Saturday, August 6, 2016

Boldt Words & Images: On the 71st anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A meditation in five acts

By Bob Boldt
“My God, what have we done?”
–Bob Lewis, the Enola Gay co-pilot
Act One: Video selections from Alain Resnais’ 1959 film, Hiroshima Mon Amour (French), with music by Giovanni Fusco and George Delerue 

The director meant for these scenes to accompany a romantic, erotic, and highly symbolic liaison between a Japanese architect and a French actress during the filming of a film-within-a-film promoting peace and international understanding.

Act Two: “We dropped the bomb” –Bob Boldt

In July 1945, the Allied Manhattan Project successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert and by August had produced atomic weapons based on two alternate designs.
    On August 6, the first atomic bomb to be used in combat was dropped by a B-29 Superfortress bomber, the Enola Gay. American President Harry S. Truman called for Japan’s surrender 16 hours later, warning them to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

    Three days later, on August 9, the U.S. dropped a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, their acute effects killed 146,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki.
    On August 15, six days after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet Union‘s declaration of war, Japan announced its surrender to the Allies. On September 2, it signed the instrument of surrender, effectively ending World War II. The bombings’ role in Japan’s surrender and their ethical justification are still debated. (–Compiled from Wikipedia)

Act Three: Two Clocks – An Homage to the Father of Relativity, a poem by Bob Boldt
When riding the apical tip of your beam of light
on that one hundred eighty six thousand mile per second trip.
Did you ever know how far your flight
would take you or how time itself could bend and slip?

There are two clocks whose time you could not bend or slow.

The first enshrined in the Peace museum of Hiroshima—
that terrible wristwatch they show
its seared horrified face in an eternal coma
locked in the exact moment it came to know
the exact moment the sun god kissed the earth
and taught human flesh to vaporize and flow
and the heart to flame inspired in a radioactive birth.

That timepiece is all but forgotten now.
Yet there remain a few who still foretell the world’s end
by that second ominous clock.
For the past ten years the Doomsday Clock
has remained at six minutes to twelve—
Exactly fifty-four minutes past mankind’s eleventh hour.

Sometimes I think you were a being from the future
come to gift us with your magic incantation
known now by every school child:
that every soul, every atom can be taken
to the square of the speed of light’s imagination.
In the end you tried to teach us of a higher power.
Before you died you showed humanity a force
more profound even than the atom with which you gifted us.
Greater still was the older way of love and peace.
If only we would come at last
to understand and practice
the physics of its release.
Act Four: “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”

Lt. Jacob Beser was my uncle-in-law. He was the only man to fly on both missions to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

I feel no sorrow or remorse for whatever small role I played. That I should is crazy. I remember Pearl Harbor and all of the Japanese atrocities. I remember the shock to our nation that all of this brought. I don’t want to hear any discussion of morality. War, by its very nature, is immoral. Are you any more dead from an atomic bomb than from a conventional bomb?
    I am happy to say that I never had the dubious pleasure of meeting Mr. Beser. I suppose he was a man of his time – fully stuck in his participation in the complex, military/industrial American dream.
    It is important to forgive him and his generation their excesses. They truly believed they were saving the world, in their own way, with the best tools science and industry could give them. Historical hindsight is after all 20-20. Forgive we must. Yet we must commit ourselves with renewed vigor to move beyond war, hate, and all the pernicious mindsets of past generations in our pursuit of peace in our time.

As a counteractive view to Lt. Beser’s I would like to present for your consideration a view from the ground in Nagasaki from another Jew named Jacob.
    Jacob Bronowski was among the first scientists to arrive to assess the damage the dropping of the atomic bomb made on the city of Nagasaki, Japan. In his book Science and Human Values he writes of his experience:

On a fine November day in 1945, late in the afternoon, I was landed on an airstrip in Southern Japan. From there a jeep was to take me over the mountains to join a ship which lay in Nagasaki Harbor. I knew nothing of the country or the distance before us. We drove off, dusk fell, the road rose and fell away, the pine woods came down to the road, straggled on, and opened again. I did not know that we had left the open country until unexpectedly I heard the ship’s loudspeakers broadcasting dance music. Then suddenly I was aware that we were already at the center of damage in Nagasaki. The shadows behind me were the skeletons of the Mitsubishi factory buildings, pushed backwards and sideways as if by a giant hand. What I had thought to be broken rocks was a concrete power house with its roof punched in. I could now make out the outline of two crumpled gasometers; there was a cold furnace festooned with service pipes; otherwise nothing but cockeyed telegraph poles and loops of wire in a bare waste of ashes. I had blundered into this desolate landscape as instantly as one might wake among the craters of the moon. The moment of recognition when I realized that I was already in Nagasaki is present to me as I write, as vividly as when I lived it.
    I see the warm night and the meaningless shapes; I can even remember the tune that was coming from the ship. It was a dance tune which had been popular in 1945, and it was called “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t Ma Baby?”
    This dissertation was born at that moment, for the moment I recall was a universal moment. What I met was almost as abruptly the experience of mankind.
    On an evening sometime in 1945 each of us in his own way learned that his imagination had been dwarfed. We looked up and saw the power of which we had been proud loom over us like the ruins of Nagasaki. The power of science for good and for evil has troubled other minds than ours; we are not here fumbling with a new dilemma. Our subject and our fears are as old as the tool-making civilization. Nothing happened except that we changed the scale of our indifference to man, and conscience for an instant became immediate to us. Let us acknowledge our subject for what it is: Civilization face to face with its own implications. The implications are both the industrial slum that Nagasaki was before it was bombed and the ashy desolation which the bomb made of the slum. And civilization asks of both ruins, “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”
Act Five: Finale Bob Franke, “Alleluia the Great Storm Is Over”

[Editor’s Note: The author presented a version of this meditation to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Jefferson, Missouri on July 31.]

Copyright © 2016 by Bob Boldt


  1. My Uncle Samuel Hill and his team were the first American solders to enter Hiroshima. They took water, air, soil, and human samples back to a ship for study. He never spoke much about his work. He was involved with with CBR warfare his entire life. We would debate the using of the bomb a lot. Then one day he stopped me and said, "Eddie the bomb is nothing, Why destroy a country when we have something the size of a marble that can be dropped on New York City and it will kill every living thing and then be dead within 24 hours?" I never debated him again---there are somethings better left unknown.

    1. I called him Uncle Sam. I spoke of him in the Tadpole Creek stories I wrote.

  2. Sadly the opening video was removed by YouTube in a dispute over rights. Vimeo is not nearly as dilligent. Here is the video with music and images from "Hiroshima Mon Amour."

  3. Morris, Can you restore the link above with the the Vimeo video? I would appreciate it.