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Old Embers

Seven Hours to Zero: The Bells of Nagasaki
By Fritz Spencer
Apr 4, 2010 - 12:25:29 AM

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Seven Hours to Zero - by Joseph Laurance Marx

The Bells of Nagasaki - by Takashi Nagai

Much of the history of the Second World War remains hidden from public view. There are, of course, two perspectives for every shot fired, every bomb dropped, and every home set on fire. Few people realize today that among the first victims of the Atomic Age were tens of thousands of Japanese Christians, or that the first structure to disappear in the smoke and flames of Nagasaki was Urakami Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Asia.

Each day a non-ending tidal wave of propaganda reminds us of the war crimes of the Axis Powers. In contrast, few of us have heard of the war crimes committed by the Allies. We mention in passing the Lemberg Massacre (4,000 Ukrainian Christians shot in one day by the Soviet secret police), the fire-bombing of Dresden (40,000 - 200,000 women, children, and elderly killed) the March 1945 air-raids on Tokyo (250,000 noncombatants killed in wooden homes set on fire by magnesium bombs and fuel oil dropped to feed the flames) the execution or imprisonment of 2,000,000 Russian prisoners returned to the Soviets by the Allies (Operation Keel Haul), or what is clearly the most shocking and under-reported of all Allied atrocities, the Bleiburg Massacre, in which tens of thousand of retreating Croat civilians and unarmed military personnel were killed by Yugoslav Communists.

For those readers who are now indignantly dismissing this column as revisionist history, I would suggest a fair and unbiased reading of "Seven Hours to Zero" and "The Bells of Nagasaki." Both books provide an immensely enlightening new perspective on the hidden dimensions surrounding the development and use of the first atomic weapons. "Seven Hours to Zero," which is in part based on interviews with scientists at Los Alamos, gives fascinating details drawn from the experiences of those who worked on the first atomic bomb. How many of us know, for example, that the scientists who developed the atomic bomb intended it for use against Germany, and were deeply disappointed when Germany was no longer a viable target? How many of us are aware that the first two victims of the atomic bomb were the American scientists who assembled the core of the device?

The human cost of the bombing of the second-largest Christian city in Asia is told in "The Bells of Nagasaki." The author, Takashi Nagai, was a convert to Christianity and a pioneering physician in the field of radiology. His short account of the bombing and its aftermath was originally banned by the U.S. occupation forces, and allowed only after the Japanese publishers agreed to include an account of Japanese atrocities in the Philippines. Christians in Nagasaki were left bewildered why America would use the hellish weapon to bomb Nagasaki, the only Christian city in Japan. On seeing a bronze statue of St. Michael melt beneath the flames, many were convinced that the bombing was the dawn of the Apocalypse. Nagai gives an account of the bombing from a Christian perspective, and includes a description of how after treating many blast victims, and himself sick with radiation-poisoning, he went home to discover his house in ruins, and his wife lying dead among the ashes.

These two outstanding books leave us with many puzzling questions. Do atrocities by a cruel enemy justify similar or worse atrocities on our part? How does one justify the incineration of entire cities, a crime which in terms of the numbers of victims and the cruelty of the act, exceeds the worst barbarities of recorded history? Is it a sin to call for the annihilation of cities and entire nations? Does our lack of Christian mercy open the door for others to wage war against us in the same manner? All are questions raised by these two most thought-provoking and challenging of books.

Fritz Spencer

More of Mr. Spencer's Reviews at Magic


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