Seventy years ago today, at 11:02 am, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, a city on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu. I feel like I’ve heard a lot about Hiroshima and its atomic bomb on August 6th for most of my life and less about Nagasaki.
If you look at the map above, just above Nagasaki, there’s a city called Sasebo.
That’s where my family is from.
Growing up, I attended Japanese weekend school and I’ve been in and out of my Japanese grandmother’s house my entire life. This–plus knowing that on the other side of my family, my grandfather was fighting against the Japanese–has always given me mixed feelings about how we’re taught about the end of World War Two in school. Like, on the one hand, I’m here because the Americans decided not to bomb Sasebo, which was one of the cities under consideration. But then, the bomb killed thousands and affected so many peoples’ lives with so much cruelty that I grew up taking the Japanese side in the argument. How can you inflict something like that, even on your enemy? How can you inflict a bomb that vaporizes people, so that they’re only left as shadows?
But then again, I’m here because my Irish-American grandfather didn’t have to go and invade the Japanese home islands.
Growing up, also, every story I read in Japanese school had to do with the war. Family lore has given me the story that my grandmother, who was in her late teens in 1945, could see Nagasaki’s mushroom cloud from Sasebo–I have no idea if the cloud was high enough to actually see it in Sasebo or how the bomb might have affected the cities surrounding Nagasaki.
I began reading a book about the bombing of Nagasaki today, hoping to gain insight into what happened there. Because it’s been seventy years since the bomb and the generation that lived through it is getting old, growing forgetful, and dying and soon, we won’t have a chance to ask them questions about what happened.