There is a Light and it Never Goes Out

There is a Light and it Never Goes Out

My grandfather was in it from the very start – he lied about his age so he could join up. His first missions came on the notorious North Atlantic convoys, when British ships would navigate icy North Sea to sneak past German forces and deliver supplies to the Soviets. My grandfather was 15 years old, but scraped through unharmed. He danced with the devil for another six years, fighting his way out of Europe and eventually into the Indian Ocean, where he met the Japanese for the first time.

It was only a few weeks ago that I learned about the origins of the “divine wind” to which the term “kamikaze” refers. Because of my grandfather, though, I’ve known that word since I was a child. Back then, there seemed something vaguely funny about it: I had images of a Japanese pilot, possibly with a bandana around his head, screaming the phrase as his stricken plane span out of control.

The reality couldn’t have been less amusing. My grandfather quickly forgave the Germans after the war, but having lost friends, watched people die and having been personally left largely deaf in one year after his ship was attacked, he couldn’t bring himself to do the same with Japan. Not that his bitterness had any real consequences, tucked away as he was in the north east of England. Toyota and Honda perhaps missed out on a sale, that was about it.

Sadly my grandfather passed away four years ago, so I now don’t have the opportunity to ask him how deep his resentment went, and, more importantly, what opinion he held on the joint nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It can be easy to forget, but colossal amounts of racism was necessary in the war: you can treat your enemy in an inhumane way if you believe them to be inhuman. The average American in 1945 would have looked on the Japanese as base aliens, worthy of the worst punishment imaginable. And that, on 6th August in Hiroshima and 9th August Nagasaki, was precisely what they got.

When the first bomb erupted over the former, it was only the second time a nuclear devise had ever been detonated by human kind. Just a few weeks before Hiroshima, the US military conducted the Trinity Test in a remote part of the New Mexican desert. On watching the effects of their debut device, developer J Robert Oppenheimer famously said he was reminded of a Hindu verse: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” His colleague, test director Kenneth Bainbridge said, less poetically but no less relevantly: “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

They called the Hiroshima bomb Little Boy. There’s something about the first weapon of mass destruction having such a childish name that makes it all the more diabolical. It’s target had been long-decided: Hiroshima had been strategically avoided during the Allies’ mass fire-bombing campaign in order that Little Boy’s fury could be better measured. The results of this and Nagasaki’s bomb are one of the main reasons no other nuclear devices have since been used in conflict.

At 8:15am, the Hiroshima bomb exploded 600m above the city. Over 90% of the structures were physically damaged, never mind the radiation contamination. Humans were a good deal less resistant to the explosion.  If you added together all the people who died at Pearl Harbour in 1941, and all the victims of September 11th attacks in 2001, then multiplied that total by 25, you still wouldn’t have the number of lost lives in Hiroshima.

With such annihilation, it almost seems a mute point, but – as happens with depressing frequency now – the Americans missed their intended target, and Little Boy unleashed the equivalent of 15 kilotons of TNT directly over a hospital. Looking at the pictures of partially burned victims away from the hypocentre, perhaps the hospital, the world’s original “ground zero”, was the best place to be.

Across Hiroshima, many of the people who died were civilians. Does that make them innocents? In times of total war, I’m not even sure there is such a thing. What is clear is that if Emperor Hirohito and the commanders of the Japanese forces had raised the white flag earlier, as the Germans had done several months previously, they would have saved many more of their subjects. Instead, they behaved like deluded sociopaths.

This was nothing new. A year previously Hirohito, who as Emperor was regarded as a living god, had issued a statement saying that Japanese civilians who committed ritual suicide would have equal-standing in the afterlife as soldiers who died in battle. When American troops eventually landed, an estimated 10,000 people duly followed the word of their god and ended their own lives.

The arrival of Little Boy and Fat Man (Nagasaki’s device) came only after a crushing, merciless fire-bombing campaign of most of Japan’s major cities (the major reason so few of its original castles remain). It claimed tens of thousands of lives, including Operation Meetinghouse the biggest single-day loss of life in air force history. Japan hadn’t won a significant battle against the Allies for over a year. Her people were starving to death. It was a hopeless, useless cause, but the Emperor didn’t want to lose face, or his title (though he wasn’t the only one – after final surrender, extremists attempted a coup d’etat to renege on the peace deal).

Hirohito’s opinion changed after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through the chaos and broken communication lines, there’s a good chance he and commanding powers knew what had happened: Japan had conducted research into their own nuclear device, though to the Emperor’s scant credit, he personally ordered the research be stopped for fear it would bring about the end of the world.

In contrast, following the Trinity research, and in spite of their foreboding, the Allies pushed on and were willing to do so even after they had unleashed the first two bombs – American planes had travelled back home to pick up more devices. The prospect of a lasting nuclear campaign, added to the declaration of war by Russia, finally made even the Emperor and the commanders feel very human. The surrender was signed before the end of the month. However, though Hitler bowed out in his bunker, and Mussolini was shot in the street like a common crook, Hirohito somehow struck a deal, dodged a war crimes trial (with the help of American General MacArthur) and was able to live on in comfort as Emperor until his death in 1989. Bizarrely, the Japanese people seemed content with this resolution.

To Hiroshima’s credit, unless they wanted you to, today you wouldn’t know that nuclear devastation had ever been wrought on the city. But it is very keen to make sure visitors are well aware of what happened, with the UNESCO listed A-Bomb Dome (a skeleton of a building preserved as it was immediately after the sky exploded) and the hugely detailed, often depressing Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and its excellent museum. Inside information on everything from the start of the war through to its grisly conclusion is available in admirably neutral prose. Nuclear fission is explained, as is the number of nukes held by countries around the world, including information on how many hundred or thousands times more powerful they are than the Hiroshima bomb. The phrase “nuclear winter” is defined. Elsewhere there are the charred remains of that August day; and on a lower floor, letters of protest written by successive Hiroshima mayors to every world leader who has conducted a nuclear test since the 1968. The most recent was written to Barack Obama in June this year and was quick to reference the Fukushima disaster.

Outside, in the centre of the park we found the eternal Peace Flame, which symbolises the memory of all those whose lives were lost. It has been said that it will only be extinguished when the last nuclear weapon has been decommissioned.

Regardless of what my grandfather really thought, the fact that it is unlikely ever to go out is to the detriment of us all.







最初に投下された原爆は、アメリ軍がニュー・メキシコ砂漠の果てで行った実験に続き2度目に使われたものだった。その実験を目にし、原爆の開発者であるJ Robert Oppenheimerはヒンズー教の節にある“私は死神になり世界を破滅させる”という言葉を思い出したと言い、また彼の同僚のKenneth Bainbridgeは“私達は皆悪魔の子になった”と口にしたそうだ。彼らは広島に投下された原爆を“リトル・ボーイ”と呼んだ。そんな残忍な兵器第一号にかわいらしい名前をつけたのだ。広島はターゲットとして前から目をつけられていたのだ。。広島は、その“リトル・ボーイ”の威力を計るため、計画的に空襲の対象から外されていた。その驚異的な破壊力は、その後核兵器が使われていないことからも分かるだろう。







広島は、その目覚ましい復興により、原爆により甚大な被害を被った事を感じさせない街に変貌している。だが同時に、ここを訪れた人があの悲劇を忘れる事のないようにと、世界遺産としても登録されている原爆ドームと、その詳細な記録を保管している広島平和記念資料館を有している。資料館には戦争の始まりからの克明な記録が残されており、驚くべきことに、それは非常に公平な立場で展示されている。そして広島に投下されたも原爆の数百、数千倍も威力を持った今現在の核兵器の状況も記され、『核の冬』の定義付けがされている。そしてその下のフロアには、1968年以降、歴代の広島市長が核実験を行う世界のリーダーに向けて書かれた抗議文が展示されている。最も新しいものはBarack Obamaアメリカ大統領宛てに出されたもので、そこには福島の原発事故にも触れている。




  1. Karin
    November 18, 2011

    there is a very touching manga from Keiji Nakazawa called “Hadashi no Gen” about the bomb in Hiroshima. It is really worth reading.

  2. Eric
    November 18, 2011


    That really is a great post – as are actually most of your articles, but when writing about a touchy subject like this, I really like the way you do it. It is both personal and universal at the same time.

    Katy, your pictures a very touching and so sensible (worth a million words)

    Again, wow… Thank you!

    ps: I hope we’ll also get to see some pics of present Hiroshima, so people realize the “resurrection” and how lively the city is nowadays!

  3. Eunice
    November 18, 2011

    What a post! The pictures (as usual) are amazing! Keep ‘em coming.

  4. Roy Marvelous
    November 18, 2011

    Gorgeous pics! Love ‘em.

  5. Kavey
    November 19, 2011

    A difficult post to write, I’d guess, but one I appreciated reading. Thoughtful and thought-provoking. Thank you!

  6. Ryoko Okamoto
    November 19, 2011

    I was born and grew up in Hiroshima.I can’t say anything about this article easily..but.. We Japanese need to hand down this history to coming ages.Thank you for your post.

  7. Mekkan
    November 20, 2011

    When I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum for the first time, I lost my words. I felt humble as well as resentful after I saw what had happened to innocent people in Hiroshima. I think this is true to every visitor regardless of his nationality. We can’t help but pray for the global peace in the world of ongoing conflicts. That is what this memorial museum for, I believe.

    Thanks for putting this delicate issue into words. I was also impressed to read about your grandfather’s memory. Katy’s pictures are as beautiful as always. Good luck for the rest of your journey. I have shared this in my blog wishing more people may read it.

  8. Mariko
    November 23, 2011

    It’s a very difficult issue to decide whether the Emperor was responsible for the war, yes, to some extent but I believe he had to think highly of the decision made by the then cabinet…
    After the war ended, he was forced to deny the concept of his being a living god, toured across the country to see people and the progress of reconstruction for about 9 years…you said it’s bizzare the Japanese people seemed content he remained as the Emperor but I think most of the Japanese have a facourable image of him because we think he also must have worried and suffered from prewar to postwar…and appreciate his action after the war to cheer people up.

    I have nothing against America, have some American friends but would never forgive those who were involved with the atomic bombing. I also know the Japanese soldiers did horrible things during the war, the facts always make me think a war is meaningless, never produce no positive outcomes but only trageties.

    We have had a lot of lessons…lost numerous lives…so it’s about time to take it much more seriously.

    Thank you for the post. I visited Hiroshima years ago and got really emotional…am proud of those who has worked hard to rebuild the beautiful city (and Nagasaki as well.).

    • Mariko
      November 25, 2011

      TYPO! facourable image >favourable image :-(

  9. A
    November 24, 2011

    I like your posts on Japan, and it is interesting to see my country from a totally new perspective. The story about your grandfather is something we will never get to hear first hand, and was shocking in both good and bad ways for me.

    Meanwhile, as Mariko-san has mentioned above, Emperor’s responsibility is highly questioned in Japan, and while he wasn’t found responsible, many people from the army and the cabinet were sentenced to death as class-A war criminals by the victor countries, and they were the actual decision makers. The Emperor was not a dictator like Hitler and Mussolini, and that is why the imperial family is still very much respected today.

    Of course it is free to think that he is guilty, but I just wanted to mentoin it since many non-Japanese people may read your blog and get only part of the story.

    Otherwise, I really enjoy your stories and photos, including many places I haven’t been. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

    • Mariko
      November 25, 2011

      Oh! Thank you for your comment! Yes,,,I just found it a bit strange that the Emperor is grouped together with Hitler and Mussolini…
      Good to read deverse opinions! :-)

      • Katy & Jamie
        November 25, 2011

        Off the top of my head, he authorised the invasion of China, and the subsequent use of chemical weapons on its citizens; he was the figured head – symbolic or otherwise – of the Japanese forces as they bombed Pearl Harbour and entered the war; and he ordered his citizens to kill themselves should their land be invaded, but he didn’t have the courage to do it himself.
        Even if he was little more than a nodding dog at the head of a big table, surely at some point he should have taken more responsibility? The fact that he worried a bit, and then tried to cheer people up doesn’t really make up for it all, in my opinion, and he’s incredibly fortunate that MacArthur decided to keep him as a symbolic/puppet leader after the end of the war.

  10. Oen
    November 25, 2011

    It is a well written blog.

    My late grandfather was sent to a camp in his youth days somewhere in Sumatera Island, Indonesia during WWII as Japanese army captured Indonesia.
    He was lucky enough to be alive and led a simple life until his death in 1999.

    We had seen that in Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge leaders are being tried at this moment, Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein had been killed such “lowly” way without trials, etc etc etc. Suharto died peacefully in his old age and never get any sentences for his crimes over his dictatorship. Yet some Indonesians would cherish the days when he was ruling our country because it was safer to live a normal live almost no protests, no riots, it was more peaceful (for the fear of the military oppression)

    The cruelty of the wars, it is undeniably the commoners suffered the most… whatever happened, it was already a past tense sentences.

    I do not hate the Japanese people of this era because they are not part of that generation and so do I.

  11. MIWA
    December 7, 2011

    I appreciate that you are traveling and reporting the real situation in Japan to the world.
    You visited Hiroshima last month.
    I was quite curious about how my town would be described in your report.
    I read your report written about the Tennou (the emperor in English) and got a little worried that your report might cause some misunderstandings.
    This topic is touchy and complicated.
    I would like to ask to review it from every aspect.
    Please let me write some other perspectives.
    English words like “emperor” or “imperial” may cause misunderstanding so I will use Tennou for the emperor.
    While in some European countries there were several dynasties, in Japan “Tennou” system has been in existence for about 1500 years. The present Tennou is the 125th. The Tennou actually ruled the country only for two centuries beginning from the 7th century. From the 9th to the 19th century, the nobility or the shoguns (the warrior class) ruled Japan. But they all claimed that they were given the right to rule by the Tennou.
    If you see the Tennou system closely you’ll find that it’s quite Japanese: myth of Amaterasu(the Sun Goddess, the ancestor of the Tennou Family) hid herself in a cave instead of battling with her aggressive brother, emphasis on preserving “wa (harmony)” , bottom-up (nemawashi) style of decision making, etc.
    You wrote that “he (the Tennou) personally ordered the research (into their own nuclear device) be stopped”. And even though the Tennou, a botanist, ordered to stop saying “We Japanese should not be the cause of the end of mankind”, the research was continued. The Tennou found that and ordered to stop it again but still they didn’t stop until they lost facilities by an air-raid. It may have seemed that the Tennou had absolute power but we can see actually he didn’t in this case. Historically Tennou maintained political aloofness. That may be one of the reasons the Tennou system has lived through the times.
    It is said that Showa Tennou (Emperor Hirohito) who had a well consciousness of being a constitutional monarch and tried not to become directly involved in political matters finally expressed his wish to end the war.
    Then the war came to an end quite orderly.
    The Allied Forces’ occupation of Japan was successful.
    The Allied forces had decided not to charge the Tennou because it would have led to lose Japanese people’s support and cause confusion.
    The war was fought under the name of the Tennou.
    I wouldn’t say Showa Tennou doesn’t have any war responsibility nor he is most responsible.
    Sometimes you can’t say things just in black and white.
    That may be gray.

    I may add that Japan’s atomic bomb development program was, without sufficient resources, almost unfeasible one. (expenditure for the Manhattan project was 2 billion dollars≒10 billion yen, expenditure for Japanese project 20 million yen)
    For more information:
    The possible four ways to end the war are written in brochures we get at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
    Invade the Japanese mainland
    Ask the Soviet Union to join the war against Japan
    Assure continuation of the emperor system
    Use the atomic bomb

    While being determined to fight the decisive battle, Japanese government was also
    was seeking ways to end the war. After Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945, Japan began negotiating for peace through the Soviet Union, with which Japan had signed a non-aggression treaty. But actually in February 1945, the Allied Forces and the Soviet Union secretly agreed that the Soviet Union would join the war against Japan within three months of Germany’s surrender.
    The US well understood that continuation of the emperor system was the biggest concern for Japan. The US once incorporated the assurance for its continuation into the draft of the Potsdam Declaration. But the US government had spent over 2 billion dollars for the Manhattan project without congressional action. Fearing American public’s criticism, government officials, especially Secretary of State James Byrnes insisted on deleting the clause 12 (assurance of continuation of the emperor system).
    On July 26, the Allied Forces issued the Potsdam Declaration. The Declaration had no clause guaranteeing continuation of the emperor system and the response by the Japanese Government was “mokusatsu suru” (no comments or pay no attention to it) still hoping to end the war somewhat favorably through the mediation of the Soviet Union. “Mokusatsu suru” was translated as “reject” or “ignore it entirely” in English newspapers.
    The US believed the atomic bomb could end the war, that the Soviet’s influence after the war would be restricted, and that domestically the huge cost of development would be justified.
    The US dropped the A-bomb on Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    For more information:

    Even I’ve written this long I’m afraid I can’t figure out this complicated subject.

    I feel very sorry for your grandfather,
    I wish knowing the truths of war can help lay aside our hatred.
    Our desire is “no more Hiroshima.