We just got back from Nagasaki — you’ve probably heard of it because it was the city where the second atomic bomb was dropped at the end of WWII. I had mixed feelings about going to the A-bomb museum because I remember how ill I felt after I went to the one in Hiroshima about 15 years ago.
But I was actually pretty impressed with the exhibits. They showed some stuff that made you pale including pictures of charcoaled people, helmets with the person’s bone fragments stuck on it, clothes with blood, etc. But it was balanced. Impressively so.
They didn’t even forget about the non-Japanese that were also killed by the bomb. They had testimony by the Korean laborers that were forcefully brought to Japan to work, as well as testimony by prisoners of war that were being interned nearby at the time. They finished off the the exhibits with a deeply critical and thorough section on the nuclear bomb experiments that have been going on in the world since that time including testimony by those who have suffered from those after-effects.
Most importantly, I didn’t sense any anti-U.S. sentiment (although the exhibits came down hard on the U.S. regarding all the nuclear bomb tests they’ve conducted since then). I also didn’t feel like they were shoving my face into this stuff. The exhibits were intelligent and the message simple. I left the museum feeling sober but not sick.
This is my own interpretation, but I wonder if part of the reason for this is that the U.S. actually targeted one of the most enlightened communities in Japan. It’s got a very old Christian history, and you feel that undertone. (In fact the largest Catholic Church in East Asia was one of the main buildings to be destroyed as were the dozens of people who were attending midday mass).
One part of the exhibit was dedicated to the life of a Catholic Japanese researcher physician, Takashi Nagai (author of “The Bells of Nagasaki”), who helped the victims and spread a message of peace even as he was dying from leukemia. One of the things that Nagai says in one of his books is something to the effect of the following: “There’s no one to blame but ourselves for this tragedy.”
I can understand the temptation of wanting to blame the old enemy as was the impression I got in Hiroshima, but Nagasaki’s simple message somehow seems so much more powerful.
(The picture is one of Ground Zero although of course the bomb went off in the air)