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Bi Janus

Sun bleeds to the line

where sky melts into sea.

The end moves ahead,

a mirage in verdure.

The heat on my back

turns me for an instant,

the flash long passed,

before the fire consumes.

Few see my mouth,

corners turned up,

the grin blossoming

in the sweet psyche

And lost to the world

in the dispersion of vapor.

Nothing is harder than

speaking old verity newly.

Life and death

vary not one whit.

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It is difficult to reconcile the beauty of this poetic expression with the tragedy that inspired it. Like a Japanese watercolor painting, this is a poem that lingers in the mind after its initial perception, but no less than the memory of that terrible day in 1945 when Americans demonstrated to the world that humanity takes second place to experimentation and retribution.

'Nagasaki suffered the same fate as Hiroshima in August 1945. The bombing of Nagasaki on August 9th was the last major act of World War Two and within days the Japanese had surrendered.

Two senior American military figures - General Groves and Admiral Purnell - were convinced that two atomic bombs dropped within days of the other would have such an overwhelming impact on the Japanese government that it would surrender. Scientists at Los Alamos were also intrigued as to which type of bomb was the better - a uranium or plutonium based bomb. 'Little Boy' showed its effectiveness at Hiroshima but another bombing mission was needed to see what damage a uranium bomb could do'.

For those interested, here is a link to The History Learning Site and an expanded account of how Nagasaki was selected, almost by accident, for destruction:


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I can at least see a reason behind the Japanese nuclear bombings. They were done to end the war, and they did. It has been estimated that many more combined Japanese and Allied soldiers would have died had the war continued through conventional means.

I have more of a problem with Dresden. This was a several-days firebombing by combined British and American planes, and estimates of civilian casualties start at 25,000 and run higher. There was very little military justification for this decimation and horror, other than retribution, and retribution is a poor and morally unsupportable reason for war.


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The poem is certainly not written as anything other than a consideration of that moment on the threshold of death. Nagasaki is the setting because of the few conversations with my father that I remember, the ones about his presence in Nagasaki after the bombing and surrender are clearest to me. When Kurosawa released Rhapsody in August in 1993-4, the film became fodder for the continuing argument about whether the bombings were necessary. He was roundly criticized even in Japan for not balancing the film with information about Japanese atrocities and militarism. I saw the film as treating one woman's experience of the catastrophe. The poem describes a particular instance of a universal experience.

The firebombing of Dresden was as horrific as the fission bombing. The politics of war aside, we should consider individual humans caught in the inferno.

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I could see the colours of blood and yellow flames melting in the words of this poem.

So clearly is the vision of a person witnessing the moment of those last two lines so truthfully revealed, with silent observation...and applause.

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While we need to think of the individuals caught up in a war, sometimes we need to stand back and look at why they are so caught. Post-war records recently made public show a chilling lack of concern by the Japanese military. Meeting with the Emperor after Hiroshima, the military council met to decide whether to surrender. The vote was unanimous to continue the war. Several days later the council met again after Nagasaki. The military council's vote was tied; half the military wanted to continue the war. Fortunately, Hirohito broke the tie and decided on the unconditional surrender.

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Dresden was a civilian nightmare for the Germans, although I think the residents of London had little sympathy for them. In early 1945 the American bombers set fire to Tokyo, burning 15 square miles and killing 100,000.

I moved to Tokyo as a child in 1954, but by then all traces of the destruction were gone. The Japanese civilians were embarrassed by what their government and military had done so I felt no hatred from them at all. The saddest part of living there was seeing the disabled soldiers from the war out begging on the streets because the government felt no responsibility towards them, they were the losers.

And here we are today with thousands of wounded American veterans having to fight to get the care and benefits they deserve from the government who set them in harm's way. What a pathetic society we live in, but perhaps the next time our government needs to fill the ranks of the military no one will heed the call. Serve them right.

A good poem bi_janus, enough to get any right minded reader thinking about the insanity which prevailed at the time.

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