Nagasaki: Pushing Back on a Preemptive Nuclear Option
By TLB Contributing Author: Ken LaRive
Author’s Note: Of late, there has been some talk of dropping a nuclear bomb on Korea. Seems this idea has spread as a viable option…
I find this thought unacceptable, on any level I can consider. The following is my experience with this most profound subject, and the very thought is like a hammer in my brain. It is beyond words, beyond any and all contemplation, and so, I want to tell you of both thought and feeling, as extrapolated from what I remember as a US Navy Yeoman for the Captain of the USS Kitty Hawk, 1970. I want to explain to you my very personal and profound, life changing visit to Nagasaki, Japan.
Nagasaki blisters and little soft hands
In the spring of 1970, the carrier USS Kitty Hawk pulled into the port of Sasabo Japan. I was one of about two thousand Navy service men standing at parade-rest as we pulled into slip. It was a beautiful display, in our dress whites. I didn’t understand it at the time, but we were told this powerful formation of our men was meant to be a sign of respect. Let me say from the start that we dropped those bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to finally put an end to a war that was taking the lives of our servicemen. Japan would not give up. I make no apologies for this action. However, in retrospect, the abject horror that has been duly recorded since tell the story of just how horrific this kind of warfare entails, from ultimate destruction, human pain, to genetic abnormalities that are still going on. It is my hope that we never, ever have to resort to this ever again.
We were explained a lot about our visit while at sea, more than any other port in our West Pacific Tour. It was drilled into us that our relationship with Japan is complicated.
There were discussions on our ship’s closed circuit TV during our prime-time television viewing, displacing Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Captain Kirk on the Enterprise too. A variety of mandatory general briefings went on for weeks before we arrived, and each Division participated. In the middle of a lot of information I can no longer remember, we were told that no nuclear carriers were allowed to dock… that no civilian clothing would be allowed on shore leave; that we were to be on our best behavior; and that any breach of conduct would be dealt with harshly. In the Captain’s office, where I worked, we were told real stories of Sailors past arrests in Japan, sent to the brig for a variety of reasons, with the most prevalent being drunken and disorderly.
My two best friends, Al Moore and Gary Hammitt, both four by six, had already made two West Pac tours. They knew the ropes, and had been to Japan twice before. In the chow-hall we discussed where to go, and decided unanimously to give one of our three days to the village of Nagasaki. We would stay in a quaint bed and breakfast next to a “hotsie bath”, close to “ground zero.” It was the place where we had dropped the second nuclear bomb, less then thirty years before. These massive gardens and very special museum we planned to see, stood at the very epicenter.
1970 is forty-seven years ago. At the time it had been just twenty-six years since the bomb. I thought 26 years was an awful long time back then, crawling by like my first twenty, and two years on The Hawk seemed a lifetime. Today I know it to be just a flicker of time, as age gives us all a new perspective.
In dress blues, spit polished shoes, and zippered haircuts, we made it through the gambit of old Chiefs and Petty Officers looking for any excuse to turn us around. We all slid through, and with a practiced and proper salute of the ensign, we walked the aft plank to a very busy peer, and a bright spring day.
With Pea Coats slung over one shoulder, and our overnight bag on the other, we made our way to the base exchange where our rental car waited. Past the jar-head guards who gave us a final look-over, we were out of the gate and on the road, free at last. Gary’s international driver’s license had again come in handy.
There were fields of flowering fruit trees, and amazing rice paddies built like soft velvet steps on emerald green hills. We saw colorful pagodas, brightly painted bridges over clear, swift moving streams, and we passed thousands of elaborately planned, and meticulously manicured flower-gardens that were an artist’s dream. Hanging baskets were everywhere, holding delicate clusters of every conceivable color.
In three hours we were on the outskirts of this famed city of Nagasaki. If I hadn’t known, I would never have guessed this city had been completely razed just a generation ago. It was breathtakingly beautiful, with industry, suburbs, open shops, electric train stations, children flying silk kites, new American and Japanese cars mixed with hundreds of bicycles, and all blended like a Maxfield Parish Painting, to dazzle the senses. We stopped for lunch and I had Sukiyaki for the first time, eating everything but the raw egg in the middle. I was mesmerized. Nothing seemed familiar, and yet, it was.Customs were different, but humanity was the same, and the laughter I heard in the park across the street filled me with a lonely longing for America.
By early noon we pulled into the Atomic Park, and though I can truly say that most of this trip is now a blur or forgotten, there are some things that will never leave my mind.
There, before the six-story museum, was a giant statue of a muscle man, the “Statue of Peace.” Under it was carved in several languages: “Beware! It comes from the sky. It will level the earth.” One of his strong arms was pointing to the heavens, and it is said that the tip of his finger is where the bomb blew up. His other arm is outstretched to show destruction.
Each floor in the museum is dedicated to some aspect of this horror. One floor showed nothing but burn victims, that was 90% of the deaths here. Trying to separate skin from clothing was the hardest part, but I’ll spare you the ghastly details. I couldn’t stay but for a moment on the floor of genetic abnormalities, the next generation.
One floor had thousands of everyday objects displayed, showing the strange effect that the bomb’s intense heat had on them. Four bottles of wine melted together with the corks and liquid still intact, half of an iron melted down a mantle in its own molten puddle, bubble blisters of metal and glass that was once a car, and the strangest picture that haunts me even as I write this… With high resolution color film a photographer took a picture of a charred wall. It was blown up to its original size, and the charred ivy that covered the wall was jet black. But there, to the side, was a vivid silhouette of healthy fresh ivy, untouched by the flash of heat. It was the body of a man holding the hand of a child that stood before that wall, saving that area from the burn. I could almost see them, her little dress, his hat, her thin arm and her hand in his, could all be seen clearly. A chill went through me standing before this picture, and it changed me to the very core, It was a moment frozen in horror, I stood before that wall for a long time, as the gravity of what this all was hit home.
Note: I have tried to find this photograph on line. There are many kinds shown, and they are called shadow pictures. This particular picture, however, can not yet be found.
The finality of a flash…
It was the morning of August 9, 1945. At 07:50, Japanese time, an air raid sounded. Soon after, at 08:30, an all clear signal was given. At 10:53 two B-29 super-fortresses were sighted, but officials gave no alarm thinking that these planes were just another reconnaissance. It didn’t matter, as no alarm would have made the slightest difference. No one expected anything like this. A few moments later one of the B-29s dropped a bundle of instruments attached to three parachutes. At 11:02 the other plane dropped a large object set to detonate a few hundred feet above the ground, for full effect. At the point of this muscle man’s finger, an atomic bomb exploded.
Captain F.l. Ashworth, U.S.N. was in technical command of this mission. He watched as the bomb detonated above the valley of Nagasaki. He wrote:
“The bomb burst with a blinding flash and a huge column of black smoke swirled up toward us. Out of this column of smoke there boiled a great swirling mushroom of gray smoke, luminous with red, flashing flame, that reached 40,000 feet in less than 8 minutes. Below through the clouds we could see the pall of black smoke ringed with fire that covered what had been the industrial area of Nagasaki.”
74,000 people were dead in that flash of light, and 75,000 burn victims screamed into the afternoon, into the weeks, and the years ahead. 95% of all injuries died from burns.
This bomb had the equivalent of 20,000 tons of T.N.T. To give you some idea of what power we are talking about, it takes just one pound of T.N.T. to raise 36 lbs. of water from freezing to boiling. A nuclear fission equivalent pound of uranium would produce the same temperature rise of 200 million pounds of water. Our nuclear capability today can destroy the entire planet a hundred times over…
Radiation comes in many forms. Initially, heat radiation traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, promotes wavelengths all the way to gamma rays, shorter than even an x-ray. This radiation comes in two bursts. The first lasts just 3 milliseconds of ultra-violet radiation, destroying all life within reach. The second lasts for about three seconds, 90% of the total light, and able to raise the temperature of skin by 50 degrees.
At the beginning of WW2 the bombing of civilians was not even considered. We were desperate for a closure, and desperation seeks desperate action. Though we can justify our actions, we should all realize what actually happened, and try everything within our power to see that it doesn’t happen again. Never, never, ever again.
We met up later on the huge colonnade before the Statue of Peace, and there, close by, was a little obscure hill that was the actual ashes of those who died that awful day. It was covered in flowers.
Bus after bus of school children loaded and unloaded on a large turn-around next to the parking lot. They walked holding hands and smiling, in clean pressed uniforms. Suddenly I was surrounded by a group holding out little scraps of paper and pencils. They wanted a sample of my writing. Our squiggly lines fascinated them, as their open smiles fascinated me. The adults were just as friendly, and I wondered what was in their hearts. I wrote down my name many times, and gave it to little soft hands reaching up to me. Suddenly they were loading up the bus and waved goodbye. I saw those little girls and boys, so like our American children, and that little girl on the wall, holding hands with her father is something I never want to forget.
I think back on this with amazing wonder, and a bit of regret too. I wish I had not put my name on those tiny pieces of paper, but had written the words “Love and Peace” instead. Some things are beyond what one government can do to another. Some things are just too profound, too horrible, and beyond all understanding… God help us, never again. Never… never again.
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Ken LaRive – Facets: It’s a simple but beautiful metaphor. Our soul is likened to an uncut diamond, pure, perfect, and unrealized. Each learned experience cleaves a facet on its face, and leaves it changed forever. Through this facet, this clear window, new light, new questions and ideas take shape and form. This process is our reason for being …
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