‘Melting Hand’ by Akiko Takakura, Hiroshima survivor
Recently I’d been reading Peter Lee’s ‘To 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 firstname.lastname@example.org]
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.
“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 History.com.
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 Pilgrim. Billy’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.’