Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Our last stop on Kyushu island was Nagasaki, and we spent nearly our whole time at the Atomic Bomb Museum. Nothing could have prepared us for the visit to the emotional and thoughtful museum.
The museum begins with a small room with glimpses of the city before the bomb. A small room is next with two facing walls – one that houses a number of television screens showing chilling US video of the explosion of the atomic bomb from the sky, and the opposite wall suspends a clock frozen forever at 11:02AM, the moment the bomb destroyed 2.6 square miles of people and land.
The room serves as a prelude to an expansive hall that shows the power of the bomb through twisted metal beams and crumbled walls. The ruins of Urakami cathedral dominate the story of the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Christianity had long struggled in Japan and was outlawed from 1587 to 1873. The cathedral, completed in 1914 after twenty years, symbolized the steadfast faith of Christian believers despite their history of intense persecution. In a moment, their work vanished.
The next large room displays a number of objects that reveal the carnage wreaked by this inhumane weapon. The most moving relics hinted at the stories behind lives lost.
More than half of the victims from the atomic bomb did not die instantly. The musuem then progresses into a hall of testimonies of the survivors, both videos and written. We were particularly effected by this translated story from one of the survivors.
Next to the museum is a solemn, reflective memorial. In the hall, twelve pillars of light symbolize hope for peace and point towards the hypocenter where the bomb exploded and funneled heat and radiation through the valley. The center column holds a registry that records the names of every official casualty – more than 70,000 – from the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.
As we toured, we felt unease as American citizens and longed for a similar museum to be constructed in Washington DC. Reflecting on our own upbringing, it seemed like we received countless lessons on the Holocaust as well as field trips to Holocaust museums, but never heard any stories on the utter devastation caused by our own country. Perhaps because we can absolve ourselves from the Holocaust but are singularly culpable of these two atomic bomb tragedies, we avoid talking about the decision to unleash horror. If only it were easier for American students to visit Nagasaki or Hiroshima, our posture toward nuclear weapons might evolve over subsequent generations.