September 1, 2017

1970. Bill Downs Recalls Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings
A view of the atomic cloud over Nagasaki from 15 kilometers away in Koyagi-Jima, August 9, 1945 (Photo by Hiromichi Matsuda - source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 6, 1970

It's hard to remember back a quarter of a century the way things were over Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the first and last atomic bombs ever dropped in anger, possibly because the mind doesn't want to remember.

We flew in low over Nagasaki harbor a few days after the bomb was dropped, and from a distance the city looked normal—but no movement, as if everyone had slept late on Sunday morning. There was a prisoner-of-war stockade, marked with a red cross, isolated on a harbor peninsula, and we circled to drop some cases of cigarettes to the waving British and American POWs below.

Then we headed up the Nagasaki valley to discover that the dark landmass which, through the haze looked like a city, had been a city, all right—but the mist were plumes of smoke that still rose from the embers. It was all embers.

You could measure the bomb's blast by looking at the side of the mountains where there was a precise burn-line; the trees green above the atomic bomb's fire blast, charred matchsticks below. Incongruously the thought popped into my mind that Nagasaki looked like an unemptied ashtray after an all-night poker game.

The same for Hiroshima, only the city had been on a level river estuary and had been larger and more modern than Nagasaki. What had been the city's few reinforced concrete skyscrapers—a half dozen floors high, I think—stood above the flattened ruins like vandalized tombstones, which in a sense they were.

I had come to the Pacific War after reporting the war in Europe. I had flown on bombing missions and tramped through the ruins of a hundred Belgian, French, and German cities.

But those European ruins had been piles of brick and iron and stone. It stuck me in Japan that the atom doesn't even leave any decent rubble after it explodes.

Should we have dropped those two A-bombs twenty-five years ago, I don't know. But I shudder to think what might have happened the past twenty years when not only American generals, but Russian, French, British, and Chinese generals had those nuclear baubles to play with, not knowing for sure what they could do to anyone's Hiroshima or a Nagasaki.

That's World of Commentary. I'm Bill Downs in Washington for the American Entertainment Radio Network, a service of ABC News.