Reliving the Flashing Bang
An atomic bomb survivor urges the destruction of nuclear weapons.
On the evening before the world
changed, before unthinkable attacks killed thousands and propelled
the United States into a new type of war with a new breed of enemy,
a courageous and graceful japanese woman--herself the survivor of
a wartime attack 57 years ago--bowed her head before an auditorium
teeming with oberlin students and beseeched them to join together
in the pursuit of peace.
"Everyone in this room, please, help us to be
the last victims of the atomic bombs," urged Etsuko Nagano,
a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, near the
end of World War II. Her passion was so searing that few in the
audience needed the English translator to interpret her message.
"I don't want anyone in this world to suffer the agony that
we have been experiencing. In a loud voice, I would like to call
for the abolition of nuclear weapons and pray that this world will
be one without war. Only peace.''
The following morning, as hijacked airliners collided
into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, peace never seemed so
far away. Soon, U.S. missiles would be pounding the Afghanistan
countryside. The odds suddenly increased that any of the thousands
of nuclear weapons stockpiled throughout the world--each more powerful
than those dropped nearly six decades ago--could be used again.
The Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition, on
display in Oberlin at the time of the attacks, abruptly took on
added poignancy. Nagano's testimony illustrated the devastation
of weapons of mass destruction: "It was a living hell that
I won't be able to forget for all of my life."
She spoke courageously of her desperate search for
family after the blast in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. At just 16
and working in a college gymnasium-turned-war materiel factory,
she had been two miles from the bomb's impact. She remembers still
the sound of shattering windows and choking on dust.
Making her way home, Nagano encountered her 9-year-old
brother in an air-raid shelter. He had been outside catching dragonflies
when the bomb fell. He was unrecognizable.
"His face was swollen like a balloon, and he
couldn't open his eyes or his mouth. I asked if he was my brother,
and this little child nodded. I asked, 'Are you really Seiji, my
brother?' And he nodded again. I still didn't want to believe it,"
The boy died within a day. Nagano's younger sister
died of radiation sickness within a month. Their house had been
She recounted the other scenes of horror that stay
with her to this day. "I saw a horse standing, dead; it looked
like it was just burned instantly. It was charred and still standing
on a bridge. And we saw what looked like two people together who
had turned into a black lump, a mound; it looked like a mother and
a baby who were leaning on a kitchen sink, but the house was gone,''
she said. "I saw bodies scattered all over the ground. Some
were blackened. I saw skeletons, beheaded skeletons. Humans and
animals were dead all over.''
By means of 48 photo panels, clothing, and other items,
the traveling exhibition depicts in horrid detail much of the carnage
Nagano described. On view for two weeks last September at the FAVA
Gallery downtown, the collection was on loan from the Hiroshima
Peace Memorial Museum in Japan. It came to Oberlin through the efforts
of Diana Roose, assistant to President Nancy Dye, who had spent
years studying the use of the A-bomb in World War II and interviewing
After September 11, said Roose, the explicit photos
and information panels were viewed with a new perspective. "A
lot of people said the exhibition made them more sensitive to the
horrors of war, even a terrorist war." Perhaps just as important,
she added, it opened the eyes of grade school children who have
grown up in peacetime, and whose only knowledge of combat comes
from video games and simulated blood.
"We had many, many children go through the exhibit.
One kid asked, 'Is this real?'" Roose said. "These kids
have to be taught that these things exist. Real bombs. Real people
President Dye, in comments during the exhibit's opening,
expressed similar sentiments. "As an educator, I know that
even recent events in history such as World War II may seem very
remote to young people today in both Japan and the United States,
but this exhibition poignantly reminds us that every person in the
world continues to be affected by the United States' bombing of
these two Japanese cities," she said.
"Never before had human beings realized the power
to annihilate completely human society and culture. This exhibition
also makes us realize our responsibility to teach ourselves and
our young people about the horrors of war and the terrifying potential
of nuclear weapons...and that we must work together as a world society
to find ways to prevent another nuclear holocaust."
by Michael K. McIntyre
Photos by Martin Fong