The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Hansai or the Cleansing Fire: How the Interplay of Fog, Friction, and Faith Resulted in the Unintended Atomic Annihilation of Nagasaki’s Christian Community

  • Published
  • By Barry Scott Zellen
  • Wild Blue Yonder


This article tells the story of the lesser-known second of the two atomic missions in the final days of World War II, which delivered a uniquely powerful and complex explosive device known as “Fat Man”—the first plutonium-implosion device ever deployed in war. It was detonated above the predominantly Christian Urakami valley, just up the river and across a range of mountains from the Nagasaki waterfront and well over two miles from the intended ground zero for the blast. This was in marked contrast to the Hiroshima mission, which delivered the less powerful “Little Boy” device to within 800 feet of its intended target, Hiroshima’s Aioi Bridge. As observed by USAF lieutenant colonel Fred J. Olivi in his memoirs, “Certainly, the flight of the first atomic bomber caught the attention of the American public in 1945” and “continues to be the subject of a furious debate. Almost forgotten, it seems to me, has been the mission to Nagasaki,” as “many of the events before, during and immediately after the flight . . . have never been thoroughly aired.”1 And Air Force Magazine former editor-in-chief John Correll has observed that the “first atomic mission was executed perfectly. On the second one, almost everything went wrong. . . . Whereas Hiroshima was a perfectly executed operation, almost nothing went right on the second atomic mission, and it came close to failure.”2

This Nagasaki atomic strike may be viewed as the greatest irony (and perhaps tragedy as well) of World War II. We, the liberators and defenders of freedom, fought what, to most historians, was the textbook definition of a just war for four long, hard-fought, and bloody years against a global alliance of totalitarian dictatorships. And yet our final act of combat would be to drop the deadliest bomb ever devised by man onto Japan’s most Christian of communities—one that shared a closer historical and religious connection with our country than any other city in Japan. In striking Nagasaki, we not only dropped this second and even more destructive atomic bomb onto this most unlikely of targets (owing, in large measure, to its proximity to, and location south of, the primary target more than anything else), the bomb detonated nearly directly above the steeple of Asia’s largest Catholic cathedral. The Urakami Cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin Mother and lovingly and painstakingly built over several decades by one of Asia’s most persecuted of Christian communities. These Christians survived over two centuries of hiding underground after a ruthless campaign by warlords intended to rid Japan permanently of its foreign-born Christian influence, which they perceived as an opiate to weaken the populace and prepare it for Western colonization.3

Examined here is this tragic, unprecedented, and fateful collision of members of the Christian communities of two nations at war, America and Japan. American airpower—on what would be the final mission to end the long and hard-fought Pacific war (a mission blessed by army chaplains and piloted by a practicing Catholic) decimated the Christian community of Nagasaki. These Christians had only recently been allowed to openly practice their faith without fear of persecution, imprisonment, or death. As the atomic firestorm ebbed and the survivors began the slow process of recovery and rebuilding, they would turn to this same faith and find in their hearts not only the power of forgiveness but an intimate understanding of the high price their God had demanded of them. It was a sacrifice of those deemed purest by God and thus ready to ascend to Heaven through the cleansing fire of martyrdom that made peace possible. Understanding this forgiving response to the 9 August 1945 atomic mission sheds insight into how friction in war—the long-understood Clausewitzian concept of how operational realities invariably face unexpected challenges unforeseen by war planners—can be (and was) greatly magnified in the atomic era. This was a lesson not learned three days earlier when the Hiroshima mission went off without a hitch against all odds. It also sheds light on peacemaking at the hardest of times by understanding how the survivors of what one may think of as the world’s most horrific war crime—the fiery annihilation of a long-oppressed, unarmed, and vulnerable Christian community by an atomic device—turned inward to their faith to find forgiveness and acceptance to offer hope to humanity.

Since 1945, the destruction of Hiroshima has generated a highly organized and politicized response of moral indignation and justifiable rage that garnered most of the headlines and shaped much of the post–World War II narrative on the atomic bombings that closed out World War II.4 To one Catholic observer, the witness of the Catholics of Nagasaki shows God’s providence in the darkest of times. The very epicenter of the atomic blast was the Urakami district of Nagasaki. It was described in the memoirs of the bombers always as the industrial Urakami valley but which, in fact, was the heavily Catholicized Urakami valley. The valley was “the heart and soul of Catholicism in Japan since the sixteenth century.”5 At its very center, mere yards from the fiery hypocenter of the atomic blast, stood Urakami’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, (known also as the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, or, for its location, the Urakami Cathedral) (fig. 1).

Figure 1. Cathedral ruins surrounded by bedrock (Courtesy of National Archives)

To the world of military strategy, the A-bomb changed everything, and the events of 6–9 August 1945 would cast a shadow not only over military and diplomatic history during the Cold War but also over the subsequent global war on terrorism. The shock of 9/11 was mitigated only by the realization that a nuclear-armed terror cell would prove an even more menacing opponent. This possibility drove strategic policy in the years since 9/11 (particularly during the Bush years when the proliferation and preemption of weapons of mass destruction came to define American policy). Most works on the atomic attacks, and much of the popular narrative, have focused on the 6 August attack on Hiroshima where everything went “right.” A look at the 9 August attack, where things started to go wrong from the very start, offers readers much food for thought. It is a sobering counternarrative on how wrong things went (and how quickly mission plans spun out of control) just three days later.

Literature on the atomic phase of World War II focuses on this first and far more “successful” mission to Hiroshima, which introduced the world to the atomic age, the unprecedented horrors of atomic destruction, and the unique efficiency of atomic warfare (destroying a whole city with a single weapon). Books such as John Hersey’s Hiroshima are assigned in nearly every high school and university in the Western world. Equally compelling works such as Takashi Nagai’s The Bells of Nagasaki are lesser known and less often read.6 A likely reason is a disproportionate interest in America—and much of the world—in the Hiroshima mission. Even opponents of the bomb still shout, “No more Hiroshimas!” However, they seldom shout the same for Nagasaki.7

When visiting the two atomic cities in Japan, one can see the difference. Hiroshima has gone to great lengths to memorialize the events of 6 August and to maintain moral leadership in the postwar antinuclear movement. Nagasaki, in contrast, takes a quieter approach. While it now proudly celebrates its Christian heritage, it does not emphasize the atomic attack on the largely Christian Urakami valley as a dominant part of this narrative. Instead, the city emphasizes the endurance of Nagasaki’s Christian spirit across so many generations of oppression, starting with the sixteenth century mass executions that aimed to exterminate Japanese Christianity at its roots. This broader context and longer history of suffering perhaps mitigate the emotional shock of the 9 August attack by depolarizing local attitudes in notable contrast to Hiroshima.

Faith under Fire: Nagasaki’s Half-Millennium of Christian Martyrdom and the Endurance of the “Hidden Kirishitans”

Nearly exterminated, this community survived, administering its Christian faith in secret. Known as the “Hidden Kirishitans,”8 the community practiced its faith without a clergy for some 250 years. On the morning of 9 August 1945, an estimated 8,500 of its 12,000 members would be killed by a predominantly Christian aircrew on a mission blessed by Army chaplains and commanded by a practicing Catholic, who prayed before the very same Virgin Mother the night before his historic mission began. Through a preventable series of tactical errors and misjudgments, the crew of Bockscar and its deadly payload would turn away from the industrial city of Kokura, its primary target, after three unsuccessful and increasingly risky passes to turn south for its secondary target 97 miles away. The aircraft continued with just enough fuel for a single bomb run in conditions of even heavier cloud cover and obscured ground visibility than encountered at Kokura. Its new target was the very city where the West and Japan had first come into contact some four centuries earlier, and where the Christian faith had found fertile soil: Nagasaki.

The Urakami valley was home to that city’s large and long-suffering Christian community—the nation’s largest and oldest.9 Western missionaries first stepped onto Japanese soil in Nagasaki to bring their faith to this long-isolated land. Their early efforts were wildly successful. Nagasaki even became, although briefly, a quasi-sovereign, self-governing port city under Jesuit rule during the mid-sixteenth century when a local warlord ceded it hoping to benefit from the profitable maritime trade that came with this first wave of missionaries. However, local success soon precipitated a national backlash that resulted in the early Christian advances being brutally oppressed. Thousands of the faithful were ruthlessly tortured and martyred as foreign influences in general and for their Christian faith in particular. This drove the movement underground with tens of thousands becoming the “Hidden Kirishitans” who kept their faith for centuries before Japan’s reopening and consequent liberalization of religious policies at the close of the nineteenth century.

Nagasaki was first introduced in 1549 to Jesuit missionaries, starting with Saint Francis Xavier who stepped ashore on 15 August, the feast day of the Assumption of Mary, a day that would feature prominently into Nagasaki history right up to the acceptance of surrender by Japan’s emperor on 15 August 1945.10 With the arrival of Francis Xavier, Christianity would spread quickly from Nagasaki. By 1580, there were over 200,000 Christians in Japan, in part through the conversion of numerous Japanese feudal barons and samurai warriors, along with—through top-down mass conversions—thousands of peasants. By 1587, Emperor Hideyoshi reversed his earlier toleration and ordered all foreign Christians banished and all Japanese Christians to renounce the new religion. His edict was not universally enforced at first, and this wave of Japanese mission activity continued; in 1593, six Franciscans led by Fr. Peter Baptiste arrived to further the movement amidst this climate of persecution. In 1596, the emperor had enough—and ruthlessly cracking down on the Christian movement, he had 26 leading Christians arrested in the capital, Kyoto. They were force-marched over 500 miles in 30 days to Nagasaki in midwinter for public crucifixion. Among the 26 martyrs were three Jesuits, 15 Franciscan tertiaries, two lay Christians, and the six newly arrived Franciscan friars. Once in Nagasaki, they were tied to crosses, necks held in place by iron rings. As they awaited death, the singing of psalms broke out among them, and the assembled crowd attentively listened as one of the 26 martyrs began the Sanctus hymn, offering themselves as they had during mass for the glory of God. Soon, another of the crucified Franciscans began singing, “Jesus, Mary, Jesus, Mary . . . ,” and before long some 4,000 Christians amid the crowd took up the prayer. The mass crucifixion became a display of Christian strength, unity, and courage and not the public demonstration of its defeat that Hideyoshi had wanted. As recounted by author Paul Glynn, a Marist priest who served as a missionary in Japan for 25 years, “One of the 26 Martyrs asked leave to speak, which was granted.” This was the 33-year-old Jesuit convert Paul Miki—“son of a general in Baron Takayama’s army”—who had become a popular “catechist and preacher.”11

Dying well has been as essential to the samurai as it has been for—as in our culture’s imagination—the proud, albeit fictional, Klingon warrior culture, modeled to a large measure on medieval Japanese samurai culture, or more recently, the indefatigable jihadist fighter. A samurai by tradition would meet his death fearlessly, indeed welcomingly, with a traditional ajisei no uta, a farewell song. As Glynn recounts, Miki thus proudly spoke, “I am a Japanese and brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime. The only reason I am condemned to die is that I have taught the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am happy to die for that and accept death as a great gift from my Lord.”12 Miki “asked the crowd if they saw fear on the faces of the 26. He assured them there was no fear because Heaven was real.”13 He had just one final request: that they believe. Miki forgave Hideyoshi and those responsible for his execution and delivered as his farewell song Psalm 31, the very words that Jesus uttered from the cross, “Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.”14 At this, the executioners moved in with steel-tipped lances and tore into the bodies of the 26, precipitating an angry roar from the crowd. As Glynn describes, in the wake of crucifixion, the prestige of Christians rose dramatically and the pace of baptisms increased; for a time, Christianity continued its spread across Japan. But in 1614, a new round of persecutions began. Christians in great numbers were forced to choose renunciation or death. Many chose death rather than renounce their faith and trample on the image of Jesus. Within a year, all churches and missionary centers had been destroyed. Government agents, soldiers, and spies fanned out, and priests and catechists were executed; new priests arriving from Europe were quickly tracked down and executed. New and refined methods of torture were introduced to break the Christian spirit; Nagasaki’s Christians fled offshore to nearby islands and into the neighboring Urakami valley, where their community endured as an underground movement.15

There they learned to practice their faith without priests and sustained for two centuries an underground church with “waterman” to baptize, a “calendar man” to keep the dates of the holiest of days, and a “head man” to serve as their overall leader. Any figures in the image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary were too dangerous, so members of the hidden Christian community instead worshipped Kannon, a feminine image of the Buddha popular in medieval Japan. Nearly every home would thus have in lieu of a statue of Mary a figurine of a “Kannon likeness” that by intent would be mistaken by non-Christians as Kannon but that was worshipped as if that of Mary.16 This underground community of hidden Kirishitans would survive, on its own, for over two centuries, until the 1858 arrival of Commodore Perry and his flotilla of gunboats forced a commercial treaty upon Japan with the United States.17 Europeans once again built churches in Yokohama and Nagasaki, but the shoguns would allow only non-Japanese to enter upon risk of imprisonment and, for many, death. It was not until February 1864 that Fr. Petitjean of the Paris completed a new church in Oura—still standing—in the south of Nagasaki; within a few weeks, a member of the hidden Urakami Christians slipped in undetected and saw a statue of Mary. After questioning local officials and confirming that the priest lived without a wife, the hidden Christians realized that a legend they had been taught generation to generation had come to pass—that the “church will return to Japan, and you will know it by three signs: the priests will be celibate, there will be a statue of Mary, and [they] will obey Papa-sama in Rome.”18

Japan had opened up to world trade but not to Western religions, and the Japanese were still officially banned from embracing Christianity. They were thus forbidden to enter this new place of worship intended to serve the growing expatriate community. While the new church nonetheless caused quite a stir among the hidden Christians, many were reluctant to act. However, the women of the community—ignoring their reluctant husbands—decided that they were going to see the priest. And so on 17 March 1865, a small party of Urakami Christians quietly approached the church and hastened inside before the authorities detected their presence. A plaque erected a century later now commemorates the event: “On Feb. 19, 1865, the French missioner Fr. Bernard Petitjean (later first Bishop of Nagasaki) dedicated the Oura Cathedral. . . . On March 17, about 14 residents of Urakami visited the church and approached Fr. Petitjean. One whispered, ‘Our heart is one with yours. Where is the statue of Santa-Maria?’ Thus did these people reveal the faith that they had treasured and transmitted through 300 years of fierce persecution. This declaration of faith by the Japanese Christians, unexampled in all of history, has won the acclaim of the entire world.”19 Disguised as a farmer, Fr. Petitjean visited the clandestine Christians and celebrated their first mass in their hidden meeting place, a cattle shed not much different from the manger where Jesus was born. Nagasaki officials soon got word of these clandestine Christians and the visiting French priest, and orders came to Nagasaki civic officials to stamp out these lingering embers of Christian faith. Over 3,000 were arrested and dispersed to prison camps across the country in a final effort to break their unity. Over 600 of these would die before a further thawing with the West and a desire for closer relations led to their release in 1872. In 1895, the Urakami Catholics had recovered enough to begin construction of a stone and brick cathedral that would be built by volunteers in the Nagasaki parish led by a French missionary priest, Father Pierre Fraineau.20

Nagasaki’s central place in the four-century-long history of Japan’s Christian movement remained unknown to the predominantly Christian crew of the Bockscar as it turned from its primary target, the industrial and arsenal city of Kokura, and headed south. The crew had spent a fruitless and increasingly dangerous hour circling the smoke-, cloud-, and haze-obscured city below with orders—as yet unchallenged—to drop only visually, and not with the still inaccurate radar. The aircraft had little remaining fuel, barely enough to get it to a friendly airstrip but surely not enough to ensure a safe return to Tinian Island with a live plutonium device onboard. Now the pressure to drop this weapon, designed to speed the end of the war, on the secondary target of Nagasaki was much greater, even as weatherconditions there proved less hospitable for a visual drop.

As a result of the cascading tactical collapse in the bomber zeroing in on the city six miles away, Japan’s largest Christian community found itself the sacrificial lamb for the coming peace. Instead of finding protection from the high mountain walls as it had since fleeing north from downtown Nagasaki centuries before, this long-suffering, once hidden Christian community would instead be consumed by an unprecedented, otherworldly, and—to the truest of believers—cleansing fire. One can see the prominent and connective role that faith played that fateful day, both on the ground and in the aircraft above—and the Herculean effort of all involved to overcome their fears and uncertainties. Mission pilot Charles Sweeney and the priest serving American forces on Tinian Island conversed late into the night before the mission on the theory of just war and the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Army chaplains blessed the aircraft a few hours later as it prepared to embark on its historic mission. The Christian community of Nagasaki displayed a spirited faith and resilience; many of its members bravely accepted the loss of their families and fellow believers as a necessary sacrifice for the coming peace. Most eloquent among them was the “Saint of the Atomic Bomb,” the radiologist Dr. Takasahi Nagai.21

Dr. Nagai was not only Nagasaki’s foremost expert on radiation but his wife, Midori—lost in the attack—was a direct descendent of the “headman” of the Hidden Kirishitans, and her love for Dr. Nagai contributed to his awakening faith and eventual conversion to Christianity in the years before World War II. Dr. Nagai would, after barely surviving the 9 August attack, march into the smoldering, radioactive ruins to recover Midori’s carbonized remains; kneeling before them, he prayed and cried, then gathered her bones into a container. Shining amid the powdery remains beside the bones of her right hand, he found her intact rosary. Becoming a Gandhi-like symbol advocating world peace as he tenaciously clung to life for six more years as he battled terminal cancer, Nagai would go on to author several books. Among his many paintings and drawings is one of Midori ascending to Heaven carried upward on the mushroom cloud—modeled on the very same painting of the Virgin Mary being carried upward by angels that had inspired the Madonna of Nagasaki (discussed in the next section).

Dr. Nagai dedicated his final years to communicating a single message: Heiwa wo!—make peace.22 In time, his message would take root among the Nagasaki Christians. This can account for the difference in spirit and emotion found between the two groups of atomic survivors in Japan—those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—still noticeable today, especially upon the anniversaries of the atomic attacks. As described by Glynn in his A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai, “Hiroshima is bitter, noisy, highly political, leftist and anti-American. Its symbol would be a fist clenched in anger. Nagasaki is sad, quiet, reflective, nonpolitical, and prayerful. It does not blame the United States but rather laments the sinfulness of war, especially of nuclear war. Its symbol: hands joined in peace.”23

On 23 November 1945, Nagai was invited to speak during a requiem mass celebrated beside the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral. Nagai prayed for guidance on what message to deliver, and these are the words that he shared:

When the world was standing at the crossroads of fate—either bring a new peace to the world, or plunge humanity (jinrui) deeper into a wretched war (senran)—that is, at 11:02 a.m., a single atomic bomb exploded in the heart of our Urakami, and in an instant it summoned eight-thousand believers to the hands of the Lord God (Tenshu). At once, raging flames ignited and burned, and the Holy Land of the East (Tôyô) turned to ruins of ash. In the middle of the night that day, Urakami Cathedral spontaneously combusted and went up in flames. At the exact same time in the Imperial Headquarters, the Emperor graciously suppressed the stubborn resistance doctrine (kôsenron) of the military (gunbu) and pronounced the Imperial Decision to end the war for world peace.

The imperial rescript was issued on August 15 and greeted the morning of worldwide peace, but this day actually corresponded to the great holiday of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Japan is a country that was offered to Mother Mary. And I recall again how our cathedral of Urakami was especially offered to Mother Mary.

Were these mysterious coincidences (itchi) really mere chance (gûzen)? Or, were they the embodiment of the exquisite providence of the Lord? If one considers the fact that the atomic bomb, which had aimed for the vicinity of the prefectural office in the heart of Nagasaki City, drifted to the north because of the weather and fell in Urakami right in front of the cathedral, along with the fact that this atomic bomb [was] the last [act of war] and fighting did not happen anywhere on earth [after it], one will realize that there exists a deep connection between the destruction of Urakami and the end of the war. In other words, the church of Urakami was placed on the altar of sacrifice as atonement for the sin of humankind (jinrui) that was the world war. It was chosen as a pure lamb, slaughtered, and burned. We believe this.24

Nagai used the term hansai, the Japanese word for the biblical holocaust or the whole burnt offering of martyrdom. Some congregants stood up, in shock and anger, and shouted out in protest. Nagai, however, showed neither anger nor surprise and quietly continued:

Humankind, which inherited the sin of Adam and Eve having stolen the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the blood of Cain who beat his brother to death, are the same children of the Lord even as they disobeyed the commandment of love (ai no okite) and hated and killed each other: this was the great world war. In order to end the fifteen-year war [that began with] (irai) the Manchurian Incident in Showa 6 [1931] and welcome peace again, humankind of the world had to not only deeply repent those sins, but also offer an appropriate sacrifice to the Lord as an apology. Until this happened, there were many opportunities to end the war, and there were many cities that were annihilated by bombing raids, but they were not suitable for the sacrifice, so the Lord did not yet forgive [humankind]. However, I humbly observe (haisatsu) that there is no mistake that when [we] raised and offered the church of Urakami, for the first time the Lord deemed this as good and forgave, listening to the apology of humankind, and suddenly [He] conferred (tareru) a divine revelation upon the Emperor and allowed him to pronounce the Imperial Decision to end the war. To put it another way, precisely because Urakami was sacrificed, the war ended. I believe that according to this sacrifice, billions of people were saved from the calamity of war.

Our Urakami church had no religious freedom in Japan (wagakuni) but was not destroyed by the persecution of Toyotomi and Tokugawa, nor did it lose to the tyrannical rule of the military government and nation since Meiji. [The church] persisted for four hundred years, shedding the blood of numerous martyrs as it protected the righteous faith. Sincerely, was not [the Urakami church] in particular chosen from among the world as a flock of pure lambs that should be offered on the altar of the Lord? Alas, the great holocaust (hansai) that was made in the presence of this cathedral on August ninth and duly ended the darkness of the great world war and shined the light of peace! Even in the nadir of sadness, we reverently viewed this as something beautiful, something pure, and something sacred.25

That Dr. Nagai found God’s Providence at work even in this most horrific of attacks of 9 August would have a deep impact on his community and later on his entire country. In Nagai’s final book, his very last published words would quote the third-century theologian Tertullian: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”26 And so it has been for Nagasaki.

Dr. Nagai, in his quickly produced report on the recovery effort in Nagasaki after the August 9 attack, described the splitting of the atom as at once humanity's greatest scientific achievement and its most dangerous:

Scientists strived hard for many years for the theme of utilizing free atomic energy. This time fell into the confusion of war, and the Americans achieved its solution first. At this time of tragedy, it shows the triumph of science. How can I face this fact? We cry for the people, but we celebrate for academics. It is a victory for the scientists and a defeat for our motherland! The atomic bomb took tens of thousands of lives in a split second. Furthermore, it left horrible injuries to tens of thousands of people. How do the souls of Roentgen, Becquerel, Curie, and Rutherford, who developed the foundation of this science, think in heaven? What are the feelings of Joliot-Curie who discovered the neutron. Or Bohr, de Broglie, Planck etc., pioneers in this field? They worked hard for research, for the benefit of mankind. But their work was used for the killing of human beings. There is nothing we can say. This is the work of descendants who ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Eden and of Cain who killed his younger brother.27

Miracle of the Madonna of Nagasaki

In October 1945, Father Kaemon Noguchi, a recently discharged Japanese soldier and Catholic priest originally from Nagasaki, entered the ruins of Urakami Cathedral to pray.28 He had hoped to find a tangible memento of the church of his youth to take back with him to his Trappist Monastery in Hokkaido. After more than an hour of searching through the debris, Father Noguchi sat back and prayed; suddenly, he noticed the eyeless features of the Madonna staring at him blindly from the dust. It is blackened but unmistakable; it is a wooden image of the Holy Mother he knew from his childhood growing up in Nagasaki. Only the head of the life-size statue of Madonna had survived the blast. The statue had been sent from Italy years before and placed upon the altar of Urakami Cathedral. Her burnt face silently told of the agony of the people who died in the fires following the explosion and appealed to the world for peace.

Overwhelmed with joy, Father Noguchi went back to his monastery with this gift from God in his arms. He placed it on the desk in his cell and offered prayers to it daily. As time went by, however, he started to feel guilty that he had been keeping the sacred statue to himself. Thirty years after the bombing, he returned it to Urakami Cathedral where it is now on display at its entrance.

Father Noguchi wrote the following letter describing the miracle of the Madonna:

Dear Father Kawazoe,

I apologize for my lack of courtesy to write to you a personal letter. I, Father Noguchi, am a cloistered monk at Hokkaido Trappist Monastery.

The other day, I had an opportunity to read your article (which) appeared in the August issue of Seibo no Kishi Catholic Monthly about the holy head of the Virgin which had gone missing after the atomic bombing.

The head of Virgin Mary was discovered by a soldier who had just been discharged from military service overseas. In about the fifty-third year of the Showa era (1978), he entrusted the head to Mr. Kataoka to return to Urakami Church. I wish I could know the soldier’s name who discovered Our Lady under the rubble of bombing.”

I have been debating, for some considerable time, whether or not I should inform you about the fact details of my discovery. When Bishop Matsunaga visited our monastery, I consulted him with my thoughts. The bishop recommended that I should write to you in person as you may not know that the soldier in question is myself. I have enjoyed the bishop’s acquaintance for quite a long while.

I grew up in Urakami, Ishigami town (Yamanaka) and joined the Hokkaido Trappist Monastery in the fourth year of the Showa era (1929) and was ordained priest in the fourteenth year (1939). I must have been twelve or thirteen years of age when the statue of Virgin Mary arrived from Italy and was placed near the ceiling over the altar of the Urakami Cathedral. Her celestial beauty left a deep impression to my boyhood. I was then irresistibly attracted by the Madonna.

When I was to join the monastery in Hokkaido, I knelt down in front of the altar and prayed to bid my farewell. . . . “Dear Our Lady, I am going far north to the Trappist Monastery in Hokkaido, so this may be the last prayer I offer to you in this cathedral. But wherever I will be, may your protection and guidance be with me as ever.” This memory never leaves me after all these years.

. . . The war was over on the fifteenth day of August. I was sent home after being discharged in October. Before going back to Hokkaido, I wished to find a keepsake of the cathedral to bring with me. So I went to the ruins of the church and yet I found nothing but a heap of rubble. I searched about the destroyed altar and confessionals of Father Nishida and Father Tamaya for over one hour in vain. I tumbled onto a stone and prayed to Virgin Mary just like when I departed for the monastery as a boy. I was meant to return to Hokkaido soon. Praying for her guidance, I desperately looked for any broken pieces of liturgics which survived the bombing. Sadly, there was no sign of the cross or the holy statue of the Madonna. I prayed once again to Holy Mother to let me encounter anything at all associated to the church.

Some time passed. . . . I was praying silently. And all of a sudden, I saw the holy face of the Virgin blackened by fire, looking at me with a sorrowful air. I cried with joy. “Thank you, Our Lady. Thank you!”

The destroyed torso might have been buried somewhere but I was too excited holding her head tightly in my arms to think about anything else. What a joy! It is inexplicable how I thanked the Holy Mother. I was half in a dream walking to the house embracing the head. My mother and elder brother were most delighted with my finding of the Virgin Mary. Mother was greatly impressed and praised me as if I was mere a boy. “My dear son, what a wonderful thing you’ve done! You must be blessed by Holy Mother. Take it with you to the monastery and offer your faithful prayers.”

When Bishop Urakawa visited Trappist, I showed him the head of Madonna and explained to him how I had found it. “You have found the finest treasure indeed. If you had not discovered it, the Madonna would have got lost and most probably would have been disposed of like a piece of rubbish,” he said.

It must have been in around the fiftieth year of the Showa era (1975). An article about the Madonna appeared on the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper[,] and it became well known to the public including the Urakami congregation that their Madonna had been found and kept by me. I began to feel guilty to treasure it myself as the statue by all means belonged to the Urakami church. Coincidentally, as a priest hailing from Urakami, I was invited to the thirtieth anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bombing held at Urakami Catholic Church. With the permission of the abbot of our monastery, I brought the holy head of the Virgin Mary to Nagasaki with me and entrusted it to Mr. Kataoka to return to the church.

At the time of leaving, Father Toyoaki Ozaki from the Knights of Our Lady kindly took a photograph of me beside the Madonna to which I offer my prayers to this day.

Dear Father, ever since the statue was first placed in the cathedral, I have been deeply attached to the Madonna. Even after cloistering myself, I never failed to offer prayers to her. And I believe she also remembered me. Holy Mother has always been there to protect and guide me. She even trusted this humble priest in such a horrible disaster and allowed me to hold her holy head in my arms. For some thirty years, I had prayed before the holy statue on the desk in my cell. Even now, I see her burnt face vividly in my mind especially when singing the Lady psalms.

Dear Father, forty-five years have passed since I found the statue. I wish my poor writing could give you a certain account of my fated encounter with the Holy Mother. If it is ever possible, it would be my greatest pleasure to see the Madonna restored to her original state. Please place her upon the altar. So does she wish, I believe.

May our prayers to the Holy Mother reach all beings in the world!

Yours faithfully,
Kaemon Noguchi29

Faith amidst the Fire: The Conversion of Dr. Takenaka

Fr. Stephen Lynch recalls in his chapter “Atom-bombed Nagasaki” how from “the ashes of atom-bombed Nagasaki came a story of faith in God that makes one proud to be Christian. A Japanese doctor told me this story at, of all places, a Rotary Meeting in Tokyo in 1972.”30 There, sitting next to Lynch, was the club president, Dr. Takenaka, whom he describes as “a short, distinguished-looking . . . silver-haired man, with gentle eyes set in a round, kindly face.” Dr. Takenaka turned to Lynch with a little smile and asked, “Are you a Catholic priest, sir?” Lynch nodded. Takenaka said, “I’m a Catholic, too. . . . I probably would not be Catholic today if the atom bomb had not exploded over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.”31 At the time of the atomic attack, Takenaka was working as a naval surgeon just outside the city. As Lynch recounts,

Because the bomb was dropped off target and the wind took it even more off course, Madame Butterfly’s house was saved, but “ground zero,” the epicentre of the blast, was right over the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in the Urakami district of Nagasaki. The only things found in the ashes of the 2000-seat Cathedral were the charred buttons from the cassocks of the Japanese priests hearing confessions during the High Mass going on at the time. Not deliberately, of course, but Christian America had just destroyed the largest Christian church in the Orient, and snuffed out about 75 percent of the Christians who lived in and around Nagasaki.32

Takenaka described the scene shortly after the bomb was dropped: “I couldn’t believe my eyes. . . . I thought to myself, if there’s a hell, this is what it must be like.” While “working in the Urakami Cathedral section of the burned-out city,” he made his “way slowly through piles of human bodies,” and recalls hearing

what I thought was the sound of singing. I couldn’t believe my ears. Frankly, because I was on the verge of exhaustion, I wondered if I was beginning to hallucinate, the horrors of this hell being too much for a human being to bear. Suddenly, I saw them, 20 or 30 people, some critically burned, sitting in a kind of circle singing and apparently praying. They had beads in their hands, which reminded me of the Buddhist jus beads. On a closer look, as I made my way over to this little group, I discovered the beads had crosses on one end. They seemed like a tiny island of composure and serenity in what I would forever remember as a nightmarish sea of horror, destruction and panic. “Who are you?” I asked, still not sure that I wasn’t going out of my mind. The noise of screaming and crying around us was so loud, I could hardly hear their reply. “Who are you?” I shouted again at the top of my voice. The reply came back, “We are Christians, and we are praying to our God.” Of course, I had heard of Jesus Christ, but this was the first time in my life that I had ever spoken to Christians. For people to have such inner composure at a time like this jolted me way down deep inside with a strange mixture of fear and awe. I said to them, “Some of you are badly burned. Let me do what I can for you.”

Takenaka recounts being stunned to hear them say, “Thank you for coming to us, doctor, but God is with us and will take care of us. Please go and help those who need you more. We will be all right.” . . . I just could not believe my ears when this group of Christians calmly asked that I go to the others who needed me more. I honestly never dreamed this kind of selfless concern for others really existed. Although I knew nothing about the teaching of Jesus Christ, I immediately saw the difference between a true Christian and the rest of us. In the presence of indescribable suffering, their faith in God never wavered[,] and they were more concerned about others than themselves. I have no way of knowing, but I suspect that most of that little band of Christians died before the fires went out in their incinerated city.33

As Takenaka told Lynch, “My first contact with Christianity revealed a remarkable quality of heart, and a heroic dimension of inner strength. I said to myself, if there is a God, I hope that God will give me the faith to believe what these Christians believed.”34 Fifteen years later, Dr. Takenaka met the famous Paris foreign missionary Fr. Candau in Tokyo, and after a year’s instruction, Takenaka was baptized a Christian. He remarked,

The great Jesus Christ taught that the gift you have received, you should give as a gift. I believe the seeds of my own Christian faith were sown in atom-bombed Nagasaki. My heart tells me that those dying Christians passed on to me the gift of their Christian faith. And now I try my best to share my own faith with others. I believe I am the spiritual child of those Nagasaki Christians. For them, dying was truly gain; and for me staying alive meant becoming Christian—this was also gain. From those Christians, I learned a very important lesson: I must let God be God in my life.35

On a Wing and a Prayer: Charles Sweeney’s Search for Answers

Nagasaki atomic mission commander Charles W. Sweeney also shared his religious and moral reflections in his memoirs, in chapter 14 of War’s End.36 On Sunday, 5 August, one day before he would accompany the Hiroshima mission in a support aircraft, the 25-year-old pilot “attended morning mass as had been [his] practice since childhood,” and the “priest from the Eighth Bomber Group conducted the service under a brilliant blue sky, behind him a distinct horizon separating the ocean from the sky, heaven from earth. It was a balmy, tropical morning. A faint wind blew across the rows of worshipers. My faith has always been a source of comfort to me, and that morning I felt peace, a tranquility borne of belief in a higher power.”37 Sweeney recalls that the “predictable ceremony of the mass, spoken in the mysterious and lyrical cadence of a language long since extinct, allows for reflection” and that he “prayed that the carnage of our years at war would soon be brought to an end,” reflecting on how his “faith teaches the innate goodness of man. Yet how do we explain the barbarism man inflicts? The answer found in our teachings is that evil also dwells among us. Not as the symbolic serpent in the Garden of Eden, or as some metaphor for bad acts, but as a living force. We are engaged in a constant battle for our souls, a struggle that demands more of us than being just passively good. We must confront and overcome evil.” He continued, “Never in my lifetime has evil been more clearly defined than in the specters of the Third Reich and the Japanese military of Emperor Hirohito.”38 Sweeney thus “received Communion” and recalled how “during the previous evening’s confession,” he had “taken Colonel Tibbets’s prohibition about discussing our impending mission literally, even within the priest penitent privilege of the confessional.” He reflected that he “would silently commune with God and tell Him about our mission.”39

The night before the Nagasaki mission, Sweeney recalls walking back to quarters “alone, turning over in my mind the details of the mission and the work to be done the next day in preparation for the flight,” and as he did so, a “nagging need to talk through my beliefs intruded on my thoughts. My faith and belief in God were the core of who I was. Since I was a child I had found guidance in the teachings of Jesus and the Church. Jesus taught us to love. He turned the other cheek. Where would He draw the line?”40 And so he borrowed a jeep and “drove over to one of the other groups, the 313th Bombardment Wing, our neighbors on Tinian.” Sweeney said, “Although I could have met with Captain Downey, a Lutheran minister assigned to the 509th, I wanted to speak with a priest.”41 After finding the priest, he and Sweeney “walked over to the open-air theater where Sunday services were held,” where the statue of Madonna stood, where they “found two straight-back metal chairs off to one side and sat facing each other.”42

Sweeney was sure the priest recognized that he was from the 509th and that now he must have known what the 509th’s mission had been the day beforebut “he made no comment about that and neither did I. He began by asking me what I would like to talk about” and said, “Do you feel the need to confess?”43 Sweeney found this question helped to focus him, and while he didn’t “feel the need to confess,” he did feel “a need to talk about the teachings of my church and the world in which I found myself that evening,” and “to understand the Church’s position on the war. I needed to pursue the meaning behind its teachings that under certain circumstances war may be ‘justified.’ ”44

Sweeney then asked, “Is it a sin to wage war, Father?”45

The priest replied, “This is a question I have spent considerable time thinking about myself. For here I am, a cleric, in uniform, in a war.’

But you’re not a combatant, Father. You simply tend to the spiritual needs of those called to fight.” . . .

That is true. But I bless the men and their airplanes that fly off to kill and be killed. I condone their actions by my blessings. So it is not that simple. Fortunately, our faith recognizes that man is a thinking being endowed with intellect. God wants us to think, to reason about the consequences of our actions and inactions. For me, then, whether this is a just war is not an academic exercise. I have to consider the circumstances and measure them against the moral teachings of the Church and then reach a personal conclusion, as must you and every Christian.”46 After a momentary pause, the priest continued, “Someone far more saintly than you or I, Thomas Aquinas, struggled with this same question.”47

Sweeney remembered some of Aquinas’s teachings from his earlier religious readings and how he had “brought his intellect to bear upon real-world dilemmas that plague the human condition, like the anomaly of war”; he had “concluded that in the real world there were situations that render a war ‘just.’ ”48 The priest explained to Sweeney that Aquinas “believed that under certain circumstances war is justified” and that in such cases “the cause must be just” and “the intention must be to advance the common good—to secure peace and punish evil. And, finally, a just war must be declared by the lawful sovereign in defense of the common good. The absence of any one of these elements would make the act of war a sin.”49

Sweeney and the priest “talked at length about these conditions,” and Sweeney grew confident in his realization that “our intention in the Pacific was to stop the Japanese aggression, to eradicate the evil that festered in Japan, and to restore peace—just as in Europe we had to stop the Nazis. To stand by and allow the slaughter to continue would have been a repudiation of the sanctity of life.”50 Sweeney did not mention Hiroshima or the next atomic mission scheduled for August 9th. But he does recall asking the priest, “What about weapons of mass destruction? Are they justified?” The priest considered this for what seemed a long time before answering:

War as we know it today is mass destruction. The weapons may become more fearsome, but the moral issues are the same. The death of a single person is no less a tragedy than the death of ten thousand. Will greater weapons bring a quicker end to the war? I don’t know. But you must be certain of your cause and your intentions, because the nature of modern weapons makes the stakes much higher.” Neither of us had noticed that we were sitting in almost complete darkness, the only light coming from the window of an adjoining hut. He blessed me, wished me well, and said he hoped he had helped. I assured him he had. I was at peace with myself.51

The next day, just as the mission was getting underway, Sweeney writes that the chaplain, Chaplain Downey, “offered a prayer beseeching the Lord to see us safely through the mission. The words I remember well were, ‘Above all else, our Father, bring peace to thy world.’ ”52

The Blessing of the Bomb

Decades after the atomic missions, one of the 509th’s two chaplains, Catholic chaplain George Zabelka, would publicly—and vocally—repent and not only renounce war but return to Nagasaki to beg the forgiveness of its survivors. In contrast, his protestant counterpart, Chaplain William Downey, would continue to believe in the justness of the atomic mission—and to defend the rightness of its blessing—to the very end of his life. Zabelka would eventually renounce all violence, and he described his moral transformation in a speech delivered on the 40th anniversary of the attack. The speech was reprinted in the religious blog, “Blessing the Bombs: The Hiroshima Bombers’ Chaplain Faces Christ,” and republished as an online article on in 2011 nearly two decades after Zabelka’s passing.53

In Zabelka’s 1985 speech, he states that the

destruction of civilians in war was always forbidden by the church, and if a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him, absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful. But in 1945 Tinian Island was the largest airfield in the world. Three planes a minute could take off from it around the clock. Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of children and civilians—and I said nothing. I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who were doing it. I was brainwashed! It never entered my mind to protest publicly the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary—told openly by the military and told implicitly by my church’s leadership.54

Zabelka came to believe that during “the last 1700 years the church has not only been making war respectable: it has been inducing people to believe it is an honorable profession, an honorable Christian profession. This is not true. We have been brainwashed. This is a lie.”55 Thus, on the 40th anniversary of “this terrible atrocity carried out by Christians,” he remarked, “I must be the first to say that I made a terrible mistake. . . . As Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group, I was the final channel that communicated this fraudulent image of Christ to the crews of the Enola Gay and the Boxcar.”56 He continues,

All I can say today is that I was wrong. Christ would not be the instrument to unleash such horror on his people. Therefore no follower of Christ can legitimately unleash the horror of war on God’s people. Excuses and self-justifying explanations are without merit. All I can say is: I was wrong! I was there, and I was wrong. I say with my whole heart and soul I am sorry. I beg forgiveness. I asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas (the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings). . . . I fell on my face there at the peace shrine after offering flowers, and I prayed for forgiveness—for myself, for my country, for my church We embraced. We cried. Tears flowed. That is the first step of reconciliation—admission of guilt and forgiveness. Pray to God that others will find this way to peace. All religions have taught brotherhood. All people want peace. It is only the governments and war departments that promote war and slaughter. So today again I call upon people to make their voices heard. . . . Silence, doing nothing, can be one of the greatest sins.57

Zabelka further remarked that the

bombing of Nagasaki means even more to me than the bombing of Hiroshima. By August 9, 1945, we knew what that bomb would do, but we still dropped it. We knew that agonies and sufferings would ensue, and we also knew—at least our leaders knew—that it was not necessary. The Japanese were already defeated. They were already suing for peace. But we insisted on unconditional surrender, and this is even against the Just War theory. Once the enemy is defeated, once the enemy is not able to hurt you, you must make peace. As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Bock’s Car, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan. I knew that St. Francis Xavier, centuries before, had brought the Catholic faith to Japan. I knew that schools, churches, and religious orders were annihilated. And yet I said nothing. Thank God that I’m able to stand here today and speak out against war, all war.58

This view would not be the case for his protestant counterpart, Chaplain Downey. Gary G. Kohls, in his 8 August 2010 article “Reflections on the Ninth of August,” writes how “on the 9th of August 1945, Lutheran Chaplain William B. Downey of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, prayed for the safety of the crew and for world peace just before the Nagasaki bombing mission” and preserves the full text of Downey’s prayer:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we pray Thee to be gracious with those who fly this night. Guard and protect those of us who venture out into the darkness of Thy heaven.

Uphold them on Thy wings. Keep them safe both in body and soul and bring them back to us.

Give to us all courage and strength for the hours that are ahead; give to them rewards according to their efforts. Above all else, our Father, bring peace to Thy world. May we go forward trusting in Thee and knowing we are in Thy presence now and forever. Amen.59

In contrast to Chaplain Zabelka, Downey would continue defending the justness of the 1945 atomic missions, and the righteousness of his blessing of the mission, for the rest of his life, as recounted in a news article on his passing in 1994 in the Orlando Sentinel:60

Downey was in the control tower when the B-29 Superfortress labored on takeoff with the seven-ton bomb in its belly. For a while, he didn’t think the plane would make it, but it did, and the rest is history. The United States’ first wartime atomic bomb detonated at 8:16 a.m. about 1,900 feet above ground, destroying the city of Hiroshima and spelling the end of the war. There was little question the United States was preparing an invasion of mainland Japan and “that would have been a bloody business. Millions of casualties would have resulted from an invasion,” Downey said. ‘‘I know everybody was happy as a bird when it was over. That sounds pretty horrible. You’ve just killed 100,000 people and destroyed a city, and (saying) you’re happy as the dickens sounds pretty peculiar,” Downey said as he showed me old newspaper clippings and wartime photos.

He defended it (dropping the bomb) all the way,” said Gladys, his wife of 50 years, when I talked to her recently from their home in Fox Point, Wis. . . . He considered his role a small one, but Downey took intense pride in his part in an event that changed the course of history. Predictably, he got upset in August 1984 when he read about memorial services commemorating the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Japan.

According to the wire story, one of the guest speakers was the Rev. George Zabelka, reportedly the chaplain who blessed the flight crew of the Enola Gay before it took off Aug. 6. Downey was steamed and his ire grew even more because the wire story suggested Zabelka regretted that the bomb had been dropped. “People are going to think that’s me—it’s not. I’m glad they dropped it. It saved a lot of lives,” Downey said. His wife vividly remembers the incident. “That was really wild. Bill confronted that fellow someplace in Florida and he backed down,’ she said.61

The “Near Failure” at Nagasaki:

As the Fog of War Interferes with the Mission, Sweeney Goes for a Hail Mary to End the War

Can any other g-dd---ed thing go wrong?”62

Nagasaki mission pilot Charles Sweeney

In stunning contrast with the Hiroshima mission, where everything went according to plan, nearly everything that could go wrong—with very few exceptions—did go wrong. This was verified by crew members and the 509th’s commanding officer, Col Paul W. Tibbets, who was the pilot for the flawlessly executed Hiroshima mission only days before. Tibbets came to believe that an unjustified collapse of command discipline and leadership led the pilot, 25-year-old Major Sweeney, whom he had hand-picked for the mission, to endanger the mission.

Indeed, Sweeney would thrice delay the mission—at its start, when a nonessential fuel pump failed; at the rendezvous point just off Japan when one of two observation aircraft failed to arrive; and as the aircraft circled the city of Kokura in search of a hole in the cloud cover below—circling not once, not twice, but at least three times. (Sweeney, in his final interview, conducted in 2002 just two years before he passed away, described a fourth attempt, but all other records indicate it was three.) With each pass, the flak grew ever closer, and the risk to the mission increased with each attempt.

Carl von Clausewitz, the famed nineteenth century Prussian theorist of war, would describe multiple inherent “trinities of war”—interconnected patterns of three, such as the three core pillars of war—the people, the armed forces, and the government. Conventional warfare, of the sort fought during the nineteenth century by the major European powers, has often been described since as “trinitarian warfare,” distinct of course from the “Holy Trinity” of Christianity and unrelated to the “Trinity” test held only weeks before the two atomic missions set forth from Tinian. On August 9th, it seemed, the mission would be doomed by its own trinitarian forces—perhaps of both the Clausewitzian and holy variants.

Had Sweeney followed his orders to the letter, which were explicit—wait no more than 15 minutes at the rendezvous point!—he would have arrived at Kokura with clear skies ideal for a visual bomb run and with sufficient fuel to ensure a safe return to base. It was not so much that Sweeney’s mission was plagued by errors but more, perhaps, that Tibbets’s was blessed with perfection. As Clausewitz has also observed, the real world of war is marked by the persistence of friction and uncertainty, which he famously called the “fog of war.” In Sweeney’s case, it was literally a “haze” of war that thwarted his efforts to ensure a visual drop on Kokura, a direct result of his earlier refusal to obey Tibbets’s clear directive to stay at the rendezvous point no more than 15 minutes.

The pressure on the 25-year-old Sweeney was, of course, enormous! He had been handpicked by Tibbets but had never commanded a mission in combat before—a decision that Tibbets would come to regret deeply. He would not hesitate in later years to criticize Sweeney’s performance. In Tibbets’s memoirs, he admitted to having little to do with Sweeney after the war, so ashamed he was that Sweeney was the sole “black mark” on the 509th.63

For his part, Sweeney would always show respect for his commander, despite the rain of criticism he received in the postwar years. Indeed, in Sweeney’s memoir, he offers a “special tribute to General Paul W. Tibbets, one of our military’s great leaders and the finest pilot I have ever met. I was honored that he chose me to participate in this extraordinary undertaking.”64 Sweeney seems to recognize that fortune as well as the inescapable fog of war that cast a shadow on his mission from the very get go. He writes of the “many surprises and near misses that would plague my mission to Nagasaki and test the dedication and skills of my flight crew and me.”65 Sweeney is the first to admit surprise that he was entrusted to lead so important a mission and recalls how after Hiroshima, the Japanese military “was arguing that the weapon must be so complicated it was unlikely we had more. They were wrong by only one. Having sustained the worst we could inflict, they could certainly fight on.”66 Yet, he said, Tibbets “was entrusting me to deliver the knockout punch with my first combat mission command.”67 As Sweeney’s crew members (fig. 2) assembled beside the Bockscar for the preflight inspection, Sweeney “decided that as the mission commander it was incumbent upon me to say a few words of encouragement to my men about so pivotal a mission” and told them, “You were all with me the other day at Hiroshima. It was a perfect mission flown by Colonel Tibbets. Perfectly executed, perfectly flown, and dropped on the button. I want our mission to be exactly the same—for Colonel Tibbets. He has chosen us: and we owe him and our country the same. We will execute this mission perfectly and get the bomb to the target. I don’t care if I have to dive the airplane into the target, we’re going to deliver it.”68

Figure 2. Boeing B-29 crew photo taken 11 August 1945, two days after the Nagasaki mission. Note there is no nose art on the aircraft. (US Air Force photo)

Perhaps Tibbets’s seemingly frictionless mission set an impossible bar to match; perhaps it is the nature of war itself to simply confound expectations and for the fog of war to reassert itself with even greater consequence after its absence. By the time the Bockscar reached Kokura, the city had become overclouded. On top of that, haze and smoke had drifted in from a nearby city only recently attacked by an incendiary mission, making conditions even less likely for a visual drop. With the remaining fuel supply rapidly diminishing, no prior training on a radar drop, and orders expressly forbidding anything other than a visual bomb run, Sweeney turned the Bockscar’s nose toward Nagasaki—just 97 miles and 20 minutes flying time to the south.

First-Person Voices from the Nagasaki Mission Crew

A rich literature of memoirs, speeches, archival documents, and interviews has left us with several perspectives from inside the cabin and cockpit of the Bockscar as it circuitously rumbled its way to Nagasaki on August 9th; these perspectives agree on the major events but differ in their analysis of cause and effect. All agree that Kokura was the intended target and that were it not for the cumulating delays, Nagasaki would never have become part of our history books. The events began with a reserve-tank fuel pump, accelerated with a high-altitude rendezvous, and peaked after repeated unsuccessful efforts at visual bomb runs against Kokura—each thwarted by a persistence in cloud cover, ground haze, and drifting smoke from an earlier American incendiary strike. Nearly half a millennium of faith tested by the cleansing fires of martyrdom, mass execution, torture, and exile would not have faced this final test of atomic annihilation were it not, seemingly, for a whole lot of bad timing in the sky above and a series of tactical errors and misjudgments—by men who ironically shared the faith and prayed to the same God. They also shared the divine image of the Madonna, as Sweeney had experienced the night before his ill-fated mission, which led him to steer Bockscar over the Urakami valley—the heart and soul of Christian Japan. A look at the events unfolding in the sky reveals the cascading collapse of order as frictional forces collided and compounded. The fog of war would result in the Christians of the Urakami valley paying a heavy price, finding solace only in their faith to endure this new, unprecedented test of atomic fire—the very hansai itself. The series of events unfolds through the firsthand experiences described below.

The night of our takeoff was one of tropical rain squalls and flashes of lightning stabbed into the darkness with disconcerting regularity. The weather forecast told us of storms all the way from the Marianas to the Empire. Our rendezvous was to be off the southeast coast of Kyushu, some fifteen hundred miles away. There we were to join with our two companion observation B-29s that took off a few minutes behind us.69

CDR Frederick L. Ashworth, USN
Weaponeer, Bockscar

August 9, 1945 is a day which I shall never forget, for it was the date on which I flew aboard the B-29 aircraft “Bock’s Car” as the Bombardier on the second atomic bomb mission during World War II. Our takeoff from North Field on Tinian, a small island in the Marianas group in the W. Pacific, was uneventful.

However, while climbing en route to Japan, our flight engineer advised, that due to a fuel pump failure, 500 gallons of fuel in the rear bomb bay was trapped. At the time this did not seem to be a problem as the flight plan indicated that ample fuel would still be available. We proceeded to our rendezvous point, a small island off of the coast of Japan, when we effected a rendezvous with tine instrumentation aircraft almost immediately - but we could not link up with the photographic aircraft both of which were to accompany us over the target. We circled the island for some length of time, consuming considerable fuel in the process. It was decided to proceed with the flight without the photographic aircraft.

As we approached what had been selected as the primary target, Kokura, site of the largest arsenal in Japan, to our dismay, the target was completely obscured by clouds and industrial haze. We had strict orders that the bomb must be released under visual conditions, that is that the Bombardier must be able to sight the target through his bombsight. In any attempt to fulfill this requirement, we made three approaches to the target from a different direction hoping to sight the target from a different angle of view. But to no avail ... fuel supply was now becoming a matter of concern. We proceeded to take a direct course to the secondary target, Nagasaki, Japan. It was determined that only enough fuel remained for only one bomb run.

Visibility over the Nagasaki area was very poor . . . 8 to 9 tenths of cloud coverage prevailed. The decision was made that, if necessary, we would drop the bomb by radar in spite of the edict stipulating visual release only, as we had insufficient fuel to return the bomb to our home base.

We proceeded on the bomb run under radar control until 20 to 30 seconds from bomb release when I saw a hole developing in the clouds over the target area. I took over control of the bomb run and selected an aiming point in the industrial valley in Nagasaki. Fortunately the radar team had made an excellent initial bomb approach, and in the very brief time remaining I was able to synchronize the cross-hairs of the bomb sight on the taret and release the bomb visually with “good” results being achieved.

It was as if a great weight had been lifted from our shoulders since we did succeed in following the order “visual drop only!” Fuel was not critical and we made a bee line to our emergency landing site in Okinawa. . . . We had enough fuel for one landing attempt. We landed OK and as we taxied up to the airfield ramp both outboard engines sputtered to a stop . . . fuel starvation! It was really a “sweat job.” After we finally returned to Tinian after being debriefed did I realize it was my 27th birthday. We celebrate into the night.70

Capt Kermit K. Beahan
Bombardier, Bockscar

Bombed Nagasaki 090158Z, visually with no fighter opposition and no flak. Results “technically successful” but other factors involved make conference necessary before taking further steps. Visible effects about equal to Hiroshima. Trouble in airplane following deliver requires us to proceed to Okinawa. Fuel only to get to Okinawa.71

S/Sgt Abe Spitze
Radio Operator, Bockscar
Text of Radio Message to Tinian Home Base from Bockscar

As of the 9th of August, 1945, after having dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, it was necessary that I transmit an amplifying strike report to my headquarters on Tinian. Our strike report in flight needed clarification. Through no fault of ours the bomb detonated a mile or so away from the designated aiming point, namely the middle of the city of Nagasaki. Weather conditions, clouds in the area, precluded Major Beahan from making a normal run on the target. When it opened up he released the bomb on what he thought was his aiming point. It turned out to be the Mitsubishi arms works on the Urakami river valley beyond the city.

Once I landed on Okinawa due to shortage of fuel, I went to General Doolittle’s H.Q. to report to him and get his assistance in sending my strike report. He listened to my story and said, ‘I am sure General Spaatz will be much happier that the bomb went off in the valley and not over the city of Nagasaki. Now I’ll help you send your report.”

CDR Frederick L. Ashworth, USN
Weaponeer, Bockscar

The explosion had cleared out much of the cloud cover but nowhere in the vicinity of the base of the mushroom cloud was there any city to be seen. There was the same boiling mass of debris with new fires breaking out all around. There was one difference however; there were undisturbed parts of the city to be seen behind the hills surrounding the area we had hit.

Unlike Hiroshima, where we felt two distinct shock waves hit the airplane, this time there were three components. This caused some concern up front. Commander Ashworth reasoned that normally there would be only two components; the direct component from immediately above the explosion, and the reflected from immediately below the explosion. A third component had to be coming from the side, and if this were true we were out of our primary target area. A close examination of the chart by himself and the Navigator led them to conclude that instead of hitting the main part of the city, we had hit the Urakami Valley just northwest of the city and in reality had missed our briefed aiming point by some 1 1/2 to 2 miles!72

Lt Jacob Beser
Radar Specialist, Bockscar

The shock explosion was felt by those of us in the strike plane. The turbulence of the blast was greater than that at Hiroshima. Even though we were prepared for what happened, it was unbelievable. Seven or eight miles from the city shock waves as visible as ripples on a pond overtook our plane, and concussion waves twice thumped against the plane jolting it roughly.

The underside of the great clouds over Nagasaki was amber-tinted, as though reflecting the conflagration at least six miles below. Beneath the top cloud mass, white in color, there gradually climbed a turbulent pillar of black smoke and dust which emitted a second fireball less vivid than the first. It rose as solid as a stump, its base dark purple, with a reddish hue in the center that paled to brown near the top. As we headed away from the city, our last look showed a thick cone of dust covering half of it. On its rim near the harbor great fires were raging.73

Maj Charles Sweeney, USAF
Flight Commander, Bockscar

Since it has happened, I have often thought about the people who were on the ground. I did not think about them the two days that we made the trips. Likely, in all honesty, I can say I did not think about them maybe until about a month or so later. But as you get into your years and you see pictures of these different situations and people at the memorials, your heart goes out and you say, why did it happen? But it had to happen.

Now the reason I say it had to happen is, because it was analyzed that we were going to lose an awful lot of people. Little was it realized, but it was a known fact that the Purple Hearts that were printed during World War II and the Bronze Stars, there were enough of them to be issued for the Korean War and for the Vietnam War for the Purple Hearts. Now Purple Hearts are given for wounds or for death. For the Bronze Star, it is given for battles. So if we had enough of those that were minted in World War II, we certainly must have analyzed, the loss must have been going to be something fantastic.74

Sgt Ray Gallagher
Assistant Flight Engineer, Bockscar

You F---ed Up, Didn’t You, Chuck?”

Maj Gen Curtis LeMay

Upon his return to Tinian, Sweeney would get a cool reception from Tibbets and an even cooler reception the next morning from Maj Gen Curtis LeMay, head of Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, who famously told Sweeney, “You f---ed up, didn’t you, Chuck?”75 But LeMay realized an investigation into the conduct of the Nagasaki mission could serve no useful purpose and let the matter drop. John Coster-Mullen, a historian of the 509th, suggests responsibility for the mission’s near failure rests ultimately with Tibbets himself, as he argued in a keynote speech to the surviving members of the 509th on Tinian on 9 August 2005. He cited Jacob Beser, radar operator on the Bockscar: “Tibbets picked Sweeney to command the mission based on friendship even though he had never flown a single combat mission. This risky decision almost proved disastrous to say the least.”76 In his 2005 speech, Coster-Mullen recounts from a 1995 letter and from the reissue of Tibbets’s autobiography in 1998 that Tibbets viewed Sweeney’s complaints about the fuel problem as an example of his indecisiveness and failure to command. He also thought that Sweeney’s first mistake was wasting time attempting to assemble his element. From that point on “confusion reigned” in the cockpit, as Sweeney “was listening to Ashworth and consequently gave up ‘command’ of his plane. Nobody was really in command until Kuharek made it clear they were critically short of fuel.”77

Sweeney has been criticized over the years for waiting over the rendezvous point for as long as he did. Because of the acute fuel situation, the unnecessarily long delay severely jeopardized any possibility of returning safely to an allied base with Fat Man in case the mission had to be aborted. Tibbets pointed out how one can never tell in advance how someone might act under fire; when Coster-Mullen asked him if, in hindsight he would have picked Sweeney again for the mission, Tibbets “snapped, ‘No! Absolutely not! I should have chosen Marquardt since George was a good pilot, he had a good crew, he had been shot at, and nobody could BS him.’ ” Tibbets suggested as much in a 2004 speech he gave at Air Force Museum: “That airplane flew around for an hour and a half without anyone commanding it. . . . I didn’t have that much to do with Sweeney after Nagasaki because he was the only bad mark on the whole 509th all the time it existed.”78 But Coster-Mullen concludes that “considering all of the problems, however, the mission was still considered a tremendous success. They had been over enemy territory longer than any plane in World War II and had overcome almost insurmountable odds to bring success to a project that turned out to be the shortest time between development and combat use of any munition in the history of modern warfare! It is not that things went wrong on the second mission, but that so much went right on the first.”79

Air Force Magazine former editor in chief John T. Correll describes in his seminal July 2011 article, appropriately titled “Near Failure at Nagasaki,” the finger-pointing that erupted among the Nagasaki mission crew. He remarks,

Leading figures in the operation differed in the way they remembered and told the story, but their disagreement was not widely known until the 1990s. An unsuccessful attempt by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in 1994 to exhibit the Enola Gay in a politically charged exhibit inspired Sweeney to write his memoirs, published in 1997.

Ashworth wrote a letter to Sweeney’s publisher itemizing numerous mistakes. In 1998, Tibbets revised his memoirs, adding a chapter on Nagasaki, sharply critical of Sweeney.

Sweeney blames Hopkins for the delay at the rendezvous point, but Tibbets blames both Ashworth and Sweeney,” said historian Donald L. Miller. “Tibbets is convinced that Ashworth told Sweeney to wait for the observation plane.”

Ashworth said that “we had the wrong guy flying the plane,” Miller added. “Yet he blames Tibbets for picking Sweeney.”

But everyone would credit bombardier Beahan for saving the mission from failure: “‘Major General Sweeney wouldn’t be a general and Admiral Ashworth wouldn’t be an admiral if Beahan hadn’t done the job that he did,’ said Ashworth.”80

Like Coster-Mullen, Correll concludes that the “amazing thing is that, despite all, the mission succeeded. The military results were more effective and the death toll was lower than if the operation had been flown as planned. Nagasaki was the final blow that induced the Japanese to surrender, bringing World War II to an end.”81

Lessons of Nagasaki: Faith, Fog, Friction . . . but No Fury

The historical record of the events in the air on 9 August 1945 has been largely filled in with the memoirs of the Bockscar crew members, especially since their collapse of unity in the 1990s—fueled by the controversial (and canceled) Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution that precipitated a new round of memoir writing and revising. This led to much finger-pointing about who was to blame for the mission’s near failure. These incriminations opened up an important window to the cascade in tactical errors during the Nagasaki mission and the seeming collapse in command discipline in the sky that led to the Bockscar’s late arrival at Kokura, and the even later decision to turn south toward Nagasaki. Crew memoirs, interviews, and speeches shed light on the mission’s many twists and turns. On the ground, the heroic struggle of Dr. Takashi Nagai to find meaning and to nurture forgiveness among the survivors won the hearts and minds of Japanese Christians and Buddhists alike. Today, Nagasaki celebrates its Christian heritage—one it once sought to extinguish—and does not overly dwell on the atomic attack in contrast to Hiroshima, which has become the defining historical event.

Our collective memory of the brief four days of atomic warfare that closed out World War II and paved the way forward to the Cold War era generally minimizes the second detonation. The tendency by so many is to emphasize the first, nearly flawless mission to Hiroshima—from its pinpoint precision during the atomic bomb drop to the emotionally charged response by the people of Hiroshima who have ever since led the struggle to prevent “future Hiroshimas” (as opposed to “future Nagasakis”) from happening. But what of Nagasaki? What can we learn from this less perfect mission? Why has Nagasaki’s voice been relatively silent in the years since the atomic destruction? Why have its lessons been less studied, its legacy less asserted? Perhaps it is because of Dr. Nagai’s influence, which has been so enduring that it, in effect, yielded the antinuclear stage to Hiroshima. But curiously, beyond Nagasaki where Nagai is remembered universally as the “Saint of the Atom Bomb,” he is less well known. Indeed, I once asked a Japanese Christian missionary at Hiroshima’s Peace Park, a popular spot to proselytize, about Nagai’s influence, and he turned to me and asked, “Who is Dr. Nagai?”

The outcome of the second mission is a primary reason why Nagasaki’s voice has been, relative to Hiroshima, largely overlooked. Its architects had no desire to publicize the mission. This is especially true of the founding chief of the 509th Composite Group, Paul Tibbets, who flew flawlessly on 6 August and on whose shoulders fell the heavy responsibility of literally inventing the art of atomic warfare. He would come to view the errors of the Nagasaki mission as a black mark on his otherwise perfect legacy. Did this contribute to the subsequent vacuum that has led so many to imagine the atomic attacks as being defined by Hiroshima, with Nagasaki—and its more powerful bomb, less accurate drop, and collateral damage that includes the decimation of the Christians of the Urakami Valley—all but ignored in the popular mind?

Because Nagasaki’s lessons are about what can and did go wrong on only the second (and thus far, last) atomic mission, and, perhaps, despite the mission’s many tactical errors and collapse in cockpit discipline, Japan agreed to surrender less than one week later, strategic victory in the end trumped tactical failure. The lessons have thus been largely overlooked by many of the most vociferous stakeholders who defined the postwar narrative on the atomic strikes. It is important that we rediscover these errors and study the near failure of this consequential mission since warfare—whether atomic or conventional—is full of frictional uncertainties and always will be. If in history’s only atomic war, one involving only two bombs, the second could go so awry after the near-flawless first bombing, then there is obviously much that can go wrong. Two bombs were dropped, but in essence, only one target was hit. In the one that missed, not only was the primary target left untouched but the secondary target was only partly destroyed. These events left an ambiguous impression of the absoluteness of this new class of weapon that would linger until the advent of even more destructive thermonuclear weapons—after which the dangers of friction and fog in atomic war became even graver.

Indeed, in atomic warfare, the consequences are truly grave—as the Christians of the Urakami Valley learned through their sacrifice. Things can go dangerously wrong. Nagasaki is proof; it serves as a warning cry for posterity of the tragic and epic cost of tactical error and the specter of mission failure in the nuclear age. Should it prove that Nagasaki is not the last atomic strike mission, that future wars escalate beyond the nuclear threshold, and that the long nuclear taboo is finally broken, then this mission’s “near failure” will be especially critical to study. If in a war with only two nuclear missions one can spin so out of control—so much so that the true military-industrial target of Kokura was not only missed but its collateral damage included a deeply spiritual Christian community intimately bound to the West in faith and history—what might happen in a future war with perhaps multiple thermonuclear strikes of far greater destructive power? Will the fog of war turn nuclear war into a truly irrational, incalculably uncontrollable act? Will such a war be the “spasm” or “insensate” warfare imagined by nuclear theorist Herman Kahn at the top of his 44-rung escalation ladder—breaking modern warfare’s ties to its long, rational Clausewitzian tradition?

Faith under Fire: Reconciling Christian Values with Atomic Realities

As we transition beyond the 75th anniversary of the atomic strike missions that ended World War II, the number of survivors from both sides continues to decline. Already, we have lost all the members of the Kokura (Nagasaki) mission crew, and many of the Hibakusha are also no longer with us to share their memories of this tragic day. But several memoirs (published and unpublished) preserve many of these firsthand accounts, allowing us to weave together primary observations from the victims of this atomic assault with those in the sky above who delivered the hansai upon them. Together, their fates collided that day, and most of those who survived would struggle to reconcile their faith with the enormity of the suffering from this unprecedented atomic fire.

Some would be inspired by Dr. Nagai’s message of forgiveness, persuaded by his convictions that God had chosen the purest of spirit to ascend like his beloved Midori to the very gates of Heaven upon the mushroom cloud, leaving only those unworthy behind. But for others, their spiritual journey was a slower one, marked by doubts, requiring an evolution in their thinking and believing. Such was the case with the mission chaplain, Father Zabelka, who in the end renounced his blessing of the bomb. These views from above and below, bound together in what was largely an accident of history, shed light on one of World War II's greatest—and perhaps least understood—tragedies. It would take several more decades for Christian theologians to comfortably integrate the horrors of atomic warfare with the ends-means balance of just war theory, even though early theorists of atomic warfare immediately realized the purpose of the bomb could only be the avoidance of, and not the winning of, future wars. Because the Kokura mission went wrong in so many ways, America's war planners would come to the very same conclusion—and despite the speedy and nearly unconditional surrender of our hitherto implacable enemy, we would never use such a weapon again.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the official views or policies of the United States Coast Guard Academy, United States Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, or any other branch or service of the United States government. Cleared for public release: distribution unlimited.

Barry Scott Zellen

Dr. Zellen is a research scholar specializing in international relations with regional expertise in the Arctic and Pacific regions. In 2019 he was appointed the Class of 1965 Arctic Scholar at the United States Coast Guard Academy’s Center for Arctic Study and Policy (CASP) and was a 2020 Fulbright Scholar in the University of Akureyri's Polar Law Program. Dr. Zellen holds a PhD in international relations from the University of Lapland, an MA in political science from UC Berkeley, and a BA in government from Harvard University. In additon to his many books on the Arctic and global indigenous issues, Dr. Zellen is also the author of several strategic studies books. These include the four-volume The Realist Tradition in International Relations: The Foundations of Western Order (Praeger Security International, ABC-Clio, 2011); State of Doom: Bernard Brodie, the Bomb, and the Birth of the Bipolar World (Continuum Books, 2011); The Art of War in an Asymmetric World: Strategy for the Post–Cold War Era (Continuum Books, 2012); and State of Recovery: The Quest to Restore American Security After 9/11 (Bloomsbury, January 2013).


1 Fred J. Olivi, Decision at Nagasaki: The Mission That Almost Failed, self-pub, January 1, 1999, 7.

2 John T. Correll, “Near Failure at Nagasaki,” Air Force Magazine, July 2011,

3 On the Christian dimensions and dynamics of the Nagasaki bombing, see Br. Anthony Josemaria, "The Catholic Holocaust of Nagasaki —'Why, Lord?' The Witness of the Catholics of Nagasaki Shows God’s Providence in the Darkest of Times,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, August 1, 2010,; for an introduction to the historic oppression of Japanese Christianity, see Yvette Tan, "The Japanese Christians forced to trample on Christ," BBC News, November 24, 2019, For a detailed scholarly history of this period, see George Elison, Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan, Harvard East Asian Monographs, vol. 141, 1973. For a detailed biographical portrait of Takashi Nagai, the famed radiographer and leader of Nagasaki’s Christian community who applied the term hansai (cleansing fire of martyrdom) to the atomic strike on his community, which includes synopses of Nagai’s prolific body of published works, see Fr. Paul Glynn, A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai: Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb (Ignatius Press, 2009).

4 On the divergent historical memory and community response to the twin atomic bombings, see Glynn, Song for Nagasaki, as well as John W. Dower, "The Bombed: Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in Japanese Memory," Diplomatic History 19, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 275–95; and Okuyama Michiaki, "Religious Responses to the Atomic Bombing in Nagasaki," Bulletin 37 (2013): 64–76.

5 Josemaria, “Catholic Holocaust of Nagasaki.”

6 See Glynn, Song for Nagasaki, for a detailed biographical portrait of Nagai and his writings.

7 Glynn; Dower, “The Bombed”; and Michiaki, “Religious Responses.”

8 Takashi Nagai, mentioned above, married into a prominent Nagasaki Christian family that had only recently experienced the transition from “Hidden Kirishitans” to openly practicing their faith in Nagasaki, and after embracing his new religion with an intense intellectual and spiritual passion, emerged as one of this community’s leaders. Nagai gained international fame through his post–World War II writings as he battled the combined effects of pre-war radiological exposure from his experimental and clinical use of X-rays and the radiation surge during and after the atomic strike. His impassioned articulation of the hansai theory would guide Nagasaki’s communal response in a different direction from the more politicized and activist response in Hiroshima.

9 See Josemaria, “Catholic Holocaust of Nagasaki”; Tan, “Japanese Christians”; Elison, Deus Destroyed; and Glynn, Song for Nagasaki, in addition to Nagai’s prolific oeuvre of published works on his experience of, and response to, the bombing through the lens of Nagasaki’s Christian history.

10 Josemaria; Glynn; Dower, “The Bombed”; and Michiaki, “Religious Responses.”

11 Glynn, 50. Also see Josemaria. For additional details on Miki’s noble death, see Patricia Mitchell, "A Samurai’s Noble Death: The Witness of St. Paul Miki," The Word Among Us, n.d.,

12 Glynn, 50.

13 Glynn, 50.

14 Glynn, 50.

15 Glynn, 51.

16 Glynn, 51.

17 Glynn, 52.

18 See Martìn Lasarte, "Amazon Synod: Are married priests really a solution? (Part One),", Octover 10, 2019, Also see Glynn, 52; and Simon Hull, "Discovering Nagasaki's Secret Christian Past," Japan Times, January 20, 2016,

19 Josemaria, “Catholic Holocaust of Nagasaki.”

20 Josemaria.

21 In addition to Glynn and Nagai’s many published books, see Josef Schilliger, The Saint of the Atomic Bomb (Newman Press, 1955), from which this phrase describing Nagai originates.

22 For additional details on Nagai and his use of the phrase Heiwa Wo, see Takahashi Shinji, "Listening to the Wishes of the Dead: In the Case of Dr. Nagai Takashi," trans. Brian Burke-Gaffney, Crossroads: A Journal of Nagasaki History and Culture website, As Shinji writes, "Nagai frequently wrote the wish heiwa wo (may peace reign) on shikishi poem cards. It should be remembered, however, the background of this wish was not only the appeals of the atomic bomb dead but also the countless deaths that he had witnessed on the battlefields of China. It was a cry of grief from the living for the dead, a desperate tear-filled scream of hatred for aggression and warfare."

23 Glynn, Song for Nagasaki, 257. Also see John W. Dower, "The Bombed: Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in Japanese Memory," Diplomatic History 19, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 275–95; and Michiaki, "Religious Responses,” 64–76.

24 Chad R. Diehl, “Resurrecting Nagasaki: Reconstruction, the Urakami Catholics, and Atomic Memory, 1945–1970” (doctoral thesis, Columbia University, 122–23). Diehl examines the full text of Nagai's edited funeral speech, as presented before the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral and the community’s survivors, including notes Nagai added prior to his delivery as well as portions he crossed out from his original. As Diehl observes, “In it he blended religious and historical interpretations of the tragedy to proclaim the exceptional character of the Urakami Catholics in the eyes of God” (Diehl, 121). See his full translated text of Nagai’s edited funeral speech in Diehl, 122–25. See also Glynn, 188; Takashi Nagai, The Bells of Nagasaki, tr. by William Johnston (Kodansha International, 1994); and John G. Brungardt, “Silencing the Bells of Nagasaki,” 9 August 2020, in John G. Brungardt: A Thomist Wondering about the Cosmos,

25 See Diehl, 123; Glynn; Nagai; and Brungardt.

26 Glynn, 243.

27 Takashi Nagai, "Atomic Bomb Rescue and Relief Report Report to the President of Nagasaki Medical University Regarding Activities of the 11th Medical Corps, August to October 1945," 71,

28 The story of Father Naguchi is presented in “All about Mary: Urakami Bombed Mary Statue,” International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton, n.d., See also “What Is the Story of the ‘Bombed’ Mary, a Marian Statue in Urakami, Japan?,” March 18, 2008, Ave Maria,

29 “Urakami Bombed Mary Statue”; and “What Is the Story of the ‘Bombed’ Mary?”

30 Fr. Stephen Lynch, OFM, "Chapter 7: Atom-bombed Nagasaki," August 10, 2005, as presented on the website of Franciscan Friars, Holy Name Province,

31 Lynch.

32 Lynch.

33 Lynch.

34 Lynch.

35 Lynch.

36 See Charles W. Sweeney, with James A. Antonucci and Marion K. Antonucci, War's End: An Eyewitness Account of America's Last Atomic Mission, chap. 14 (Simon and Schuster, originally published by Avon Books in 1997).

37 Sweeney, 156.

38 Sweeney, 157.

39 Sweeney, 157.

40 Sweeney, 185.

41 Sweeney, 185.

42 Sweeney, 186.

43 Sweeney, 186.

44 Sweeney, 186.

45 Sweeney, 186.

46 Sweeney, 186–87.

47 Sweeney, 187.

48 Sweeney, 187.

49 Sweeney, 187.

50 Sweeney, 188.

51 Sweeney, 188-89.

52 Sweeney, 201.

53 George Zabelka, "Blessing the Bombs," Plough, July 14, 2011, Zabelka’s article, published posthumously, was excerpted from a speech he gave at a Pax Christi conference in August 1985, an audiotape of which is preserved in the Notre Dame University Archives.

54 Zabelka.

55 Zabelka.

56 Zabelka.

57 Zabelka.

58 Zabelka.

59 Gary G. Kohls, "Reflections on the Ninth of August," Consortium News, August 8, 2010,

60 Bill Bond, "Chaplain Who Blessed Enola Crew Passes On," Orlando Sentinel, October 9, 1994,

61 Bond.

62 Sweeney, War's End, 216.

63 On Tibbets's regrets over his selection of Sweeney to pilot the Kokura mission, see O'rene Daille Ashley, "The Men Who Dropped the Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Today I Found Out, August 5, 2013, Ashley writes how after Sweeney published his memoirs of the mission, defending his leadership, "so indignant was Tibbets at Sweeney’s account, Tibbets added a chapter to his own memoirs, in which he vented his displeasure at Sweeney’s command of the bombing." For more details, see the meticulously detailed historical recovery and preservation efforts of John Coster-Mullen, Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man (J. Coster-Mullen, 2004). Coster-Mullen is profiled as "Atomic John" in the New Yorker. See David Samuels, "Atomic John: A Truck Driver Uncovers Secrets about the First Nuclear Bombs," New Yorker, December 15, 2008,

64 Sweeney, War’s End, viii.

65 Sweeney, 3.

66 Sweeney, 177.

67 Sweeney, 177.

68 Sweeney, 202.

69 See The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, chap. 7, “The Attacks,” The Avalon Project,

70 Kermit K. Beahan, “A Note from Kermit Beahan: ‘Thoughts concerning the Nagasaki A-Bomb mission’,” as excerpted in app. C of Frederick L. Ashworth, USN, An Autobiography (May 2001), American Veterans Center, 468,

71 Lane R. Earns, "Reflections from Above: An American Pilot's Perspective on the Mission Which Dropped the Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki," accessed July 2020,

72 Testimony of Jacob Beser (keynote address, 6th International SAMPE Electronic Materials and Processes Conference, 1992), in Artis International, "The Atomic Bombings of World War II: The Views of the Radar Man," accessed July 2020,

73 “Bombing of Nagasaki,” Awesome Stories, accessed July 2020,

74 “Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi's Interview – Part 2,” Voices of the Manhattan Project, accessed July 2020,

75 “Charles William Sweeney,” World War II Graves, accessed July 2020,

76 Testimony of Jacob Beser.

77 John Coster-Mullen, “Fat Man” (keynote speech, Tinian, August 9, 2005). See also Coster-Mullen, Atom Bombs, particularly chap. 6, “Nagasaki,” 69–87; and Ellen Bradbury and Sandra Blakeslee, "The Harrowing Story of the Nagasaki Bombing Mission," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 4, 2015, Tibbets recounts the mission in his 1998 reissue of his memoir; see Paul W. Tibbets, Return of the Enola Gay, chap. 33, “The Luck of the Irish” (Mid Coast Marketing, 1998), 245–51.

78 Coster-Mullen, “Fat Man.”

79 Coster-Mullen, “Fat Man”; and Coster-Mullen, Atom Bombs, 84.

80 Coster-Mullen, “Fat Man”; and Coster-Mullen, Atom Bombs.

81 Coster-Mullen, “Fat Man”; and Coster-Mullen, Atom Bombs.

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