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Nagasaki Pilgrimage Story #3:  Killing Civilians and America’s Unfinished Business

December 9, 2014

In an earlier post from our Nagasaki pilgrimage I spoke of the Japanese war machine and the haunting image of Hishima Island.

But the picture here is the one image from Japan that still haunts me.  I encountered this photograph in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.  I turned a corner, and there it was.  The photograph was taken in Nagasaki by a U.S. Marine, a few days after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb.  As I read the description I realized the baby is not asleep, but dead, killed by the bomb.  Her brother strapped her to his back and took her to a cremation site.  There he waits.

I remembered our Tokyo visit a few days earlier.  With our friend Katsuki Hirano, Donna and I came across a peace memorial offered in the name of the 100,000 Tokyo civilians who were killed in March 1945 over one night of U.S. firebombing.  This firebombing was the most destructive in history, killing more civilians than any other such attack (including by Nazi Germany).

What is shocking is that Donna and I did not know this.  In all our years of U.S. schooling, history reading, how could we not know this?  Furthermore, nowhere did the memorial mention that it was the U.S. that did the bombing.  Said Katsuki, “As a U.S. ally, the Japanese government has tried to erase the name U.S. from the issue since the end of WW2.  That is one of the reasons why we can find only few historic sites.”

In an earlier post I mentioned that Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Takami is a survivor of the atomic bomb, and that the U.S. bomb was dropped not only on a civilian population, but on the very geographic center of Christian life in Nagasaki, falling almost directly on Urakami Cathedral.

The image of the boy and his sister stayed with me as I wandered out of the museum.  There were many small memorials outside.  But I could find no memorial from any U.S. source.  Nothing said, “We are sorry.  We are sorry so many fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers were killed.  This killing was not necessary.  This was immoral.  We confess this sin, we ask for forgiveness, we commit to work for a future of no more such killing.”

(See editorial by an American in the Japan Times: “Tokyo Firebombing and Unfinished American Business.”)

Previous posts on the Nagasaki Pilgrimage:

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