A city that stands in the shadow of Hiroshima

The second city:Tourists visit the Peace Statue in the Nagasaki Peace Park, built in 1955 to commemorate the atomic bombing a decade earlier.— PHOTO: NYT  

When Miyako Jodai was 6 years old, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on her hometown, the port city of Nagasaki.

She was knocked unconscious, and her home was destroyed. She spent the next several days huddling with dozens of others in a cave on the side of a mountain.

“I was so scared,” she said. “I was crying, and I stepped on some of the bodies of the injured people, because there was no room to walk.” When she finally ventured out, the city was still ablaze with towering flames.

Jodai was one of the fortunate ones. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki the morning of Aug. 9, 1945, killed about 74,000 people, about half as many as those who died in the bombing of Hiroshima three days earlier.

On Friday, President Barack Obama will become the first sitting American President since the end of World War-II to visit Hiroshima. Nagasaki is not on the itinerary.

While invoking Hiroshima has become a universal shorthand for the horrors of nuclear war, Nagasaki, on the southwestern island of Kyushu, has mostly lived in the other city’s shadow. “We know that the very highest mountain in Japan is Mount Fuji,” said Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki, in an interview in his office. “But we don’t know the second-highest mountain.”

Yet many in Nagasaki recognise that Hiroshima, in some ways, stands in for both cities. They say the message they want the world to take from Mr. Obama’s visit — that nuclear weapons must never again be used — does not require that he set foot in their city.

Bombing harder to justify

That Nagasaki was bombed second has made it an afterthought in the history of and debate over nuclear weapons, even though many historians argue that the bombing was harder to justify precisely because it was a repeated act. If one accepts President Harry S. Truman’s rationale that the Hiroshima bombing was necessary to force Japan’s surrender and end the war, the moral calculus for dropping a second bomb on a civilian population three days later is more contentious.

Close to 700,000 people a year visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, compared with nearly 1.5 million at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, where Mr. Obama will lay a wreath on Friday.

Ms. Jodai (now 76), a retired schoolteacher, said she admired the president’s decision to visit Hiroshima and understood that his schedule did not allow him to visit both cities. Still, she said, the Nagasaki survivors should at least be invited to the ceremony in Hiroshima. “I feel like Nagasaki has been abandoned and thrown away,” she said. — New York Times News Service

Hiroshima has become a shorthand for the horrors of nuclear war. Nagasaki is an afterthought