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Old 07-11-2011, 09:38 PM
Location: Los Angeles area
14,022 posts, read 16,225,724 times
Reputation: 32085


The most remarkable book I have ever read
"The Last Train From Hiroshima" by Charles Pellegrino (non-fiction) 2010

I have spent an already long lifetime (67) reading. But this book is extraordinary beyond my limited powers of description. One of my hobbies is World War II history, so I had already read a number of accounts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs from various standpoints - that of survivors (John Hersey), of the history of science (Richard Rhodes), of strategic necessity (Max Hastings), etc. "The Last Train" trumps them all, primarily in emotional impact but also in its fascinating factuality.

One major aspect of "The Last Train" is a scientific explanation of the flash and blast effects. For example, some people survived who were surprisingly close to the hypo-centers. There were cocooning effects of strong building or other objects which, although they may have been destroyed, parted the blast wave sufficiently to allow survival directly behind them. Likewise, if people were indoors or behind a hill, they could escape receiving lethal burns from the flash which preceded the blast. If close and exposed, people were simply vaporized - before their nerves had time to register any pain (i.e., in nano-seconds), the nerves and everything else including bones were vaporized without leaving any trace whatsoever, unless it was as a shadow on the stones or concrete behind them. There is information about the various kinds of radioactivity, their half-lives, and their effects. Iron nuclei, accelerated to 30% to 90% of the speed of light, although smaller than microscopic, carried enormous energy, enough to melt a fine scratch on one aviator's goggles, a "fossil" trace of the bomb's interior. Pilot Paul Tibbets "reported that he heard and felt his teeth cracking" and tasted a strange taste. One or more of these iron nuclei probably interacted with the fillings in his teeth (p. 75).

Oddities abound: A Hiroshima school teacher was holding up a white sheet of paper towards a window looking at student caligraphy in black ink strokes. The white portions of the paper reflected enough of the initial flash so her face was not seriously burned, except that the parts in black ink were permanently burned onto her face. Some years later she was told that a combination of plastic surgery and special cosmetics could erase the marks, but she elected to leave the marks as a tribute to her students who had perished.

The Hiroshima bombing, being a historic first, has received much of the attention of various writers. Pellegrino includes fascinating details of the Nagasaki flight which had somehow escaped my notice previously. The plane carrying the bomb, piloted by Maj. Charles Sweeney, had mechanical trouble on the ground on Tinian before take-off, suffered flak and enemy fighters over the primary target (Kokura) which the Enola Gay did not encounter over Hiroshima for reasons explained in the book, could not bomb Kokura despite three bomb runs because of cloud cover, diverted to Nagasaki dangerously low on fuel, bombed Nagasaki by radar (and missed, actually, hitting the city just north of Nagasaki, although N. was damaged too), and just barely made it to Okinawa, landing as the engines sputtered to a stop from fuel starvation.

Some of the accounts of the suffering and death of children are almost unbearable to read, even though they are not belabored. If you are not prepared to shed a few tears, this may not be your book. Also, you may not believe in paranormal events such as eerie premonitions, but putting these aside will not detract from the rest of the book. Two unrelated fifth graders, a girl and a boy, had extremely strong premonitions and did not want to go to school on Aug. 6, but we have only their mothers'accounts, as the children died that morning. The boy refused to take his lunch, saying he would not need it. The girl insisted on wearing her dress Kimono to school (an unprecedented thing) and left home crying. Incidently, the story of Barefoot Gen, a child survivor who later became known, apparently, through Japanese animé and DVD's, is told in this book.

There were double survivors. Some people who survived the Hiroshima bomb but whose homes did not were able to make their way to Nagasaki, where they had relatives. And then they survived a second time.

During the chaos of the immediate aftermath, Dr. Nagai, a very compassionate man, backed into a women holding a young child who was pleading, "Doctor, Doctor, what shall I do?" "When Nagai turned to face the woman, he backed away in another direction, without any words at all. 'Help me', the woman cried. She did not seem to understand that her child did not have a head." (pp. 259-260) Dr. Nagai wrote years later, "We carry deep in our hearts, every one of us, stubborn, unhealing wounds". (p. 260)

MacArthur, potentate of post-war Japan, found the extent of radiation sickness to be an "inconvenient truth" and supressed (censored) efforts to document it and write about it. The radiation seemed to kill certain intermal tissues of the digestive tract before the victims actually died. I'll spare you further details on this in case you are eating as you read this. It was not pretty.

One final observation: This is not a political book. The issue of whether the A-bombs should have been dropped is not addressed.

I could not put this book down, and it is still with me vividly days after. I suspect it will always be.
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Old 07-11-2011, 09:52 PM
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
32,758 posts, read 16,431,288 times
Reputation: 15800
As you did, I enjoyed the book a great deal, a feeling which vanished when I learned...

'The Last Train From Hiroshima,' Optioned By James Cameron, Pulled For Falsehoods
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Old 07-11-2011, 10:03 PM
Location: Los Angeles area
14,022 posts, read 16,225,724 times
Reputation: 32085
Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
As you did, I enjoyed the book a great deal, a feeling which vanished when I learned...

'The Last Train From Hiroshima,' Optioned By James Cameron, Pulled For Falsehoods
Thank you very much. That is quite a shock. From your link, it appears that two different people quoted by Pellegrino either mis-prepresented themselves to him, or were given an unacknowledged pseudonym by him, making that one person appear ficticious. Deeply disappointing in any case, and it casts a pall on all the rest, which I still believe contains considerable merit.
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