The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
It was no trumpet-blowing angel that flew over Hiroshima on August 5, 1945. The winged figure high up in the sky on that fatal day was the Enola Gay, dropping upon the city the most horrendous weapon the world had yet seen. The destruction of some 200,000 people and of thousands of buildings must have seemed like the fulfillment of the prophecy in John’s Apocalypse. This 1990 made for TV film, directed by two television veterans, Peter Werner and writer John McGreevey, shows in dramatic detail what it must have been like to be on the ground on that awful day. The story, or rather stories, is told from the viewpoint of a Japanese doctor, a German priest, and some American prisoners.
It might come as a surprise to learn that there were Americans on the ground at the receiving end, as well as high up in the B-29 bomber the Enola Gay. Judd nelson plays Pete Dunham, who during the chaos is freed from his POW camp with a friend and wanders through the burnt out streets. There is a startling scene when they become surrounded by a crowd, whose vengeance they fear, only to learn that none of the Japanese can see, their eyes having been burnt away by the bomb’s intense flash. Stan Egi plays Dr. Hara, unable to do little for the vast number of victims, and Max von Sydow is Father Siemes, pastor of the Catholic church in the city. The stern priest offers shelter to the victims in his church and learns a quick lesson in compassion as a result. The late Pat Morita also has a role.
Based partly on Michihiko Hachiya’s Hiroshima Diary, this film provides ample scenes of the horrors of what an atom bomb can wreak. Because it was made for broadcast television, the scenes are not as gory as a theatrical filmmaker might have filmed them, but they are graphic enough. Like the recently released World Trade Center, the film does not dwell on the horror so much as show the courage and resilience of the human spirit when faced with an unimaginable destruction.
You might not find it at the ordinary video store, but it has recently been made availableon DVD as well as VHS.
1) Historians still debate whether the dropping of the two atom bombs on Japan were necessary or not. What do you think? If it would save the lives of many of the American troops set to invade the islands (as well as the lives of Japanese defenders), would you have agreed with Pres. Truman’s order to proceed?
2) Do you thing that all means are acceptable in winning a war? Look up the scene in Stephen Spielbrg’s Munich in which Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir, while discussing with her cabinet whether to assassinate the terrorists who killed their Olympic athletes in Munich, says that there are times when a civilization has to go against its principles: what do you think?
3) Do the filmmakers show any of the historic context of the dropping of the bomb? That is, of Japan’s occupation of Korea and much of China and the Pacific nations with its brutal slaughter and enslavement of so many people? Do you agree with a critic who suggested that the film could mislead viewers ignorant of this history, thus making the U.S. the villain?
4) Rather than any political motivation, do you think the filmmakers wanted to show the evil results of war and the good that arose from the terrible situation? What acts of grace and courage does the film show?