‘Savoring’ the tragedy of Nagasaki

Column-Dr Saturnino Javier photoPrime Angle

Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Nagasaki, Japan – The city of Nagasaki in Japan has long been a target city destination for the tourist in me. Years of History classes in secondary school that repeatedly cited Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the twin cities that got annihilated by atomic bombs during World War II naturally drew curiosity and evoked interest about the city.

Thus, it was a great opportunity to learn more about this city which was the venue for the General Assembly of the 15th Forum for Ethical Review Committees in Asia and Western Pacific (FERCAP). With four other members of the Makati Medical Center Institutional Review Board (MMC-IRB) which I chair – namely Dr. Dennis Damaso, Dr. Romana Borromeo, Dr. Sonia Bongala, and IRB secretary Ms. Paula Limbo, we grabbed the opportunity to embrace the rich, though tragic, history of Nagasaki.

Arriving via Philippine Airlines at Fukuoka International Airport, we took a two and a half bus ride to Nagasaki – after savoring our first bowl of richly flavored “shoyu” ramen at the airport. Quite fortuitously, the cool weather (about 20 degrees Celsius in contrast to Manila’s sunny skies and 32 degrees) and the ample cloudy overcast on some hours of the day added a very serene touch to the city’s ambience – easily enticing the first-time visitor like me to explore what the city had to offer.

Since we arrived a day before the actual convention proper, we all had the opportunity to spend the next half day or so as we pleased. Paula and I immediately seized the opportunity to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum which effectively and poignantly chronicled the events of the fateful day in August 1945 when “Fatman” (the name coined for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki) instantly killed more than 70,000 people and injured (later killed) another 75,000 people.

Traipsing through the exhibits of the museum, one could instantly and vividly picture the fatal moments of August 9 at 11:02 a.m. – as evidenced by the watches and clocks found at the scene and nearby places which captured the exact time when the minute hand of those time pieces froze. From exhibits and documentations, one could smell the burning houses, the fumes of gases, the stench of burnt flesh, the scent of death.

With rows and panels of photographs that eerily depicted the final moments of those trapped in the conflagration, with displays of personal effects like clothing’s, caps, rosaries, or shoes, one could easily conclude that these were people who were completely unaware of the horror that would unfold on that day. Recollections and testimonials of survivors recalled what they and their friends and families were doing on that fateful day.

Picture a city where professors were lecturing at the nearby Nagasaki Medical College (now the Nagasaki University which was incidentally the venue of the FERCAP conference), of pupils attending classes, of priests giving confessions, or of workers going around their usual chores along the railroad tracks – before the bomb was dropped – with a power equivalent to 5,200 truckloads and 20 tons of dynamites piled on top of each other and lit up to explode with all its might.

The atmosphere turned more depressing when one walked out of the Atomic Bomb Museum towards the Peace Hall Memorial for the victims of the bombing. When the walk finally led us to the Hypocenter, the exact place where the bomb was dropped (Ground Zero), this predictably capped the debilitating feeling and instantly elicited a huge sigh of sullen relief and gloom.

The best way to be reinvigorated after this moribund walk in history was a stroll at the Peace Park. Established in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Nagasaki bombing, the park houses sculptures, installations, and plants from various cities and countries given as donations and contributions to the city.

As colleague Dr. Damaso pointed out, the park signified a world that wanted to move on, one that would learn much from what a tragedy like Nagasaki could bring about in order to find in all of us the resolve that such should never happen again.

By and large, the museum and the nearby structures would hew on the inhumanity of the event, its catastrophic impact and the unspeakable horror spawned by the tragedy that finally led to the fall of the Japanese empire. In the morbid sense of awe that would engulf anyone breezing through the museum, one could get lost and forget that Nagasaki (and Hiroshima) was a result of far more atrocities and far more tragedies that led to this event.

Truth should not be a casualty of the Nagasaki bombing. The truth of the horrors of nuclear wars is brutally clear. The truth of the horrors of any war should be much, much clearer.

Vital Signs Issue 84 Vol. 4, February 1-29 2016