SE Asia & Japan :: April - June, 1995

Subject: On a park bench beside the A-bomb Dome.
Date: June 18, 1995 01:51

6:41 Rob Church's House; Loma Linda, California-USA :: 16 JUN 95

Excerpts from the preface to "The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945" by The Pacific War Research Society.

It is a story of the folly and inhumanity of war, of wars inexorably brutal logic -- and for that reason it is a story that should never be forgotten so long as men are alive on earth.
We were all victims of the logic of war -- a logic that permits each belligerent to claim that he has "justice" and "right" on his side, but a logic that is, of course, dictated solely by selfish national and personal interests. That is intrinsic to the nature of war: war is waged by sovereign states; sovereign states are governed by men; men who govern sovereign states are, all too often, goverened in turn by the lust for power; and the axiom that power corrupts is no longer open to question.
...has there been a single day, since the Pacific War ended, when somewhere in the world men were not killing other men ostensibly in the name of "justice" and "right" but actually for other, infinitely less laudable reasons? Such thoughts are commonplace, yet they still have the power to arouse anger in our hearts. And against what is that anger directed? My answer would be: "Against something that has no shape but that deprives us of of all our human sentiments and thoughts."
When, in preparing this book, we interviewed the Hiroshima survivors, we found that they had no desire to speak of their experiences: those experiences, even after the lapse of twenty-six years, were still too terrible to talk about. Yet terrible as they were, we heard the victims express, time and again, the same thought: "Our agony that August day was nothing compared to the agony we have suffered in the long quarter of a century that has passed since then. If you tell our story, all we ask is that you tell the truth."

Kazutoshi Hondo
Chairman, The Pacific War Research Society


[Warning: If you're having a nice day, perhaps you don't want to read this.]

I am trying to get to the heart of that truth, not a rational grasp of it but an emotional empathy with the experience, a difficult endeavour. While in Hiroshima I sat by the river in front of the A-bomb Dome's skeletal remains. I tried to enter the conditions of a human soul sitting on the very same bench some 50 years ago. On 13 June, 1995 the grim clouds eventually chased me away with rain, but 8:15AM, 6 August, 1945 it was a bright blue, perhaps cheerful morning and high overhead I would have seen the contrails of aircraft splitting the sky-blue rather than a low brooding ceiling of rain. I would never see the object that fell from streaks of white.

Even on such a rain-spattered and grey, shadowless day as June 13, 1995, I close my eyes and reconstruct those peaceful, pregnant moments with ease. But while I can list the events that are about to unfold for that imaginary me, I cannot conjure the experience of them. I cannot empathise an experience beyond my ken.

I know that the exploding of the second atomic bomb ever detonated by human beings would be, at most, a fleeting experience for me sitting there, just 200 meters from the hypocenter. I can paint the image of the second sun that would burst into being 580 meters above me. But I cannot complete the mental experience of that moment; accompanying the blinding sun-burst would be a bath of thermal rays heating the atmosphere and objects they struck toward 11,000 degrees Celsius. I would cast a second, permanent shadow on the bench when the heat rays bleached the exposed surfaces white. In an instant I would be blind and my skin would sizzle like bacon on a white-hot frying pan.

Were these alone the effects of an atomic bomb, I might gruesomely survive it.

I would never feel the swath of gamma rays that spread with the initial sunburst. Nor would I sense the momentary hail of neutron particles coming close on the heels. Even if our eyes and a fingers sense a solid object, to a gamma ray the sprinkling of atoms comprising the human body is as sparse as the stars in the night sky. I imagine the Starship Neutron blasting through space. But the fission of uranium 235 releases a tsunami of radiation and the unguided rays run recklessy through space and though most pass through me unhindered, billions of them collide with the atoms I don't even sense to be me. Less than a kilometer from the blast, my radiation dosage reaches somewhere on the order of 1000 roentgens. In the entire year preceding this moment I would have absorbed perhaps 0.001 roentgens from everyday sources. An x-ray machine generates something like 0.01 roentgens.

At this point my fate is sealed. My atomic foundation sundered; I am essentially 'sunburned' to the core. Even if I survive the other blast effects, the radiation is absolutely lethal. My fate is sealed before I hear the bang.

The sound of the blast is still on its way to my bench by the river but a proverbial steel safe drops from the sky in the form of a 35-ton per square inch shock-wave. Without opening up a text book I'm not sure about the Newtonian physics of this crushing blow but I imagine as dropping a Dodge Ram pickup truck with a tankful of gas from about 5 feet above my head. The bomb rains thousands of Rams on Hiroshima. The shockwave reflects off the river, striking the steel Aoli bridge behind me. It ripples like a flag in a stiff breeze. The shockwave shatters glass, splinters wood and crushes my bones into the park bench.

This close to the hypocenter, the deafening sound is an anticlimax. It is the survivors of the bomb who named it pika-don, Pika referred to the flash of light. Dori was an onomatopoeic reference to the tremendous sound. But I will not survive to give my impressions.

If I am still alive, I am without doubt unconscious. My limp body is cast into the river by a 440 meter/second wind. The windstorm swirls around buildings and mountains. The rushing air picks up the shattered glass and other debris and drives the maelstrom into stucco walls, marble statues and human flesh. Even today, Doctors remove glass shards from deep within the bodies of survivors who were two kilometers or more from the hypocenter.

I am spared this experience. Already dead, perhaps I should be counted among the lucky. I miss the firestorm that probably accounts for as many of the deaths, if not more, as the initial blast effects. I miss the residual radiation in the fallout, and the induced radiation from every object struck by the neutron wave. I will not live through the agony of radiation sickness, of healing burn wounds. Best of all, I will not live through the anguish of burying my family, my friends.

I know all this to be the true effects of the bomb. Rationally, I can describe it. But it is beyond my capacity to imagine.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

Everything has changed since the splitting of the atom, except our way of thinking.
  graphical element Albert Einstein (paraphrased from my memory).