The Bomb

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sun 16 Mar 2014 12:08
Alongside Nagasaki
Weather: sunny and mild

Today I was determined to visit the hypocentre of where the atomic bomb was dropped. I hope to leave Nagasaki tomorrow, so if I am going to get away then today was my last opportunity. While I am a retired naval officer, I am in no way a war monger, quite the opposite. In fact, in my experience, I think most service people are opposed to war. Nonetheless I felt that while I was in Nagasaki that it was important for me to acknowledge this world changing event in human history. So, after topping up the water tanks in preparation for getting under way, I packed my backpack and caught the tram to to Matsuyama. From the tram station it is only a short walk to the hypocentre.

I will not attempt to comment on my thoughts and feelings as I walked in the park and viewed the simple black obelisk which now marks the point over which the bomb exploded. I will simply post a few photos and allow those who read my blog to reflect upon the event in their own way.

From the hypocentre I went to the Atomic Bomb Museum. I think the museum is very well done. The entrance leads to a large dome skylight, under which a walk way spirals slowly down around the outside circular wall and leads into a darkly lit room. The first display are images of the bomb detonating, presumably taken from the aircraft that dropped the bomb. Artefacts from the site are on display: a clock that stopped at 11.02, the time the bomb was dropped; bits of twisted metal and buckled steel plates from a water tower, and other structures around the blast site; a section of a wooden wall from a house with the shadow of a clothesline and its clothes etched into it; a replica of the remains of a wall from a Catholic cathedral that stood 500 meters from the hypocentre; and a few sparse images of the corpses that lay burnt and charred in the aftermath.

From this darkened corridor one moved into a more normally lit room, which explained events leading up to the dropping of the bomb, and the technical details of the bomb itself, with a replica of “fat boy” sitting large and silver in the middle of the room. One side of the bomb is cut away to show the inner workings. I was surprised to see just how simple it was. The key was clearly the few kilograms of enriched plutonium that lay at its core, surrounded by high explosives which compressed the plutonium and set of the chain reaction - so simple, and so deadly. From there the display focused more on the artefacts damaged and destroyed by the bomb, glass and tiles melted and fused into tangled masses, people's burnt and torn clothing, a pair of broken reading glasses, inkstands, clocks, the everyday paraphernalia of life that in an instant became funerary memorials for thousands.

Then the aftermath for the survivors was explored, the sorts of injuries that were experienced, the burns, and the radiation sickness, and the efforts that were made by the survivors to rebuild their city and their lives. The most moving part was of course the testimonials of those that survived. The stories of what they witnessed and experienced, the losses they incurred, of their families and homes completely wiped out. My descriptive powers are of course not up to recounting what these people must have gone through. Two stories stand out in my mind, one of a man who had been working out in the fields. He escaped the blast, to return to an apocalyptic scene, his house, wife, and four children gone. He wrote of the years that followed, of the continual sadness, and of his thoughts of when and how he would commit suicide. Another story was of a mother whose six year old daughter was pinned under a beam. The young mother was burned and badly injured herself. A couple of people from the exodus stopped to help, they tried to lift the beam from her daughter, but it was too heavy. They left saying they were sorry but it was hopeless. Fires were breaking out all around. The mother looked at her child, bent down, shouldered the beam and lifted it free of her daughter. She died later that night. This account is of course told by the daughter who survived.

These sorts of stories, of the suffering that people have to endure, are no doubt with us still today. Our world is still wracked by war. What is of course different is the scale and intensity of the violence that can be wreaked by an atomic bomb, how it can destroy so many lives in a matter of seconds. I have written enough.

Tomorrow I hope to sail for the Gotto Retto archipelego. I am not sure which harbour I am going to aim for. I have a number of options, so I will let the wind decide for me once we are out there.

All is well.