Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Urakami

The explosion of the atomic bomb came altogether unexpectedly. I saw the flash of light in the radium laboratory. Not only my present but also my past and future were blown away in the blast. My beloved students burned together in a ball of fire right before my eyes. Then I collected my wife, whom I had asked to take care of the children after my death but who now had become a bucket-full of soft ashes, from the burnt-out ruins of our house. She had died in the kitchen. For me, the injury to the right side of my body and acute atomic disease caused by the atomic bomb were added to my chronic radiation illness, disabling me far sooner than expected.

--Takashi Nagai, in Leaving These Children Behind.

On August 9, 1945, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Due to drifting winds, the bomb dropped in the Urakami area of Nagasaki, obliterating the Urakami Catholic Cathedral and killing the greater part of Nagasaki's Catholic community, as well as many others. Nagai was in his office at Nagasaki Medical Center at the time, less than a thousand meters from the epicenter. He survived, but as he notes in the above passage, struggled with radiation-induced cancer the rest of his life. He devoted himself to helping others, and while bed-ridden for leukemia, wrote a number of books on dealing with the atomic-bomb experience that have been very popular among Japanese Catholics. His works are very difficult to find in English, although The Bells of Nagasaki was translated by William Johnston. In his works, the desolation of Nagasaki is seen as a sacrifice of atonement, by innocents, for the horrors of war, and a perpetual memorial saying to mankind, "Seek peace."

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