Never mind ghosts, monsters in the closet, killer clowns — my childhood nightmares were of atomic warheads and a post-apocalyptic world where the living would envy the dead. I’ve never understood the reflexive “but the Japanese did worse things, not to mention all the other war dead” responses; a new and terrible form of death was released upon the world, and we have yet to draw back from treating it as just another tool. It’s like the urge to respond to natural disasters by insisting the victims should’ve known better than to be in the path of the wind or the water. Will the dead be less dead if only the debate judges award sufficient style points?
From the BBC, “Japan remembers Nagasaki atomic bomb, 70 years on“:
An emotional memorial service has been held in the Japanese city of Nagasaki where US forces dropped an atomic bomb exactly 70 years ago.
Speeches at the ceremony criticised the attending Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his plans to loosen the restrictions on what Japan’s military can do.
At least 70,000 people died in the attack, which came three days after another bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Nagasaki was only chosen after a cloud obscured the original target, Kokura.
A solemn ceremony in front of guests from 75 countries, including US ambassador Caroline Kennedy, began on Sunday with a declaration read out by children.
A minute’s silence and bells marked the time of the explosion in 1945 at 11:02 (02:02 GMT)…
Alex Wellerstein, in the New Yorker, on “The Last Bomb“:
At 3:47 A.M. on August 9, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress took off from the American airbase on the island of Tinian, in the North Pacific Ocean. Operation Centerboard II, the mission to drop the second atomic bomb on a Japanese city, had begun. Already things were not going as smoothly as they had three days earlier, in the run over Hiroshima. That attack had been textbook—“operationally routine,” as a classified Army history later put it. The Enola Gay had reached its target and returned home without complication; an announcement sent out under President Harry Truman’s name had trumpeted its success. But Bockscar, the strike plane chosen for Centerboard II, had been delayed on the tarmac because of fuel-pump problems. Only the day before, four B-29s in succession had crashed on takeoff, causing extensive fuel fires. As one of the scientists on Tinian wrote, “We all aged ten years until the plane cleared the island.” But clear the island it did.
Bockscar had been stripped of most of its armor and weaponry to accommodate its five-ton atomic payload, known as the Fat Man. Thirteen minutes after takeoff, at 4 A.M. Tinian time, the weaponeer made his way aft and removed two green safing plugs from the bomb, replacing them with red arming plugs: it was now live. Whereas the weapon dropped over Hiroshima had been a relatively squat cylinder, this one was shaped like a giant egg. It was five feet around and eleven feet long and painted mustard yellow. At one end was a rigid, boxy tail fin known as a California parachute, designed to help keep it from spinning wildly once it was released. The pit crew who assembled it had signed their names on the casing, and some also wrote messages to the Japanese—“Here’s to you!” and “A second kiss for Hirohito.” On its nose, the bomb bore a stenciled acronym, JANCFU, which stood for Joint Army-Navy-Civilian Fuckup.
The plane beat its way through dark and stormy skies for six hours before it arrived over the small island of Yakushima, where it was to wait for two accompanying B-29s, the Great Artiste, which was outfitted with instruments to help assess the power of the bomb, and Big Stink, a camera plane. Big Stink never showed. After fifty minutes, Bockscar and the Great Artiste proceeded to their primary target, the city of Kokura. It had a population of a hundred and seventy-eight thousand, about half that of Hiroshima, and was home to what U.S. military planners called “one of the largest arsenals in Japan.” The Enola Gay, now serving as a weather plane, had radioed that conditions were good…
When we remember the destructive birth of the nuclear age, we tend to focus on Hiroshima. It was first, and firsts get precedence in memory. It was also more devastating an attack than Nagasaki, with nearly twice as many dead and injured and three times as much land area destroyed. (This was in spite of the fact that the Little Boy, the bomb dropped by the Enola Gay, was only three-quarters as explosive as the Fat Man.) But if Hiroshima was, from a military perspective, relatively well considered, well planned, and well executed, Nagasaki was almost the opposite. From the very beginning, it was a JANCFU—a sign that this new era was as likely to be a comedy of errors and near-misses as the product of reason and strategy…
Jonathan Sobel, earlier this week in the NYTimes, “Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Pass Their Stories to a New Generation“:
Hiromi Hasai was being trained to make machine gun bullets when the flash from the atomic bomb that destroyed his city lit up the already bright morning sky. Just 14, he had been pulled from school a week before to help Japan’s failing war effort.
Mr. Hasai, now 84, has often talked publicly of his experiences that day, 70 years ago Thursday, when the first of the only two nuclear weapons ever used in war ultimately killed more than 100,000 people. The victims included hundreds of his classmates, who were still at their school near the blast’s epicenter. The bullet factory, 10 miles out of town, was paradoxically a haven.
Yet the things that Mr. Hasai saw and felt that day are not recounted by him alone. The person who knows his story best, after Mr. Hasai himself, is Ritsuko Kinoshita, a woman 25 years his junior who is serving as his “denshosha” — the designated transmitter of his memories. It is part of an unusual and highly personal project to preserve and pass on the experiences of atomic bomb survivors, whose numbers are dwindling rapidly.
Mr. Hasai, a retired university physics researcher with a quick and infectious laugh, is still healthy, as are many of the survivors. But the object for Ms. Kinoshita and roughly 50 other volunteer denshosha is to keep telling the stories they have inherited once the witnesses become too frail to do so, to keep alive memories of a traumatic event that has anchored the pacifist sentiment that has pervaded the country ever since…
Anne Fifield, in the Washington Post, “In Hiroshima, the Horror Is to Be Remembered“:
The crowd sat entranced as 78-year-old Emiko Okada recalled the horrifying events of Aug. 6, 1945, a day that started hot and cloudless. There was the buzz of the plane, the huge flash, the cries for water, the kids like ghosts with skin dangling off them, the people with their guts hanging out.
“We don’t want you young generations to go through what I did. You can help by spreading what you just heard from me to other people,” Okada — a hibakusha, or “atomic bombed person” — said this week in Hiroshima, not far from the spot where American forces dropped Little Boy, the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare, 70 years ago Thursday.
Not only is Okada telling her own story, but she has also begun to train an apprentice to continue disseminating her tale after she’s gone: a memory keeper, one of a growing number here being designated as an “A-bomb legacy successor” as the number of survivors dwindle.
While there are still more than 183,000 survivors of Hiroshima or Nagasaki alive in Japan today, their average age is 80, according to official statistics…
Okada is strongly dismissive of Abe’s plans — she wishes he wouldn’t come to the memorial here Thursday — and is worried that lessons are not being learned.
“Of course, I hope that students will be taught about this at school. I want young people to learn why the atomic bombs were dropped,” she said in an interview after her talk. “We also need to talk about what happened on the other side. We need to talk about what Japan did to other countries, too, so we understand all the events of this period of history.”…