian. When the cathedral at Urakami was finally completed in 1929, it was the largest cathedral in East Asia. Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly was set in Nagasaki, based upon an event there in the 1890’s. For much of the war, the residents were relieved that they had not been bombed.
At the start of WWII there was concern that the Germans might develop an atomic bomb and engage in crimes against humanity. The United States was opposed to crimes against humanity. Under deepest secrecy the army, under the direction of Leslie Groves, the Manhattan project was created to make of an atomic bomb. The Germans surrendered without developing the bomb. In April 1945 Truman became president and first learned about the bomb from Secretary of War Simpson. In May Herbert Hoover wrote Truman to end the war as quickly as possible. The Potsdam decision demanded unconditional surrender. The Japanese worried about their emperor, and time passed.
In secrecy men debated about the bombs. There were two types that had been developed. One was made out of Uranium, and the other out of Plutonium. Some thought that they should not be used. There were theoretical concerns that the chain reaction might destroy the entire earth. Some felt that there should be a demonstration to the Japanese military to see for themselves, but what if the bomb failed? It would be embarrassing.
On July 19 the US tested the first bomb, name sacrilegiously, Trinity, made out Plutonium, and the bomb exploded as predicted. Oppenheimer was to have said: “now we are the creator, now we are the destroyer.” Truman was convinced by the men around him that he should use the bomb, and he gave the order to use them when they became available. Leslie Groves was determined to use the bombs. He felt that the real war was with Russia. He had a big secret. Billions of dollars had been spent. What did they have to show? He wanted the Russians to know that we had the bomb. On August 6 Hiroshima, another city that had been left alone, was bombed with Thin Man, an uranium bomb. Tens of thousand were killed immediately, and many more died subsequently. Leslie Groves wanted to know which was a better bomb.
On the morning of 9 August 1945, Sweeney’s crew flew the B-29 Superfortress Bockscar, carrying Fat Man, another plutonium bomb. Kokura was the primary target and Nagasaki the secondary target. Koyoto had been on the list, but Secretary of War Simpson refused Leslie Groves’s request. Simpson had been there on his honeymoon decades earlier, and could not bear to see such a lovely town hit. The plane circled over Kokura three times, but it was covered by clouds. They proceeded to Nagasaki. The cloud cover broke at Nagasaki, and the cathedral at Urakami was revealed. The bomb exploded over the church during mass, killing all in attendance. Tens of thousands were killed instantly, others later by burns and injuries from debris. Thousands of koreans died. The people suffering from radiation sickness, Hibakusha, were shunned by their communities. Over 100 people who fled from Hiroshima to the safety of Nagasaki were injured in both cities.
My father was a radiologist, and he toured Nagasaki after the bomb. He wrote a paper in the scientific literature about the effects of the bomb. He described the skin injuries from the radiation, the fall in the white blood cell count. He had at times the thousand yard stare seen in victims of trauma. He could not talk about it. He said it was like the fire bombing of Dresden or Tokyo.
Leslie Groves send investigators to both cities, The Manhattan Project published a book, The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The book reported that plutonium made a better bomb. There was no mention of radiation sickness. The photos of the rivers filled with corpses, who died seeking water, were censored.
There are those people who feel that they can defend the use of the bomb at Hiroshima. There are many fewer who can defend the bombing of Nagasaki. Some regard the bombing of Nagasaki a war crime against humanity. The Nation reported
“The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable,” Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, “but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki”—which he labeled a war crime.
At the beginning of the water there was a sentiment that the US would not primarily target civilians, like our enemies, the Germans and the Japanese. By the end of the war we were capable of the same types of atrocities. Think how much different the world might have been if the surrender had occurred before the bomb had been developed.
Joseph Conrad famously wrote about “the horror, the horror” about deepest, blackest Africa. I believe that “the horror, the horror” occurred at Nagasaki, when white men used science to destroy innocent people, and let the nuclear gene out of Pandora’s box. It it my hope that we contain the nuclear gene before it destroys the earth.
There have been previous mass extinctions in the past. About 65 million years ago there was a mass extinction. According to Alvarez a layer of iridium was laid down around the world. The iridium came from a meteor. At Trinity iridium 137 was created for the first time in the history off the world and laid down over the earth. If sentient beings come to our planet in millions of years, they may find the iridium and say that this was done to them. If they find the iridium and plutonium and strontium and all the other nucleotides, they will say, this they did to themselves.
- Greg Mitchell: After Hiroshima, Truman Failed to Pause–and a U.S. War Crime Followed (huffingtonpost.com)
- Nagasaki marks 68th anniversary of bomb (bigpondnews.com)
- Nagasaki Marks 68th Anniversary of US Atomic Bombing (voanews.com)