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.