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.
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.
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.
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
it makes sense
to stop everything in its tracks
the maximum case of changing behaviour
Building at Hiroshima by Janet Crawford, 2019.
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
and disappeared. Her tally
fell short of miracle
the paper hopes
would not lie flat,
but dared the air, their wings
white flags against
fire-stained sunsets, their voices
crying across continents,
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.
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 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,
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.
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.
After John Hersey
August was a series
of burning suns,
but this was a new light.
A rose. In the sky.
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,
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
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
Was the priest’s reply.
The newspapers said,
‘MUCH DAMAGE DONE.’
Sasaki was afraid at last:
the censors had never
admitted so much.
The blue ocean can turn
into a mulberry field.
(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.
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.
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