A review of Nagasaki by Craig Collie

Reviewed by Carl Delprat

Nagasaki: The Massacre of the innocent and unknowing
by Craig Collie
Allen & Unwin
2011, 312 pages, ISBN: 9781742372891

The atomic bomb, that infamous masterpiece of twenty-century technology created by the allies’ best brains trust and costing two billion dollars, was almost brought undone due to military maintenance malfunctions. Craig Collie has skilfully put together a splendid chronological record of mankind’s most successful killing implement and the combined consequences of a double dose of its destruction.

Throughout his book you get to walk with and watch this elaborate cast of participants and share in their anxiety, confusion, distress and suffering. I was so affected that my diet was changed. Yes, my latest shopping list catered for the basic Japanese staples and … I’m still searching for a daikon radish.

Craig’s technique is to supply the surroundings for eavesdropping in on 47 Japanese, 26 atomic bomb personnel, 23 Japanese leaders, 10 Soviet leaders, 5 American leaders and 9 other assorted individuals including Australian prisoners-of-war. With such a rich assortment of voices, the reader partakes in each of the fascinating succession of events culminating with the Japanese surrender.

Along the way I discovered a great number of facts, for instance the B29 bomber (the world’s most advanced bomber of that period and costing at the time two million dollars each) was susceptible to engine fires, could not dump unwanted fuel and had no manual override when its electrical solenoid switches failed.

Another eye opener was the badly managed island airbases when an almost-out-of-fuel aircraft returning from the second atom bomb delivery had to fire off flares and force land at Okinawa. What’s more, after completing such an historical mission, the best the mess sergeant could offer the hungry crew was bologna sandwich on stale bread.

Nagasaki introduced me to the ordinary people of Japan, the shy schoolgirls, the tram drivers, the unpaid factory workers, the ever-so-hungry and stubborn society obeying the wishers of their sacred emperor. Furthermore I was introduced to special individuals like Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a draftsman at Nagasaki shipyard who was first blown up by the Hiroshima bomb and then later had his bandages blasted off by the following Nagasaki explosion. (And he somehow managed to live and reach an old age.)

Another surprising fact was the city of Nagasaki had a Christian community. The only city in Japan with a sizable collection of Roman Catholics had, through default, became number two atomic bomb target.

Life in a war ravaged feudal Japanese society was extreme enough for the most stoic civilian to bear with before atomic weapons arrived from above. The surprise for me was how reports of the devastation were suppressed and how very little was actually comprehended by the countries’ leaders. Wartime censorship automatically blocked details and so little was understood about radiation sickness at that time.

Even the American team led by J. Robert Oppenheimer grossly underestimated the lingering effects radiation would have on its victims. Another surprise was to discover that General Curtis Lemay, chief of XXI Bomber Command was ready to overrule President Truman’s decree to stop dropping any further bombs without his approval and … commence bombing Tokyo at the first available opportunity.

Throughout this book Collie doesn’t make judgement; he supplies the details, the facts and leaves the reader to make his or her own impression. I like this style as each personality profile will find their own measure and either see the atomic bomb as a miracle cure to end wars or a massive war crime against society. Perhaps somewhere in-between these two alternatives are where the truth lies. I myself would have used it on a Japanese mountain or offshore island. The ironic fact is … after dropping two of these horrendous bombs on two selected sites, the Japanese War Cabinet took little interest at first and then an impartial view of their effects.

What panicked them straight to the negotiation table was Russia. The USSR’s announcement of war and then a swift invasion of Manchuria followed by the amphibious landings by the US on Korea frightened their pants off. Funny enough not only did the USSR batter the German Army all the way back to Berlin, it shook the heart right out of the Japanese War Cabinet and closed the doors of war in the east.

This book’s 312 pages has covered about everything necessary to convey the overall situation of all those involved in this timepiece of history. Everyone from the Vice President Harry Truman who entered office following President Roosevelt’s demise with no idea the bomb existed, to Australian Sergeant McGrath-Kerr, a prisoner of war who was inside the drop-zone. McGrath-Kerr returned to Japan after the war as part of the occupying force and was posted just outside of Hiroshima. He later returned home to Tasmania with his Japanese wife, and in 2010 they were still living together in a nursing home. That is how I wish to remember this compelling narrative.

About the reviewer: Carl Delprat is a prolific storyteller. His home is the Australian coastal city of Newcastle, New South Wales. Find his books at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/CarlDelprat