Seventy years ago the US Air Force destroyed Hiroshima, the bright flash and fireball above the city revealing the world had entered a savage new age. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, a second device detonated over Nagasaki. More than 70,000 people died. Six days later, Japan surrendered, ending World War II.
A service is being held Sunday at the Nagasaki Peace Park to mark the thousands that perished in the plutonium fuelled raid. Yet the fate of Nagasaki was down to chance. The City of Kokura was the original target however adverse weather conditions and fuel problems led the US to change target in the days ahead of the attack.
Although the death toll was significantly less than Hiroshima, the Nagasaki bomb exploded with far more force due to the use of plutonium and its implosion mechanism (rather than the Uranium bomb that had reduced the first city to char and ash). "We have spent more than two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history and we have won," said US president Harry Truman in the days after the attacks. Yet those that survived remain forever changed.
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Sumiteru Taniguchi still has scars from the attack on Nagasaki. For 70 years, the 86-year-old has lived with a web of wounds covering most of his back, and the remains of three ribs that half rotted away and permanently press against his lungs, making it hard to breathe. His wife still applies a moisturising cream every morning to reduce irritation from the scars. Not a day goes by without pain.
He was 16 and on the job as a letter carrier when the powerful blast threw him from his bicycle. He had been about 1.1 miles from the epicenter. Speaking in a weak voice with some effort, he told the story last month of wandering for three days in a daze, unaware of the seriousness of his injuries. He felt something like a ragged cloth hanging from his back, shoulder and arm: It was his skin.
He would spend the next 21 months lying on his stomach, getting treatment for his burned back, decomposing flesh and exposed bones. Going in and out of consciousness, he could hear the nurses passing by in the hallway asking each other if the boy was still breathing. He thought: "Just kill me."
Because he lay immobile for so long, as one of his teenage arm bones grew, it blocked the joint at the elbow so he can't fully extend the arm. Taniguchi hopes no one else will have to suffer the pain of nuclear weapons. He heads a Nagasaki survivors group working against nuclear proliferation, though old age and pneumonia are making it harder for him to play an active role. After so many years, his words are tinged with frustration. "I want this to be the end," he said.