Remembering the “Zero Hour” Over Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This week marks the 73rd year since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima, Japan, (August 6) and a few days later on Nagasaki (August 9).

Two months ago, Judy Wu Dominick, whom I follow on Twitter, posted a photo of “the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.” This image and knowing what it meant stirred up a lot of emotions. It moved me to post on memories I’d been mulling over the past few years. Here is that series of tweets:

Wow. Sobering. This photo stirs up many feelings and brings back memories – one in particular connection that deals with nuclear war, conflict, and personal peacemaking. I hope it’s okay to share a few details here. /1

The Newsweek issue of July 29, 1985, focused on 40 years of legacy of the atomic bomb. It included accounts of survivors and eyewitnesses. One was Larry Johnston, a Manhattan Project physicist who developed the bomb’s timer device. He was the only physicist present for the Trinity test, and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. /2

Dr. Johnston was also a devout Christian, and member of the church I attended. He shared about his Newsweek interview. Most poignantly, he knew his work had harmed people. He’d said that if he met someone who’d lost family in the bombings, he’d want to talk with them, apologize, and ask their forgiveness. /3

That happened unexpectedly, at a science summit when he met Chia-Tsang Lu, an agronomist from China whose brother died in Hiroshima while attending medical school. It was uncomfortable for Dr. Johnston, yet Dr. Lu was gracious, and did not hold against Dr. Johnston his part in his brother’s death. /4

It’s one thing to read about that encounter in Newsweek, as well as about rifts that occurred within Dr. Johnston’s own family and among colleagues from his work on nuclear bombs. It’s another to have heard him sharing it in person, reaching for words to capture the complexities of situation and emotion. /5

As I reflect on this, I continue to see how our lives interconnect, even when we don’t realize it. Our actions impact others, in ways that are destructive or constructive – that destroy or restore. Despite war, we were designed to be people of peace, treating all with dignity, impartiality, and hospitality. /6

Thank you for posting the photo … seeing the Enola Gay is a timely, stark reminder of the necessity to seek to embody what it means to be people of peace in times of strife. /7

In my role as a writer, part of my calling has been to process experiences involving trauma, recovery, and resilience – not just from researching other people’s experiences, but my searching into my own. Many of the personal pieces will show up eventually in the training series I’ve been developing. I’ll have segments that share what I learned from presentations by Jesse Owens, Archie Moore, and Flo Kennedy. I’ll share about pilgrimages to places surrounded by traumatic history – Angel Island, Dachau, Flossenbürg (where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed). And I’ll share life lessons from my professor who was a conscientious objector during World War II, friends who lived through Mao’s cultural revolution and Tiananmen Square, my friend who lived near The Peoples Temple in San Francisco during the era of the Jonestown Massacre, a friend who served as correspondent for a survivor of the Holocaust who had a worldwide speaking ministry. Also, I’ll include an extended version of these recollections about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and what I learned from what Dr. Johnston shared.

Meanwhile, you might be interested to hear a bit about how I typically prepare for such processing. I’ve found one of the best ways to find meanings in what I’ve experienced is to look to the broader context and see what it meant to others. Media is one of the best ways I’ve found to do.

So, I have been collecting select resources to do just that to amplify my thinking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I learn a lot the situation, people involved, and social impact during the course of finding options and choosing media I find the most relevant, or perhaps just intuitively intriguing. (In those cases, I often find a goldmine of information in them!) And it takes a while to sort out the possibilities, especially to find materials produced by people with close connections to the issues at hand or otherwise known for having an important perspective.

Once I have the set and the timing feels right, I’ll immerse myself in them. That seems to turn out the best way to focus my thoughts and to create a sort of “spiritual and historical MRI” to capture the context of the events and the interior thoughts and feelings of those who’ve experienced them. Here’s what I’ve chosen so far. (I’ll post the rest of the images once I’ve gotten all the items.)

Personal accounts, including from people in the Manhattan Project, those involved in delivering the bombs, and survivors. Newsweek, July 29, 1985, issue.

Documentary film. White Light, Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japanese anime movie. Grave of the Fireflies (2 disc edition with special features not found elsewhere).

Graphic novels. Barefoot Gen series of 10 volumes by Keiji Nakazawa.

Photographs. Hiroshima: Remembering 1945 & 1958, by Virginia Moffat Khuri.

Research and analysis on historical trauma and its impact. Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, by Robert Jay Lifton (paperback edition with new introduction by Dr. Lifton, who is considered by many to be the father of trauma psychology). And Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial, by Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell.

I understand not everyone is called to this kind of process if they write about abuse, trauma, or recovery–or minister to survivors and their support networks. But all of us can benefit from some time of reflection on difficult experiences of ourselves and others. That’s a good thing, better so when aided by photos, artwork, stories, personal stories, discussions with friends, visits to monuments and memorials, reading fiction or non-fiction works. In all of this, may we develop as people of peace, as our self-understanding deepens, and our empathy for others broadens.

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