The horror is in the detail

I recently came across a film on YouTube called ‘Unedited footage of the bombing of Nagasaki (silent)’. It is one of the dullest and most horrific things I have ever seen. The film shows US servicemen on Tinian island performing the banal tasks needed to prepare the Fat Man bomb before it was dropped on Japan. We see men, stripped to their waists in the summer heat, desultorily spraying the bomb with a water-proofing agent to keep the innards dry during its plunge through the atmosphere; we see them load the bomb onto a trailer, cover it with a tarpaulin (to hide the casing design from prying eyes) and follow it in slow procession to the airfield; we see it lowered gently into a pit and the pilot of the B29 Superfortress reverse his plane so that the bomb can be hoisted into the belly of the aircraft.

The film then cuts to footage of the plane gleaming in the sun on its final approach to Nagasaki. And then quickly cuts to a view of the ground beneath, where a mushroom cloud is already blooming and rising slowly into the morning sky. No details are visible on the ground so there is no sense of scale, and no notion of the hell that has just been unleashed on the unsuspecting population. Forty thousand souls obliterated in an instant and thousands more who will soon be dead through blast injuries and fire.

We know of the horror, because we have seen films — I find them almost unwatchable — of the devastation of the city and the blank, uncomprehending faces of the injured, their burnt skin detaching from their bodies like so much tissue paper.

But there is no sense of this in the film of the preparation. The men are almost casual as they go about their business. Some stand around while others work. The bomb has been signed by many of them. One wag has added the sardonic acronym ‘JANCFU’ (Joint Army and Navy Command Fuck Up), not realising, I imagine, quite how badly Fat man was going to fuck things up. But occasionally, in the course of an ordinary day, we change the world.

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3 Responses to The horror is in the detail

  1. cromercrox says:

    I started to write a long comment on this but it assumed a life of its own… so I posted it on my blog instead.

  2. Grant says:

    As a high school kid I chose my public reading (for a little competition) to be the opening passages of a chapter of Ruin From The Air that described the aftermath of the Hiroshima bomb. It’s “just” a list of factoids, but a stunning list; the impact is incredible. I’ve never quite forgotten that book.