Hot Spot

2 minute read
JESSI HEMPEL

NUCLEAR LEGACY On Aug. 9, 1945, the U.S. detonated an atom bomb above Nagasaki. The pilots meant to hit the Mitsubishi shipyards 3.2 kilometers south, but the day was cloudy and they missed their target, dropping the device instead over Nagasaki’s northern suburb of Urakami. The bomb killed nearly 75,000 people instantly, and at least as many died afterward from the effects of radiation.

Like Hiroshima, its sister city in nuclear Armageddon, Nagasaki has made the preservation of the event’s memory its legacy. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, a brick building of contemporary architecture, documents the bombing and its aftermath. Its exhibits focus on the dangers of nuclear weapons and are remarkably balanced, leaving discussions of the war’s politics for history books and scholars. Memorable artifacts include: a wall clock, its face busted, stopped at exactly 11:02 a.m.; a melted rosary from the Urakami cathedral; and children’s crumpled clothing. Television screens showing footage of the bomb’s wasteland are dwarfed by a water tower, its steel legs snapped like toothpicks so that its rusty tank leans precariously to one side of the high-ceilinged gallery.

First-person accounts of the carnage that are relayed via videotape are moving, but even more so are the stories told by now elderly survivors who occasionally come to the museum to share their memories with visitors. One notable local figure is Sumiteru Taniguchi, whose photograph, snapped by the U.S. Army, became symbolic of nuclear disaster. The picture shows Taniguchi at 16, lying on his stomach in a burn shelter, the skin singed off his arms, back and buttocks. His grandfather treated his burns with cooking oil for two years before Taniguchi was able to resume his job as a mail carrier. The museum also has video testimonies from other victims, among them an American woman whose sister was stricken with leukemia following nuclear testing near the family’s home in the U.S.a reminder that in the nuclear age, no one is safe.

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