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Berger’s Burg: Queens residents heatedly debate A-bomb

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Did you know that it was originally called "Sextilis" (no, it doesn't mean what you think, silly)? It means "sixth" to the Romans because at one time it was their sixth month of the year. I bet that was how the tongue twister "Sister Susan sitting on a thistle in Sextilis" originated.

The month was actually renamed August after Julius Caesar's nephew, Augustus, who succeeded Julius as Roman emperor after Julie's death. Little Augie reasoned, if July could be named after his powerful uncle, why not August after his puny self? And thus, it was done. (Incidentally, September was named after Septembius, a clement bromide, who was the ninth cousin, twice removed, on his second mother-in-law's side of that noble prince, Guido II.)

August commemorates "V.J. Day" (Aug. 14), the day Japan surrendered in World War II in 1945, and the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9) in Japan in 1945. Charles Sweeney, the pilot of the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, died earlier this month.

These bombings are two of the most horrific and unforgettable August events ever in recorded history, changing the world forever. Was it right? Was it wrong? There are two vociferous and opposing trends of thought on the question of justification, and the debate rages on.

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Flushing's Murray Juvelier, a crew member on the decoy B-29 planes that flew both atomic-bomb missions and which, in the blink of an eye, killed thousands of residents of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, says:

"It quickly won for us the most destructive and bloody conflict in recorded history. The decision to use it came at the end of a savage and bitter struggle to win the nearby Island of Okinawa in which hundreds of American soldiers and Japanese defenders perished. The Japanese military made it clear that they would resist an American invasion to the end. U.S. casualties were conservatively estimated at 500,000 and that doesn't include the number of military and civilian Japanese who would die. The dropping of the two atomic bombs ultimately saved American and Japanese lives."

Conversely, many people argue that the atomic bombing was militarily unnecessary and morally unacceptable. One was Chandra McGriff of Woodside:

"My father was a Korean War veteran, but as a religious woman, I think America should not have used atomic bombs during World War II. They caused thousands of Japanese men, women and children to die horrible deaths and thousands more to be severely injured. The result of the bombings makes America the 'evil ones.' I still pray for the Japanese people who died and an end to all wars."

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Gloria is a volunteer at New York's Museum of Natural History and teaches the visiting children origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. She sits at a large table in the Great Hall, surrounded by many little ones hailing from all parts of the world. Gloria leads them in the folding of colorful origami paper into many figures and shapes. She always includes the crane (bird) in her repertoire. Before demonstrating the necessary steps, Gloria prefaces it by telling the traditional poignant story she learned, from the Origami Society literature, of a little 6-year-old Japanese girl who lived in Nagasaki during World War II.

"When the atomic bomb was dropped on her city, it detonated above her home. She was severely injured. As she lay in a Nagasaki hospital bed clinging to life, the nurses convinced her that if she could fold 1,000 cranes (no matter how long it took) she would get better. And so, one thousand sheets of origami paper were placed before her.

"The child went straight to the task and began to fold the paper with her burned hands and fingers. The completed birds were neatly hung around her bed by the nurses. However, she managed to fold only 433 cranes before succumbing to the injuries.

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"The saddened hospital staff and townspeople vowed to complete the job. They folded until the goal of 1,000 cranes was reached. The folded cranes represented prayers for the little girl, as well as for the other victims of the bombing."

The tradition of the "senbazru," the 1,000 cranes folded for a specific purpose, has since become a very powerful symbol in Japanese culture, as well as in religious institutions, schools and individuals in America to raise social consciousness. It is said that the paper cranes make a specific wish come true. It is also thought to bring healing, peace and good luck. One thousand paper cranes were placed next to the demolished Twin Towers in Manhattan.

Author Jon Krakauer tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who also lived in Nagasaki when the bomb exploded, and recalls the horror today as an adult. He was on a school trip and was led into an air-raid shelter upon the wailing of the air-raid siren. When no B-29s were sighted, the "all-clear" signal was sounded. The school children left the shelter and began walking back to school. He stopped for a drink from a roadside well and noticed two parachutes floating down. Then he saw a sky "filled with fire."

The boy was thrown into a rice paddy and knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he saw the death and debilitating injuries he, and the thousands of others, had sustained, which are much too graphic to describe in this family newspaper. At least 140,000 people died and thousands more were disfigured.

The heated differences of opinion are ongoing. In previous August columns, the mention of the dropping of the atom bombs has sparked a furious pro and con response from my readers. I expect the same to occur again this year.

Who is right and who is wrong in this debate I cannot answer. Suffice to say, you decide. Readers, let 'er rip!

Reach columnist Alex Berger at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

Posted 7:13 pm, October 10, 2011
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