I learnt in history at school how to draw a Stone Age house fairly accurately. But I didn’t actually learn anything about August 6th and August 9th 1945. My sons have learnt those dates, rote, in a matter-of-fact way in order to pass their history tests. I knew one of the planes was called Enola Gay from the OMD song, and I learnt much more of the history of the World Wars as an adult. I thought I was prepared, much in the same way as I thought I was prepared to visit a Nazi concentration camp for the first time, but I so wasn’t. It was shocking and unforgettable.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is well presented. It’s informative and clear. This is what happened. Here’s what’s left and here are the facts. The audio tour is excellent.
Separately, every year since it happened, the mayor of Nagasaki makes a speech on August 9th imploring an international agreement on nuclear disarmament and an end to nuclear weapons.
We arrived at the museum at opening time and it was eerie to be there for the first half hour, before the tour buses arrived, almost on our own. It took three hours to walk around the exhibits and much much longer to really take it all in.
The decision to use and test nuclear weapons on Japan was made on 18 September 1944. The bomb hit at 1102am on 9 August 1945, 3 days after the first one over Hiroshima, just as the pilot (who had left from Tinian Island – a small but strategically significant Pacific island) was about to turn around because of heavy cloud cover. There was a 2 minutes break in the clouds from 1100 to 1102hrs.
There are remnants of buildings, possessions, clothing, lots of photos, and survivor audio recordings. Nuclear bombs cause a strange type of damage – the massive heat emanated directly out from the hypocentre so only things facing the blast were burnt; “shadows” were left on walls if ladders or people were standing in front of them, white silhouettes on black backgrounds.
The heat also caused fires which burnt in a “conventional” way. The people near the centre who weren’t burnt mostly died of radiation poisoning. Radiation damages cells within the body – there are still survivors with radiation injuries. Not much was known about radiation poisoning at the time, so most medics who arrived to assist survivors also died of radiation poisoning.
The bomb for Nagasaki contained plutonium, which exploded 500 metres above the city. It’s called Fatman because of its shape. It was the explosive equivalent of 5200 trucks each containing 4 tonnes of TNT, plus some radiation.
That’s incomprehensibly powerful. This nuclear bomb, (and they’ve come a way since) produced a heat of 3-4000 degrees centigrade at the hypocentre on the ground, double-typhoon-speed winds – and radiation. The first bomb at Hiroshima “tried out” uranium (and these are the right words, because it put the U.S. way ahead in terms of nuclear weapon research by trying it out on a real city with real people).
The second bomb destined for Nagasaki tried out plutonium and a different detonation process. Nagasaki was the fall-back choice of city, it was actually planned for elsewhere because the harbour and mountains of Nagasaki meant the blast would be fragmented and the readings wouldn’t be so accurate. Research canisters were dropped at the same time to take scientific readings of the destruction caused.
This is the scoreboard, where we are believed to be at in 2014, in the arms race. The little red speck on the UK is Trident, old and due for replacing at somewhere along the lines of £100 billion. Because we like to pretend we are one of the big boys. Austere big boys.
The Peace Park is an emotional place to visit. The statute dominates, one hand pointing up to the sky and nuclear attack and the other outstretched for peace.
The fountain in the middle represents the wings of a dove and the much needed clean water in the radiation-contaminated aftermath. There are many statues from many countries around the world – this one was the tear-jerker for me…