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Nagasaki makes me question my beliefs about WWII … but not about the atrocities of nuclear weapons

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

The thing that most startled me about our visit to Nagasaki is that many Japanese believe the atomic bomb which levelled this city in August 1945 had nothing to do with the Second World War. I will explain their thinking below. This a statue erected in honour of the victims.

But it was a lesson for me in how perspective - and what we are told by the news media and those in power - can shape our world view.

It resonates now with particular force as the people of China and Russia are being told that Ukraine is the aggressor in that conflict.

And ... who knows ... when it comes to the bombing of Nagasaki, maybe the Japanese are right and what I was told in school - that it was a calculation by Truman to spare the many more lives that would have been lost in a prolonged battle - is just so much US propaganda. But hey.

There were other tours offered to the passengers when our ship arrived in Nagasaki. But I don't know how you could go there and not spend the day at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park.

Above is the sign on the way in to the museum.

And this is a clock that was found in a home near ground zero, stopped at 11:02, exactly the moment the bomb was dropped.

The nuclear weapon incinerated all of the children in a primary school a few steps away from the epicentre as well as those in the prison at the top of the adjacent hill. And it levelled everything within several kilometres radius, including a medical school and a Catholic cathedral.

In all, more that 70,000 people were killed instantly or in the days that followed, and a similar number were wounded.

The bomb at Hiroshima killed even more.

The photos inside the museum are as gruesome as you would expect, and I will spare you. They are available online. But this is a shirt worn by a victims, with blood and burn marks evident.

Outside, however, is a park devoted to peace.

This was the peace fountain.

And this is a monolith that has been erected at ground zero.

I searched inside the museum for some mention of Pearl Harbour and the Japanese military campaigns that pulled the Americans into the war, aggression that culminated in this atrocity. And I found nothing.

The timeline on the museum wall starts three months before the bomb was dropped and included a Japanese entreaty for peace that, they say, was issued several weeks before the bombs were unleashed.

But, our tour guide explained, many Japanese (including her) believe the Americans had spent so much on the Manhattan Project - the equivalent of the Japanese annual budget - that the administration needed to show taxpayers some payoff. The president had to drop the bomb after that kind of investment, she said.

And, at the start of the Cold War, the US wanted to demonstrate its might to the Russians who were looming as an enemy of the future. The Japanese, she said, believe Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just collateral damage as the US politicians delivered messages to the Russians and the American people respectively. I don't know.

What I do know is that the museum and the peace park are gripping places to visit and I was left near tears though most of the time I spent there.

Nagasaki has rebuilt itself over the past 80 years. We stopped by a stretch of covered mall where I bought a couple bottles of saki - saving at least one for Portugal.. And then I used the remaining Japanese coins in my pocket to buy the most expensive box of cookies I could afford at this cookie shop.

....

The next day we landed in Busan, Korea.

For a complicated set of reasons, Josie, Virginia and I decided to forego the free tour offered by the ship that would have taken us to a local shrine and a colorful fishing village, and instead took a taxi downtown.

The cherry blossomed were honestly even more spectacular than they were in Japan. Maybe a couple days further along in the bloom.

We got our nails done. But only after having this wonderful lunch at at traditional Korean restaurant. Even though I am a non-eater of red meat, I dipped into it a bit (when in Rome ... er ... Korea) and it was delicious... though there were lots of things we could not identify.

We now have two days at sea before Hong Kong ... for which I am super excited.


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