The Bells of Nagasaki
Translated by William Johnston
August 9, 2012 marks the sixty-seventh anniversary of our dropping the atomic bomb which destroyed Nagasaki, Japan.
The Bells of Nagasaki was written by a physician who was a survivor of that explosion. Takashi Nagai was a professor of Radiology at the University of Nagasaki, and was approximately seven hundred yards from the epicenter of the blast. Despite his own injuries, he and other staff at the University began to help the wounded. His account of the struggle to care for the wounded after the explosion is sobering. He tells of going into a storeroom to gather emergency supplies, but instead found nothing but destruction:
And that is what they did. The doctors, nurses, technicians, and medical students did what they could with what they had. Dr. Nagai had to stop working because he had been bleeding from a laceration on the side of his face. It was not until he passed out that his colleagues realized the seriousness of his injuries.
Nagai's wife, Midori, died in the explosion. When he recovered her body, her Rosary was still in her right hand. This woman and her family had a tremendous influence on Dr. Nagai's conversion to the Catholic Faith. Her family had been members of the Kakure Kirishitan, or 'Hidden Christians' who continued to follow the Catholic Faith after it was suppressed in the 1600's.
I have written before about the nuns of Compiegne praying and offering themselves up as a holocaust to end the Reign of Terror in France. It appears as if the Catholic community of Nagasaki had been offering themselves as a sacrifice as well during World War II. It makes sense that Nagasaki would have a kind of martyrs' vocation, as it was the site where St. Paul Miki and companions were crucified on a hill overlooking the city.
When he was baptized, Takashi Nagai took the Christian name 'Paul' in honor of St. Paul Miki. He meditated on the significance of men and women lifting their prayers up to God - offering themselves as a holocaust to the war - when he gave this speech at the funeral for the 8,000 Catholics who died in the bombing of Nagasaki:
This book gives one much to think about. Along with John Hersey's Hiroshima and some other books, Takashi Nagai gives a brutally frank description of the massive destruction that followed the use of an atomic bomb on a city. But I wonder if this destruction is any worse than, say, the saturation bombing of Dresden, or London, or whatever city one may care to name. Even one grenade or bullet could have just as serious an outcome, only to fewer people.
This book did not change my thoughts on war. I recall that I when served in the Air Force, we were advised to remember that even though we were doctors, we still were part of the government which specialized in killing people and blowing things up. We were advised to think about this seriously and leave if this mission were not compatible with our beliefs. I stuck around.
I strongly recommend this book for several reasons. One is for those who are considering a military career. The other is that Takashi Nagai's book is inspirational, as it shows how people can overcome tremendous obstacles that are put in their way. I could only hope to continue on as Dr. Nagai and his comrades did.
Stephen M. Donahue