This is a book filled with horrific details---there is no getting around that. People with blackened bodies covered in grass stems moving along in lines like ants, walking about desperate for water and for someone to help them. Tens of thousands of people obliterated in such a fashion that only their shadows remain in a bright spot against a wall. Mothers who abandon their children because they seem beyond help. Doctors who watch patients literally rot from the inside and spit out tapeworms that only leave a body when the tissue they live on is dead.
Horror heaped upon horror--dozens of people who flee one atomic blast zone
go to Nagasaki and are victims of yet another bombing. Somehow some 120 people manage to survive both blasts. But though they may be alive for some years longer, they envy those who were vaporized. Some overcome this and decide they are alive to tell the story. But will a world cushioned from such shocks believe them or their sanitized history books?
Many people who read Stephen King, Clive Barker or other horror novelists might find some of this material familiar territory. But King and Barker's material is largely the work of vivid imaginations and situations that will resolve themselves in one form or another as fiction always does.
But this book is not so dispensable on the side of good vs. evil. There is something about the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 that break the boundaries of warfare with its tragic but expected casualties of armed personnel and civilian deaths. It is humankind gone to the very core of matter to create a weapon so lethal nothing can deter it. It is a fury of energy so deadly that it is not within the realm of human imagination unless one is a victim of it. This is the most interesting aspect of the book: those who tell their stories of personal survival and watching other people--innocent people whose crime was to be born under the Empire of the Rising Sun--die in the most gruesome ways imaginable.
In a century that perfected trench warfare, rocket bombs, poison gas, fire-bombing of cities by hundreds of planes, napalm, and mass murder on a mechanized scale no conqueror could have imagined before this time, the Atom Bomb makes all this seem a rehearsal somehow to some ending of all human endeavor, a hole we cannot dig out of and go on, a blade always at our throats.
This book contains a great deal of direct eyewitness accounts of the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While some stories might be familiar to readers--such as the little girl Sadako Sasaki who survived the Hiroshima blast on August 6, 1945 as a two year old and ten years later constructed over a thousand "peace cranes" out of paper while slowly dying in a hospital. But most of the you-are-there accounts of the most horrific single man-made explosions in history were brand new to me, and I suspect to others who haven't focused on the fate of the survivors of this story.
Pellagrino is not interested in giving us an argument for or against the dropping of these bombs, perhaps because that is a topic that has been exhausted by sixty-four years of his predecessors. What he does in a very empathic fashion is simply tell the stories of those who lived on somehow to tell the story of what happened to the people who died in that unleashed destruction of the very matter of human, plant and animal life (called "Pika-Don" or "flash-bang" by the Japanese.)
This book has run into its share of controversy since it was published earlier this year. Two or three of Charles Pellagrino sources for the book have not been able to be collaborated as being part of the flight crew of "Bock's Car", the plane that dropped the plutonium bomb "Fat Man" on a suburb of Nagasaki at 11:00am on August 9, 1945. The explosion wiped out most of the city in a flash and later sickened and killed its victims with burns and radiation poisoning for years afterwards. Three days earlier the bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" was dropped on Hiroshima.
For years afterward Japanese, American and British scientists went to these two cities to try and determine just what had been wrought. The Occupation Authorities in Japan (under General Douglas MacArthur) did their best to downplay or censor the true effects of how horrible the bombs were and how all types of people were still dying from the effects of what the earliest doctors called "Disease X." Pellegrino speculates that MacArthur himself didn't want to face the fact that the war was ended by means other than what he had been able to accomplish as a commander.
But word spread anyway.
Still, for whatever small errors, "Last Train from Hiroshima" is a worthwhile read: while perhaps not the best of story-telling on the subject, it brought the nightmares of radiation sickness to the fore of my dreams-capes and I cannot but think that Americans need to face these people's stories as surely as we embrace the tales told by Holocaust survivors or soldiers and airmen and Marines coming back from our modern killing grounds.
Here is a portion of an article from the Medford Mail Tribune (written by Paul Fattig) about a Hiroshima survivor and her efforts to join others to protest at the United Nations this weekend: