It was with deep emotion that I watched the silent crowds last week, gathered in Hiroshima to mark seventy years since the nuclear destruction of their city. I was in Hiroshima three months after the bomb fell, serving with BCOF the Occupation Force, and based in Kure on the Inland Sea, which was about as close to the debris of an atomic bomb as you’d care to be. I was working for the radio unit as a writer and announcer, and saw the city very much as the bomb had rendered it on that August morning at 8:15. It was devoid of any buildings. There remained only a few starving and bewildered people in a scorched and hideous landscape. Before that moment of obliteration there were trams and buses packed with people, it was a crowded and thriving city with people on the way to work, and children also heading home from school. The matter of school children had been brought to the attention of the American President and his military advisers, but it had been decided that particular hour of day would produce the most effective result, hence the timing would remain; it was more important than the lives of foreign children.
As I wrote in my recent novel Above the Fold, the bomb was programmed to detonate at a height to cause maximum destruction, to shatter morale and create the utmost human distress. There was no mercy expressed in that August day. Even seeing this former large city some months later, I remember my own traumatised feeling that Hiroshima now hardly seemed to exist. The thought that it took less than ten seconds to vaporise the 70,000 who died instantly was a statistic hard to accept: another, that this first atomic bomb produced terrifying heat that was hotter than the sun, and travelled faster than the speed of sound, leaves us wondering how any survived at all.
But some did, including a boy called Kaito. Many were to die a few days or weeks after the effects of that few moments of radiation. Kaito’s death at the age of nine, after struggling to stay alive for six months with radiation illness, deeply affected me and my mates in the army. I wrote about him for the Fairfax Media and The Guardian newspaper in Britain, and also told his story in Above the Fold.
I’ve thought of those silent crowds who gathered in Hiroshima a lot this week, for I’ve been revising a new book set in Japan to be published soon. Called Dragons in the Forest, it is the true story of my brother-in-law Alex Faure. Alex is French, but was born and lived in Japan where his father was a businessman. He was due to go to University in America, but the outbreak of War ended this. So for the next four years he lived through the war in Japan as a neutral foreigner, able to work, but often under secret police scrutiny. He lived in Tokyo when that city was almost destroyed by fire bombs and actually imprisoned by the Kempetai (The secret police) in the last few days of the war, only to be released in time to hear the Emperor’s surrender speech.
Dragons in the Forest is due to be published in November, 2015.