Dr. Helen Caldicott on Nagasaki

It’s odd to recall that back in 1982, when the film If You Love This Planet came out and I was 16 years old, we were all living under the very real and present fear of nuclear war. While I am too young to have lived the “duck and cover” drills, my childhood was very much lived under the specter of the Cold War.

The movie, by Dr. Helen Caldicott, was controversial when it came out: it was “officially banned in the U.S. Justice Department for being foreign propaganda” (reference, reference). They showed it at our high school.

The part of the movie that stays with me to this day is Caldicott’s commentary on Nagasaki. Here’s a more contemporary quote on the same theme:

Some people who escaped Hiroshima migrated then to the only Christian center in Japan, Nagasaki, thinking that it would never be bombed by the Americans. They arrived three days later, just in time to receive the second bomb. Many Japanese will say, if you visit there, “We can sort of understand the first bomb, but why the second?” One of the physicists who celebrated at the party the night after Trinity, recounted in “The Day After Trinity” how he felt after the bomb in Hiroshima was used. He said, “I was so nauseated that night I had to go to bed, and I was profoundly depressed. We are scientists. We never thought of human beings as matter.”

The threat of nuclear destruction is still here today (nuclear powers would have you think it’s from terrorists; my money is on the nuclear countries themselves, through accident or intent), it’s just faded into the background.

Oliver is almost four years old now. He doesn’t know about Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the Holocaust or the Bataan Death March or any of the innumerable other inhumanities we have committed on each other. I am stymied when I think of how to begin to tell him. “Sorry, Oliver, humankind isn’t as great as I led you to believe originally…”