Memorial Day: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden Out of the Memory Hole

'Melting Hand' by Akiko Takakura, Hiroshima survivor

‘Melting Hand’  by Akiko Takakura, Hiroshima survivor

Recently I’d been reading Peter Lee’sTo hell and back: Obama, Hiroshima, and nuclear denial’, May 26, in which he references Charles Pellegrino’s To Hell and Back as required reading “on the occasion of President Obama’s non-apology tour of Hiroshima on May 27”.

“It’s a meticulous reconstruction of the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the perspective of the victims.

It depicts, as the title implies, an utter hellscape of dazed survivors threading their way through the blasted landscape in ant-like lines to nowhere amid flickering whirlwinds of flame, human ash and bone, rivers of corpses, clouds of flies; and slow death brought on by desperate thirst, blast, burn, and radiation injuries, and the longer terms effects of radiation exposure.

People regarded as miracle survivors, untouched by the blast, turned out to be literally the walking dead a few days later…”  I’ll allow you to read the hideous narratives of a few survivors, but be warned that it’s hard, hard, reading.  One quote by a dying woman is too poignant to avoid bringing as iconic of War in many ways:

 “Doctor?” Shoda whispered…”I wonder if there is an operation that removes memories.”

Lee chronicles the death-by-media the book received, leading to the publisher (Holt) pulling the book, and the whys of it, although more recently published copies are available within his essay. Along the way he mentions Greg Mitchell’s exposé  Hiroshima in America, and possibly his collaboration on ‘Hiroshima Film Cover-up; ExposeCensored 1945 Footage to Air’ as pushing back against the military’s forcing the personal stories and true effects of the bombings down the memory hole.  Lee notes that both Obama and Shinzo Abe are in agreement that by and large…it stay hidden from the world.

Mitchell: “[The movie “Original Child Bomb” aired on Saturday night August 6 at 5:30 p.m. on Sundance Cable, and several times the following week. Those interested in ordering it can write Mary Becker of the Thomas Merton Center at]

NEW YORK In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan almost 60 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.  The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for 25 years, and the U.S. military film remained hidden for nearly four decades.
The full story of this atomic cover-up is told fully for the first time, as the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings approaches. Some of the long-suppressed footage will be aired on television this Saturday.”  (August, 2005)

Mitchell describes his interviews with the original director of the military filmmakers, ‘Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the U.S. military filmmakers in 1945-1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept watch on all of the top-secret material for decades.”  [snip]

Along with the rest of McGovern’s crew, Sussan documented the physical effects of the bomb, including the ghostly shadows of vaporized civilians burned into walls; and, most chillingly, dozens of people in hospitals who had survived (at least momentarily) and were asked to display their (flaming red) burns, scars, and other lingering effects for the camera as a warning to the world.”

That much of her filming was in technicolor provided ample evidence of the grotesque effects on human flesh; this is what McGovern reckoned the military and didn’t want us to see and know: far better to not provide outrage and pushback against The Bomb, no?   Here is the silent trailer from the documentary:

Merton’s writings and beliefs are a treasure even for many non-believers and apatheists.  One can get lost in time reading quoted passages from his books and essays.

Hiroshima – “Original Child Bomb” by Thomas Merton (Father Louis, Catholic writer and visionary, artist, Trappist monk; his works repository), via

“In 1961 Thomas Merton published a long prose poem called “Original Child Bomb”.

The title of Merton’s poem is a translation of the name the Japanese gave to the nuclear bomb used against them in Hiroshima.

The poem is based on events leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Merton said “Original Child Bomb” was an “anti-poem”. It is made up of 41 numbered sections written in a detached, bureaucratic style. Merton used irony and understatement to emphasize the horror of the events he described.

“Original Child Bomb” was published with the sub-title “Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave.” Merton seems to suggest here that the bombing of Hiroshima risks returning humanity to the primitive condition of pre-historic cave dwellers.

The 41 sections of the poem contain 2,480 words. But it needs to be read in its entirety. Merton sets a chilling tone with his terse style and his compact use of language. It would not be a bad way to spend a few moments on this August 6, using Merton’s words to reflect on a painful and horrific event in our history.”  It begins:

Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave

1: In the year 1945 an Original Child was born. The name Original Child was given to it by the Japanese people, who recognized that it was the first of its kind.

2: On April 12th, 1945, Mr. Harry Truman became the President of the United States, which was then fighting the second world war. Mr. Truman was a vice president who became president by accident when his predecessor died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He did not know as much about the war as the president before him did. He knew a lot less about the war than many people did.

About one hour after Mr. Truman became president, his aides told him about a new bomb which was being developed by atomic scientists. They called it the “atomic bomb”. They said scientists had been working on it for six years and that it had so far cost two billion dollars. They added that its power was equal to that of twenty thousand tons of TNT. A single bomb could destroy a city. One of those present added, in a reverent tone, that the new explosive might eventually destroy the whole world.

But Admiral Leahy told the president the bomb would never work.

3: President Truman formed a committee of men to tell him if this bomb would work, and if so, what he should do with it. Some members of this committee felt that the bomb would jeopardize the future of civilization. They were against its use. Others wanted it to be used in demonstrations on a forest of cryptomeria trees, but not against a civil or military target. Many atomic scientists warned that the use of atomic power in war would be difficult and even impossible to control. The danger would be very great. Finally, there were others who believed that if the bomb were used just once or twice, on one or two Japanese cities, there would be no more war. They believed the new bomb would product eternal peace.

4: In June 1945 the Japanese government was taking steps to negotiate for peace. On one hand the Japanese ambassador tried to interest the Russian government in acting as a go-between with the United States. On the other hand, an unofficial approach was made secretly through Mr. Allen Dulles in Switzerland. The Russians said they were not interested and that they would not negotiate. Nothing was done about the other proposal which was not official. The Japanese High Command was not in favor of asking for peace, but wanted to continue the war, even if the Japanese mainland were invaded. The generals believed that the war should continue until everybody was dead. The Japanese generals were professional soldiers.

5: In the same month of June, the President’s committee decided that the new bomb should be dropped on a Japanese city. This would be a demonstration of the bomb on a civil and military target. As “demonstration” it would be a kind of a “show”. “Civilians” all over the world love a good “show”. The “destructive” aspect of the bomb would be “military”.

6: The same committee also asked if America’s friendly ally, the Soviet Union, should be informed of the atomic bomb. Someone suggested that this information would make the Soviet Union even more friendly than it was already. But all finally agreed that the Soviet Union was now friendly enough.

7: There was discussion about which city should be selected as the first target. Some wanted it to be Kyoto, an ancient capital of Japan and a center of the Buddhist religion. Others said no, this would cause bitterness. As a result of a chance conversation, Mr. Stimson, the Secretary of War, had recently read up on the history and beauties of Kyoto. He insisted that this city should be left untouched. Some wanted Tokyo to be the first target, but others argued that Tokyo had already been practically destroyed by fire raids and could no longer be considered a “target.” So it was decided Hiroshima was the most opportune target, as it had not yet been bombed at all. Lucky Hiroshima! What others had experienced over a period of four years would happen to Hiroshima in a single day! Much time would be saved, and “time is money!”

8: When they bombed Hiroshima they would put the following out of business: The Ube Nitrogen Fertilizer Company; the Ube Soda Company; the Nippon Motor Oil Company; the Sumitoma Chemical Company; and most of the inhabitants.

9: At this time some atomic scientists protested again, warning that the use of the bomb in war would tend to make the United States unpopular. But the President’s committee was by now fully convinced that the bomb had to be used. Its use would arouse the attention of the Japanese military class and give them food for thought.

10: Admiral Leahy renewed his declaration that the bomb would not explode.

11: On the 4th of July, when the United States in displays of fireworks celebrates its independence from British rule, the British and Americans agreed together that the bomb ought to be used against Japan.

12: On July 7th the Emperor of Japan pleaded with the Soviet Government to act as mediator for peace between Japan and the Allies.  Molotov said the question would be “studied.”  In order to facilitate this “study” Soviet troops in Siberia prepared to attack the Japanese.  The Allies had, in any case, been urging Russia to join the war against Japan.  However, now that the atomic bomb was nearly ready, some thought it would be better if the Russians took a rest.

13: The time was coming for the new bomb to be tested, in the New Mexico desert.  A name was chosen to designate this secret operation.  It was called “Trinity”.  (the 28 remaining sobering points are here.

There are times I’ve wondered if he might have been an early Liberation Theologist, but I simply can’t remember all of his works and quotes.  Whoosh, asking the question, I just found that the answer is decidedly ‘Yes’, bless his heart.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’

~Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita, post-Trinity test


For three days beginning on Feb. 13, 1945, the US and Britain dropped 3900 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices on Dresden, Germany.  The resulting Two hundred degree-plus firestorm burned and melted to death between 35,000 and 135,000 civilians, including women and children.  Actual numbers were impossible to calculate, as at the time there were said to be ‘so many refugees from the east in Dresden’. It wasn’t a city that contributed in any way to the war effort, but instead a medieval city known for its art and architecture.  The saturation firebombing was planned simply to demoralize the Germans and weaken their morale, although the Official Reason given was that it was a communication hub, perhaps ‘hindering the Soviet’s war efforts’ according to

Kurt Vonnegut, of course, was a prisoner of war at the time in Dresden.  He and his fellow POWs only survived by dint of being housed in a former meat locker 60 feet underground.  Vonnegut’s job for weeks after the bombing was to gather up and burn the remains of the dead. His experience at Dresden marked him for life and eventually resulted in his literary masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five.  His anti-war protagonist was of course…Billy PilgrimBilly’s War in Reverse:

‘Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.’

~Thomas Merton

16 responses to “Memorial Day: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden Out of the Memory Hole

  1. feel free to consider me naive as hell, but when i’d read comments under peter lee’s essay, as well as coverage of ‘obomba says we need a moral revolution in hiroshima’ (nyt, guardian), or comments on dresden: so many were akin to ‘nuke them again the vicious japs; remember bataan?’ (yes, i was weaned on it in grade school), and ‘the germans got what was comin’ to em!’

    even at the O-so-progressive firedoglake, when i put up a diary lamenting the firebombing of dresden, you might have been shocked at the questions, comments, and expressed outrage, many echoing ‘are you a holocaust denier? answer the question!’ sort of hideous stuff.

    is the seed of retributive nationalistic violence that prevalent? it may just be so, tragically, as i kept reading. the maya said we were on the cusp of higher justice globally, almost ready to trade swords for ploughshares. my belief in that faltered mightily this week, i’ll admit. mebbe next week?

    i’m most sincerely drained for today; see y’all in the new day tomorrow.

  2. Fighting for life: (my latest midnight meltdown for any author out there) –
    With MAD resurrection threatening, I think we need another “Day After” sequel to the ‘Failsafe, Strangelove, On the Beach’ trilogy. I propose a book (and/or timely screenplay ala Playhouse 90):
    Armageddon Orbit, Mushrooms At Dawn (MAD); wherein, after an opening with a beeping Sputnik, the story flashes forward to an International Space Station “dawn” over the earth, with ISS “astronauts” witnessing (in ‘less’ than a riveting HOUR) the beginning, conduct, and end of a global nuclear war; watching and listening with utter horror as it swiftly transpires and expires, leaving them with impending doom, they too, must face: Descendest to the flames, swift ISS “decompression” or slow asphyxiation, circling in the void.
    (All I want is peace.)

    • another film by stanley kubrick, perhaps? “2020: a nuclear odyssey”?
      the special effects would have to be completely realistic, but show what’s left on the ground. i dunno, bruce, some days i reckon we should just call humanity a failed experiment, and cede the planet back to the cockroaches and dolphins. whaddaya say?

  3. 18: That afternoon Mr. Stimson called on Mr. Churchill, and laid before him a sheet of paper bearing a code message about the successful test. The message read “Babies satisfactorily born.”
    also not easy to read.

    • it’s easy to surmise that thomas merton’s anti-poem was named ‘original child bomb’ both because of that message, and that the message was coded that way since the bomb’s designation was: little boy. merton said the title was a translation from what the japanese called it, but they have been told that the name of their annihilation was so fukkedly quaintly named that, but it’s just a guess.

      ooof, i made it half-way through that; might have to tackle part II later on. it may contain some of the biological horrors peter lee narrated; they caused me to be sick all day long. funny; now i’m trying to imagine my strange animal dreams last night might have been related…

      but in this, point one i hadn’t known: ““While the reasons for the use of the bombs are complex, they center around two interrelated geopolitical aims of the American ruling elite at the end of the war: (1) the desire to limit the influence of the Soviet Union in East Asia by bringing the war to an end before the Soviet forces advanced far into China toward Japan, and (2) the wish to have a physical demonstration of the unrivaled power of the American military, and its willingness to use this power to advance its interests.”

      was shinzo abe’s kinda/sorta agreement with O at the site because japan and the US are now common allies against china?

      jacobin has this up, somewhat similar narration of the actual history, the agitprop, polls against the japanese (gads, some of the posters were sick), and this:

      “So why did the United States drop the bombs at all? State Department official William Dyess later offered a clue on NBC, when he said, “the Soviets know that this terrible weapon has been dropped on human beings twice in history and it was an American president who dropped it both times. Therefore, they have to take this into consideration.”
      It wasn’t about ending World War II. It was about setting the stakes of the Cold War by proclaiming American willingness to use weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations.

      By dropping the bombs President Truman held a gun to the head of the entire world — and despite Obama’s empty promises about nuclear non-proliferation, that gun remains in place to this day.” (via obomba)

      A Hawk in Dove’s Clothes is infuriating, especially the part about de facto abdication of the non-proliferation agreement.

  4. Back in ’73 (in a vain attempt at marine mammalogy “employment”) I visited the USN dolphin deployment division of the ‘Cold War’ in San Diego; so, I’m afraid that they’ll be targeted combatants, too! But, since unprepared for cucaracha re-incarnation; I’ll tread with the dolphins in anti-nuke Expletive REPEATED! :

    • lord luv a duck, bruce, i’d forgotten about weaponized dolphins. that un’s a beauty. heh; i haven’t checked in lately with darpa to see whassup; bet they got some new dillies, oy. (as if the mech soldiers in where…afghanistan? aren’t enuff.)

      h, fiddlesticks; i went to the nato account to grab one of the older mech monster warrior photos, got stopped by this instead. (loads and loads of ‘ukraine’ rubbish. never did write up the neo-nazis are almost in control of the G there. bye, bye, proshenko, soon, i reckon.

  5. The Interim Committee

    Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War
    James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State
    Richard A. Bard, Under-Secretary of the Navy
    William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State
    Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, also President of the Carnegie Institution
    Karl T. Compton, Chief of the Office of Field Service in the Office of Scientific Research and Development, also President of Massaschusetts Institute of Technology
    James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, also President of Harvard University
    George L. Harrison, assistant to Secretary of War Stimson and President of the New York Life Insurance Company.

    Byrnes was President Truman’s personal representative on the committee.

    The scientific panel that advised the committee comprised Enrico Fermi and Arthur H. Compton of Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago; Ernest O. Lawrence of Radiation Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley; Robert Oppenheimer, director of the bomb assembly program at Los Alamos.

    The scientists’ disclaimer of their report was:

    The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender. Those who advocate a purely technical demonstration would wish to outlaw the use of atomic weapons, and have feared that if we use the weapons now our position in future negotiations will be prejudiced. Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use, and believe that such use will improve the international prospects, in that they are more concerned with the prevention of war than with the elimination of this specific weapon. We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.

    The statement appears to say that the scientists selected were screened to be pro-use.

    Remember that the target for the bomb had morphed from making sure that Hitler did not get one first (Germany) to actual use on Japan in the course of six years.

    Another good time to plug James Carroll’s The House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power.

    And, oh yes, Brother Thomas Merton, the anti-war monk who died from a fan and a bathtub in Bangkok. Sure would like a real FOIA on that one. Contemplatives don’t have a reputation for carelessness. His writings on the Vietnam War were powerful. I hope someone has made a collection of them.

    And that poem you quoted and linked to. A sort of Pentagon Papers if one had been written about the decision to drop the atomic bomb. Interesting that Merton died December 10, 1968, and the Pentagon Papers (and its style of prose) were published in the New York Times in 1971. Brother Merton knew the mentality and the spiritual sickness that lurked there.

    • good digging, but i just gotta say that this ‘dual duties’ is almost too har har for words: ‘George L. Harrison, assistant to Secretary of War Stimson and President of the New York Life Insurance Company.’

      good analogy of the good brother's anti-poem and the pentagon papers. yes, terse as hell on purpose. yes, it seems he may have set the tone. dunno what all’s in the collection about viet nam, but a hella lot of items named here in the link in the OP, so i’d guess so.

      died from a fan and a bathtub in bangkok? whoosh; yeah, that doesn't sound likely, does it?

      there are so many different accounts of what some of the scientists did or said at the time, especially oppy, of course, that it’s hard to know what really went on internally, even with the claims of the letter.

      one wonders what might have been…had not the evidence of the devastation been shoved down the memory hole so effectively, down to the US and british making sure that no scientific studies would be done. as i'd said, reading comments at several sites on different sites “nuke them again!; firebomb them again!' made me despair. not unlike the polls on torture *if*, yada, yada: go for it! the same for assassination by drone, isn’t it? but at least there, it’s more about saving GI lives, no muss, no fuss. civilians? nah.

      when is that planetary leap of higher consciousness and knowledge of our interconnectedness coming?

  6. Good to see HATO isn’t neglecting its “babe” gap in da Euro ‘hood’! Bring on the Cowboys’ cheerleaders for the Warsaw Stasium fest!

    • As I read the the YouTube, I am looking at the prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which is the part of Ukraine that is independent of the rest of Ukraine and functions de jure as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation, apparently under Ukrainian law principles, legal code, and case law if I’m interpreting the prosecutor’s reference to Ukraine correctly.

      This is not NATO’s jurisdiction, and the prosecutor seems like a tough bureaucrat. The absence of cheerleading employment apparently leads some women in Crimea to go into the legal profession.

    • turns out that sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar, not ‘a babe’, eh? i looked around and her photos and video footage did go viral, especially among the japanese and chinese, iirc.

      • The friendly smiles at the beginning do turn to prosecutorial frowns by the end. Could easily be the Carmen Ortiz or Anita Alvarez of Sebastapol. Whether a force for good or corruption, I don’t think one would be advised to tangle with this prosecutor.

        • point taken; i was just resisting the sexist ‘babe’ of the comment. i’d thought later: ‘now if it had been banderist yulia tymoshenko,,,,’ ;-)

  7. more firebombing out of the memory hole, this in tulsa, OK 92 years ag this week, jeezum crow:

    from josie pickens at ebony: “The Destruction of Black Wall Street

    The events that destroyed a thriving Black Oklahoma community 92 years ago were much more than a ‘race riot’ “

  8. Or maybe, avoid at least our Collective DOOM

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