Translating to “Long Cape” in English, Nagasaki is located on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve always known it to be the second city, after Hiroshima, on the receiving end of an atomic bomb attack by the Americans, which practically wiped out its population.
Everything I knew about Nagasaki came from my late father who was a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and who joined PEFTOK (Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea), the Philippine Army contingent of the United Nations forces that fought in the Korean War.
My father told me that during World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, thousands of Americans died when, in 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a deep water naval base on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. At that time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the President of the United States.
Since the war dragged on, causing the loss of many more American lives, the succeeding US President, Harry Truman, had to think of a way to put a stop to it and agonized over the decision to drop those deadly atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was after he complied with the Quebec Agreement which the US earlier signed with the United Kingdom. This Agreement calls for both countries to work together for the development of nuclear weapons but such will not be used on each other or on any other country without the full consent of both parties.
So, on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, wiping out 90 percent of the city, killing immediately 80,000 people, with thousands more dying of radiation exposure through the succeeding months and years.
Three days later, a second B-29 Superfortress named Bockscar dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people on impact, and thousands more of radiation-related illnesses through the succeeding months. This eventually caused Japan’s Emperor Hirohito to announce his country’s unconditional surrender, officially putting an end to World War II on September 2, 1945, less than a month after the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Not too long ago, together with other friends, I had the opportunity to visit Nagasaki for the first time. I was so confident that I knew everything that happened to the city during the war, until I listened to our tour guide who shared with us new, interesting trivia about it.
I was pleased to learn that, since the early 17th century, Nagasaki was a center of Portuguese and Dutch influence. In fact, a group of Jesuit missionaries even held fort in the area and, for a while, it became a Jesuit colony. Some of the Christian churches and religious sites that are still standing in the city and suburbs have been nominated for inclusion in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Of course, my first question to our tour guide was about our safety. Is the city free from radiation? The World Health Organization has declared, many decades ago, that the city is free from any radioactive substance, as proven by the growth of lush vegetation everywhere in the city, and by its present population of 1.2 million.
But I didn’t know that the primary target of the second atomic bomb was actually another city, Kokura, due to the large weapons arsenal there which the US forces wanted to destroy. However, heavy dark clouds blanketed the city, making it difficult for the pilot to zero in on the exact mark, so he decided to drop the bomb in Nagasaki instead, which was also a secondary target due to the existence of the massive Mitsubishi warship building facility in the city.
I kept on hearing from our tour guide the word “hypocenter” as the exact location where the atomic bomb was dropped, so I asked if she actually meant “epicenter.” Ignorant me, she gave me a lecture that Nagasaki’s “Ground Zero” is called “hypocenter” because the bomb actually exploded 500 meters above the ground. The three-kilometer radius around Ground Zero saw concrete buildings turning to bubbles under the 4000-degree heat brought about by the explosion.
On a more pleasant topic, I didn’t know that Nagasaki has the most number of Catholics in Japan. In fact, 10 percent of the city’s population are Catholics, while the entire Japan registers only four percent Catholics who, based on the stats, are probably concentrated in Nagasaki.
What I found quite poetic was the symbolism of the statue, a virile representation of Japan, at the Nagasaki Peace Park, as shown in the photo on this page. Its right hand points upwards, calling attention to the ever-present danger of nuclear warfare, while the extended left hand is a fervent wish for peace in our world. The closed eyes signify a prayer for the bomb victims. The folded right leg shows an act of meditation while the extended left leg shows readiness to stand up and rescue victims of atrocities, like those of a nuclear attack.
The statue looked even more symbolic, as it was surrounded by several origami pieces in the shape of a crane which, per our tour guide, is the Japanese symbol for peace. What a fitting reminder of an incident that certainly changed the world! I’m sure the rest of the world joins Japan in fervently praying that Nagasaki will continue to be the last city on earth to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon.
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