In re­mem­brance of the day there was a ‘Fat Man’ above Na­gasaki


“Giy­era” is the ti­tle of an on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at Ayala Mu­seum that looks back at the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of the Philip­pines through the eyes of Fer­nando Amor­solo.

From his stu­dio in down­town Manila, Amor­solo could hear the bombs ex­plod­ing and see the flashes of light that ac­cented the red glow of a burn­ing city.

Stricken by di­a­betes and its com­pli­ca­tions, he con­tin­ued to paint and draw in his stu­dio, doc­u­ment­ing the death, suf­fer­ing and terror all around him.

He may not have writ­ten history but he painted scenes of the war over and over again, as if to ex­or­cise all that was bad, false and ugly at the time.

Af­ter the war Amor­solo re­turned to his sta­ple of cheer­ful sunny can­vases with beau­ti­ful maid­ens in golden land­scapes where even t he carabaos seemed to smile.

The artist is un­fairly crit­i­cized to­day for hid­ing in the past and churn­ing out com­mer­cial works.

He shouldn’t be faulted for hav­ing a happy child­hood and hav­ing to sup­port 20 chil­dren with his art.

In my opin­ion, Amor­solo con­tin­ued to paint those iconic sun- lit can­vases be­cause he wanted to re­tain, at least in his mind, the faded mem­ory of the Philip­pines be­fore the war that his gen­er­a­tion re­ferred to as “pis­taym” ( peace­time).

In a sense, he vainly tried to cap­ture a world that was no more.

One of the paint­ings, loaned from the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines ( CCP), de­picts the burn­ing of Manila as seen from a safe spot by the Pasig River.

It is a fa­mous scene done in mul­ti­ples by Amor­solo, which ex­plains why, along­side the CCP’s paint­ing, another ver­sion loaned from the Bank of the Philip­pine Is­lands is dis­played.

The CCP’s paint­ing used to hang in its ex­ec­u­tive of­fice un­til it was rel­e­gated to stor­age af­ter some­one com­mented that it brought bad feng shui — which seemed to have been val­i­dated by the ill­ness of one CCP of­fi­cial and the un­timely death of another.

For many, World War II and the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of the Philip­pines re­main a bad dream from which they can­not wake.

World War II ended 70 years ago this month, af­ter two nu­clear bombs were de­ployed against Ja­pan.

If the bombs did not fall on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, killing thou­sands of in­no­cent peo­ple, the war would have dragged on in our part of the world and killed many more.

I vis­ited Na­gasaki as part of the 2014 Asia Lead­er­ship Fel­low Pro­gram and learned that the ura­nium bomb dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima was nick­named “Lit­tle Boy” ( in honor of U. S. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt), while the plu­to­nium bomb dropped by the Bockscar on Na­gasaki was called “Fat Man” ( to re­fer to Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill).

Un­like Hiroshima that was bombed flat, parts of Na­gasaki were not de­stroyed be­cause it had a dif­fer­ent ter­rain, with hills and rivers that pro­tected some ar­eas from the full im­pact of the blast.

Ja­pan would have surely sur­ren­dered af­ter Hiroshima, but the United States wanted to test its nu­clear weapons and see the dif­fer­ence in the death and de­struc­tion caused by a ura­nium bomb and a plu­to­nium bomb.

From the Glover Gar­den and its pre­served 19th- cen­tury struc­tures, we could see the port of Na­gasaki be­low and the naval port and ship­build­ing fac­tory that were tar­geted for de­struc­tion.

Na­gasaki was not the orig­i­nal tar­get in the first list that in­cluded Ky­oto, Kokura and Ni­igata.

Ky­oto was spared be­cause of its re­li­gious and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance and Ni­igata was too far, leav­ing Kokura as the pri­mary tar­get and Na­gasaki added as the sec­ond.

On that fate­ful day, Aug 9, 1945, Kokura was cov­ered by clouds and had zero vis­i­bil­ity, so the Bockscar flew to­ward Na­gasaki, only to find it hid­den un­der clouds as well.

But just when the pi­lot was about to turn back and bomb another day, a break in the clouds gave “Fat Man” an op­por­tu­nity to do its work.

Mea­sur­ing 3.5 me­ters

in length and 1.5 me­ters in di­am­e­ter, “Fat Man” weighed 4.5 tonnes.

Equipped with 64 detonators that fused plu­to­nium to­gether to form a crit­i­cal mass, it ex­ploded not at touch­down like “Lit­tle Boy” did in Hiroshima but 500 me­ters above Mat­suyama in Na­gasaki.

A mono­lith now stands on ground zero, or the hypocen­ter of the blast from which de­struc­tion em­anated over a 2.5- kilo­me­ter ra­dius.

Around the me­mo­rial mono­lith built in 1968, one will find a pho­to­graph of the crude marker for ground zero as well as pieces from the ru­ins.

Most ter­ri­fy­ing were pieces of de­formed glass that demon­strates the melt­ing ef­fect of 3,000 de­grees Cel­sius atomic heat on ex­posed hu­mans.

I was sur­prised that plants and trees have grown in the hypocen­ter, be­cause ear­lier it was be­lieved that noth­ing would grow there 70 years from the ex­plo­sion.

Some of my com­pan­ions anx­iously asked about resid­ual ra­di­a­tion, lead­ing me to re­mark that there are many can­cer pa­tients in my coun­try who have to pay for ra­di­a­tion, so I won’t com­plain about get­ting it free in Na­gasaki.

Na­gasaki had been bombed be­fore “Fat Man” was dropped, so when the air raid sirens blew, some peo­ple did not seek shel­ter. They were thus killed in­stantly, or suf­fered ter­ri­ble burns or lin­ger­ing dis­ease re­sult­ing from ex­po­sure to ra­di­a­tion.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures do not match: A 1953 U. S. Strate­gic Bomb­ing Sur­vey put the num­ber of deaths at 35,000, in­jured at 60,000, and miss­ing at 5,000; the Ja­panese count in 1960 listed the dead at 20,000 and the in­jured at 50,000.

I left Na­gasaki wish­ing for an end to war and nu­clear weapons, but I could not ac­cept Ja­pan show­ing it­self to its youth as an in­no­cent vic­tim.

Nowhere in the mu­se­ums and me­mo­ri­als does Ja­pan ac­knowl­edge its atro­cious con­duct in the war that re­sulted in the bomb­ing of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. Ev­ery­one needs clo­sure 70 years on.

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