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Hiroshima, city of seven rivers, is known all over the world as the place where the first atomic bomb was dropped on 6th August, 1945. Over 70000 people were killed outright in the initial blast, but as many again are estimated to have died in the following months from burns, radiation sickness, and hunger.


The city is now one of the top tourist destinations in Japan, but people don't come for the castle and formal gardens, they come for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and museum. They're trying to understand the scale of the destruction unleashed mostly on civilians,  destruction so great that people who lived in the city could hardly grasp that it had been caused by a single bomb.


Hiroshima today may be a spiritual centre where people come to meditate on the most devastating single act of World War 2, which killed more people than any other conflict in history, but it is also the site of probably the greatest question mark over the ethics of war in human history: can it ever be right to kill so many innocent people, even if you think it was to save many more?


Shock And Awe Hiroshima Sequence

‘It wasn’t inhuman to drop the atom bomb if you believe in saving lives in the long run.’ Harlan K Ullman quoted in the Guardian, 25 March 2003.


Shock And Awe 1


Sun Tzu, Chinese sage and warrior,

promised the highest post in the army,

if - what no-one else could -

he taught the Emperor’s concubines

to march like soldiers,


given carte blanche

as to his method of instruction,

tried first off a simple command:

‘Concubines, by the right,

march!’ They tittered


lolling on their divans.

They were the Emperor’s diversion.

Looking decorative was their brief

and light sexual duties.

Nothing to do with marching.


Next he summoned the First Concubine.

She came well-powdered. He said nothing,

hand to his belt. As her torso

twitched on the palace floor he summoned the rest.

They marched.

Little Boys

The pilot of the Enola Gay(1) over Hiroshima


His mother always told him to eat up:

she’d pack his lunchbox every schoolday:

‘Take care! And grow up strong!’

Her smiling image bumps against his heart.


Her namesake noses over the morning city

where mothers are packing lunch boxes

for their own small sons,

warning them to take care.


He mutters a God speed

for the Little Boy nestling inside

as the lever slides back the bomb-hatch doors -

‘Safe trip, kid, show what you’re made of!’



The thermometer stood at eighty degrees.

At eight-fifteen a.m. precisely

all the windows broke.


They noticed the light.

Like a magnesium flare

used to show up a target.

But this was broad day.


There wasn’t a huge bang.

When they came to

they wondered where their clothes

had gone, why their skin

began stripping off

like badly-glued wallpaper.


Then came wind.

Not the wind they’d expected.

Not like any wind

they’d ever known.

Last, black rain.


Everything subsided.

The ones left upright

found it hard to see

for dust in their eyes.


They remembered only

the all-clear sounding

before the normal

exploded to yellow sand


leaving behind its shadows

fused into tarmac

or onto one of the walls

that stayed standing

for no reason at all.

Birth Pangs

Robert Oppenheimer witnesses the test of the first atomic bomb


Today he became a father. A test-tube baby he’d laboured over himself. To the last

the midwives shook their heads, unsure

the foetus was viable. Today


there were cheers and hats in the air

for the ten thousand pound boy –

there’d never been doubt of the gender –

safely delivered, all functions perfect.


And as he watched the child blossom to life

roaring fit to frighten the doctors

a thrill ran through his veins knowing his son

had already outgrown him.


Image of bike at Hiroshima by Janet Crawford, 2019. 

Shock And Awe 2(3)


The basis for rapid dominance rests in the ability

to shut your eyes


To affect the will, perception and understanding of the adversary

go for a mass cull


Shock and awe are necessary effects

to snap the spirit of the enemy


One plane, one bomb, one city gone

the more you kill the more you save


Nearly incomprehensible

it makes sense


to stop everything in its tracks

the maximum case of changing behaviour


Building at Hiroshima by Janet Crawford, 2019. 

Sadako’s Cranes(4)


Dozens a day. Her fevered fingers ached

to fold the paper, her breath

trembled to shape them:

ten, fifty, a hundred.


Five times a hundred -

she was up as if she’d breathed

new life into herself.

for seven days she thought


she’d make it: nothing seemed

impossible. Pleat, crease,

blow to shape: her thumbs

and fingers scrambled,


stumbled. Could not

outfly the multiplying

leucocytes. The sky,

as once before


scrolled up

and disappeared. Her tally

fell short of miracle

and yet


the paper hopes

would not lie flat,

but dared the air, their wings

white flags against


fire-stained sunsets, their voices

crying across continents,

not quite

outside the range of hearing.



If there is still hope

at the bottom of the box

we may not perceive


the strange shape it’s twisted to

the endeavour of its wings.


1 Said to have been named after the pilot’s mother.

2 Kamikaze is the name given by the Japanese to the ‘divine wind’ which sank a fleet of invading Chinese ships in 1281 and which they believed both saved Japan from Chinese domination and would save her from any future invasion.

3 The italicized lines in the poem are all from ‘Shock and Awe’ by Harlan K Ullman and James P Wade or quoted from Harlan K Ullman in an article in the Giardian, 25 March 2003.

4 Sadako, dying of leukaemia some years after exposure to radiation at Hiroshima, believed if she managed to make 1000 paper cranes it would save her life. She reached only 644 but her friends completed the task after her death.

Simon Berry 

Foremath (August 6 1945 08.00)


I walk with my big sister on a country road

She should be at school sewing uniforms

This week she must look after me because

I am undernourished they say –

All our rice goes to the city in the distance


Such peace I find in this summer morning

The sky’s dome achingly blue

Hayfields sheltering harvest mice

So familiar – but I need to rest

Here is a bench at the empty roadside


Way above us a humming gets closer

Together we sit and we wait

The grass standing attentively –

This was the time before the aftermath

The mowing about to begin


Little Boy


Little Boy is on his way, snug
in the metal womb of Enola Gay,
all of his components prepped,
but not quite ready yet –
his system fine-tuned only after take-off –
safety first for his birthing crew.
The pilot gives full throttle:
Do it for me, Momma!
Overloaded, Enola Gay
eats up the whole runway –
Momma, come ON! –
and lifts into night;

six hours to go;
lieutenant and weaponeer
grope in torchlight
along the portside catwalk
to the pitch-black bay,
armed with Thy might
in the name of Jesus Christ –
the chaplain’s prayer before flight
that nailed their mission to the cross
and gave it a tail wind of righteousness;

and he’s primed now – no going back –
Little Boy, nestling there,
like the baby saviour
in the virgin’s amniotic sac,
carried into that bright morning
on the last, steep climb
to bombing altitude,
and then
let go;
six miles
in 44 seconds,
to Hiroshima below,
where someone called Kazuko
lifts her child from his cot,
the River Ota outside, its seven streams
full and tranquil – slack water at high tide,
while high above in cloud-flecked blue
Enola Gay banks into her getaway –
a nine-mile dash – and makes it
by a hair’s breadth, chased by shimmers
from a ghostly flash;

barely born, Little Boy has made his mark:
lit ten thousand suns at every window,
then snuffed them out, shocked eyeballs
from sockets into palms, skin to rags –
futile surrender flags in sudden twilit limbo –
lungs and throats a desert drought,
bodies burning at four thousand Celsius
from the inside out.


Author's note: Little Boy was the codename for the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, the first nuclear weapon used in warfare. Little Boy was dropped by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, named after Enola Gay Tibbets, the mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets. The accompanying observation planes were named The Great Artiste and Necessary Evil.


Building at Hiroshima by Janet Crawford, 2019. 

Lesley benzie

The Peace Bell by Janet Crawford, 2019. 



The city’s men were gone to war

where their Samurai Spirits would never surrender,

though, their government was already suing for peace.


While women, children, the old and infirm

went about their business, burning incense

wafted down Teramachi’s ‘street of temples.’


Where Buddhist nam-myoho-renge-kyo chants,

the thunderous DA-DANS of Taiko drums and

other worldly base echo of bonsho bells

blended with the street-sounds of carts, rickshaws

and bicycles, moving to and from the Otagawa,

which teamed with Japanese riverboats. Its tributaries

lined with wooden houses, primed for kindling.


Religious rituals woven into daily life with

the language symbols of Japanese Calligraphy:

Hirgana, Kanji, Katanka indivisible from identity.

Inscribed on the flags and banners that once fluttered

in the vibrant Hondori shopping district

with its wrought iron ‘Lily of the Valley’ street lamps,

now ripped out and repurposed for the war effort

into battlefield twisted collateral.


Still, on Kinzagai’s ‘golden street’ the women

wore their best kimonos.


Cherry blossoms and art deco motifs rippled

with the motion of  Chirimen/silk and Rinzu/satin.

Hands folded into swaying sleeves or tugged

at by children always pulling at their heartstrings

for toys or sweets now in short supply,

as they strolled under parasols, translucent

with sun-soaked sky, haloing pale skin and jet hair.


Until that day, when the air burned

and the blast’s fire and smoke-cloud suffused with

Hiroshima’s ‘debris’ eclipsed the sun for hours.


Then black rain fell for days - on the dead

and on those who lived to witness loved ones

with skin peeling in strips down their flayed limbs

like rolls of old 35 mm film unspooling,

onto razed ground where incinerated human beings

were reduced to the negative inverted shadows


of a haunting evil

that even the Pentagon's most hawkish generals

deemed unnecessary, to win their war.


Hiroshima 1945

After John Hersey


August was a series
of burning suns,
but this was a new light.


A rose. In the sky.
Blooming crimson.


A noiseless flash
cut across the sky -
it seemed a sheet of sun.


Mrs Nakamura took a single step
towards her sleeping children
when something lifted her.


She seemed to fly
into the next room
over the raised sleeping platform
pursued by parts of the house.


Waking in the dark
she heard a child cry


Saw tiny Myeko
buried to her breast.
Clawed her way
towards her baby.

No sound or sight
of her other children.


Dr Fujii sat down
cross-legged on his porch
to read the Osaka news.


The flash to him was yellow
sudden as paint in water.


He got to his feet
behind his rising
the hospital yawned
with a ripping sound
into the river.


Then he was swimming
among its remains.


Father Kleinsorge took off his clothes,
except his underwear, stretched out to read
his Stimmen der Zelt in his bedroom


saw the terrible flash of a meteor hitting Earth
and went out of his mind for a few minutes.

Then he was in the vegetable garden
in his underclothes, bleeding slightly
from small cuts, the buildings gone.


Dr Terufumi Sasaki
was one step beyond
an open window
when the light,
like a giant photo flash,
was reflected on the wall.


‘Sasaki, gambare! Be brave!’
he said, dropping to one knee.
The glasses flew from his face,
the bottle of blood crashed
against one wall, the slippers
zipped out from under his feet.


Hiroshima spread like a burning fan
between its seven estuaries.


The sloping streets of Koi
were waterfalls of black smoke.


Drops of water the size
of marbles began to fall.


Trees, leafless skeletons,
scattered clothing,
suspended from telegraph wires.


Mrs Nakamura made the wreckage fly
above the crying voices.


Found an intricate mosquito net
carefully wrapped around
the feet of her son Toshio
on top of his sister Yaeko
under the wreckage.


Bound like twins in a womb,
not a single cut or scratch.


Others, not so lucky
supported each other
up the hill. Women
with bra straps
and suspenders
imprinted in negative
on their naked skin
since white repelled
and black absorbed
this terrible sunburn.


The priest vomited constantly.
The doctor asked,
‘Why is it night already?’


The heat fused mica
on the granite gravestones.


‘How can this happen
in a world with God?’


Mrs Nakamura asked the priest
as the doctor struggled
to get her son’s temperature
down by one degree.


Found, as he tried to give
a drip, that victims
did not stop bleeding
once the needle was in.
Keltoid tumours swelling
like pink silk on their skin.


‘Man is not now
in the state that
God intended.’


Was the priest’s reply.


The newspapers said,


Sasaki was afraid at last:
the censors had never
admitted so much.


The blue ocean can turn
into a mulberry field.

Ray evans


(Brilliant Light-Thunderous Blast)



There are graves all over Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Tombs with names but no ikotsu. No bones.

'Don't go to school today' my mother said.

'School is closed today'

For we are dead,

There was a bright light,

and thunder like I've never heard.

The air was sucked from our lungs

Everything turned white,

then, pitch darkness

and I thought 'We are dead'

Even the railroad tracks were scorched and black.

People came along the tracks

their skin like ribbons,

their hair burnt to a cinder

and I thought 'We are dead'

I lost my sight, my eyes cried to see.

My breath was scattered about.

Once it held me close

like a mother or a father

and I thought 'We are dead'





We ate well that day, I remember

everything came together so easily,

it only took a minute or two.

Cooking is a serious business.

Meat expands and contracts from the heat.

It burns if you don't catch it.

Tempura crisps like nothing else

if the right measure of water is near frozen.

You end up with snappy bits of batter and prawns

chasing each other about

like ants when a nest is destroyed.




At precisely eight o'clock

we hoisted our flags

a clean set of colours.

They were just regular flags

we had pulled out of spares that day,

nothing special about them,

they had never been used before.


Along with the signatures

and ink everything was fresh,

clean, white paper, white uniforms.

Blank faces staring out to sea.

The ceremony would end up in a glass case

with photographs of those

who stood to attention

on the surrender deck.


It was a solemn occasion

Just us and them

on a calm day at sea.

Everything about that day

was as it should have been.


Afterwards they talked of miracles,

heavenly hands guiding a chosen few

who called for help,

but none came that day.


Hands were already in the heavens

pushing buttons, guiding missiles.

It was just luck, if you survived, not fate.

There was no divine intervention.

Our aggression was sterilised by fire.

We are forgiven.

We are dead.


Alun robert 

After The Explosion


I heard a deathly silence

after thunder through the city

as mortar and block and timber

crashed back to whence they came.



pleading for those missing

with prayers for divine deliverance

from light then toxic dark.



impaling of infrastructure.

Children searching for parents

as quickly they descended

into orphanism without a home.


I heard the pitter-patter

of gentle blackened rain

absorbed by fragile skin

then inducing radioactive pain.

The hospital cried in chaos

with a buzz deep in debris around

as white blood cell counts fell

yet silent to the eye.

Skin scars screamed from blistering.

Hair whispered as it dropped.

Black pervading like night,

an eternal night for most.


I heard the crispy crackle

of toasted sakura leaves,

of bark burned on dead boughs

with starling without murmur.


I heard vitriol spouted

against excuses blandly proffered.



Had it helped put an end to War?


But for those who were taken,

they heard nothing at all.


dedicated to the innocent who suffered in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945


Monument of Prayer by Janet Crawford, 2019.

Kriss Nichol

Hiroshima Anniversary


this is not a poem about Hiroshima

it’s not even about 1942      and the US Manhattan Project

that developed nuclear weapons  

detonated       the first atomic bomb      Trinity

housed by Jumbo     on top of a 30-meter

steel tower      in the hot     flat

Jornada del Muerto desert      of Alamogordo     

New Mexico     it is not about the fireball      visible

60 miles away    or blast crater 5 x 30 feet

nor radioactivity     that contaminated dust    


nor is it about the morning of 6 August 1945

or Little Boy     of detonation 1900 feet above the city

the bomb surface       1000 degrees fahrenheit

or about the blinding      boiling      light

instant Incineration     within 1600 feet

neither is it about scorched shadows     

bleached into stone     walls     buildings     pavements

a man with a cane     sitting on steps      of Sumitomo Bank

a child at play    eerie evidence of  human detritus

that once were citizens


and it’s certainly  not about the nuclear winds

that ripped through     buildings     across play areas     

parks     in speeds of 60m/s     fanning flames

of secondary fires     or wooden houses burnt    

2km from epicentre     or that air currents     

formed clouds      released black rain

eagerly licked up by parched      survivors

because water supplies      had evaporated


this is not about the animals     dogs      cats

sheep     goats     cows     or birds that

Incinerated on the wing     or the poisons

that polluted the earth     the water     the people     

or what we call ‘civilisation’


no     not even close     this is a poem

about the indomitable spirit of survivors

of the voices      that still tell the world

what it looks like      when human beings

devise new and terrible ways      to destroy     

each other     it’s about peace     

about finding ways

to live     without resort to armed conflict

to find     that still      soft     voice within

that stays the hand     that guides the heart

that leads     to better things

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