Charles Pellegrino

Charles Pellegrino

Charles Pellegrino ( On the Story Behind the Story of, "To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima" The original title of my proposed book about Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, "The Last Train to Nagasaki." I believed the title conveyed how I would bridge the story of the two cities via the people who had survived both atomic bombings - the double hibakusha. In this manner, I thought I could correct the problem of how history all but forgot the second and even more powerful atomic bomb and the people beneath it. As one survivor expressed the forgetting: "It is never good to be the second of anything." I did not know how extreme the forgetfulness had become. In 2009, my editor discovered that almost no one at the publishing house knew what the name, Nagasaki, referred to - and thus the title change, to name a city familiar to everyone: "The Last Train from Hiroshima." Approximately 300 people are known to have made the journey, aboard two trains, from Hiroshima all the way to Nagasaki in the wake of the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945. Of this group, approximately 90% were killed by the second bomb. In "Last Train," the double hibakusha bracket and interweave with the stories of other survivors, ranging from conscripted schoolchildren and doctors at Nagasaki to the origin of the thousands of paper cranes that were sent from the children of Hiroshima to the children of New York in 2001. As a child of the "Duck and Cover" drills, I grew up to eventually embrace what I feared most (the very physics that made possible, the thermonuclear inverse to the Golden Rule). During the 1980s, I joined brainstorming sessions at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where we designed nuclear melt-through probes for exploration of new oceans turning up beneath the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa - in addition to a Valkyrie rocket that could actually bridge the rest of the Solar System, and perhaps even interstellar space. Along the way, I met survivors of the atomic bombs, and began recording their stories. In 2001, I was working on forensic physics/archaeology in the ruins of the World Trade Center. In a landscape possibly even grayer than the surface of the moon, thousands of bundles of paper cranes were arriving, becoming the only splashes of color and beauty. I met the Ito and Sasaki families when they visited, and I learned from them the word Omoiyari - which may be rendered as empathy (translated, in America, as the "pay-it-forward" principle)-I learned it as a way of life, and not just a word. In the New York death-scape, where expressions about "nuking" someone rolled too easily off people's tongues, it occurred to me that almost no one really knew what the words "nuke-them" meant. Most seemed to regard the atomic bomb as an antiseptic weapon that instantly erased "the bad guys" and allowed those outside the target area to somehow just walk away. After I added new hibakusha interviews to my archive, and showed chapters to colleagues, the most important review I received (or probably ever will receive), came from archaeologist Amnon Rosenfeld - who had been very hawkish and believed in pre-emptive nuclear strike. After reading the draft, he said that everything he thought he knew about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, adding that anyone who learns the truth, and who designs nuclear weapons or plans first use for any reason whatsoever, "has found the unforgivable sin." My hope is that others will come to the Rosenfeld conclusion. My hope is that this glimpse of the past (through the science of what happened, combined with the human perspective), will in at least some small way help to prevent the hibakusha experience from becoming prophecy for much of our world during the next thirty years. My hope is that nuclear war will have ended, forever, at the black granite pinnacle marking the hypocenter of Nagasaki. After the first American edition of "The Last Train from Hiroshima" was published in 2010, I learned that one of the Tinian Island aviators I interviewed had exaggerated part of his war record, and I announced my mistake and the need for a correction from New York, on the John Batchelor Show. This seemed to have opened the floodgates for e-mailers denying the existence of "shadow people" and other thermal effects near the hypocenters, along with denial of radiation effects. The e-mail wrecking crew managed to spoof the NY Times and my publisher by pretending to be everyone from famed Hiroshima artist and hibakusha Keiji Nakazawa to veterans threatening mass public burnings of the book. The real Keiji Nakazawa was in fact on my side and took special interest in my attempts to learn more about the atomic orphans. He helped me and Steve Leeper (then Director of the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Foundation) to fill in a blank space in our history (the orphans). With Nakazawa's input, the atomic orphans can finally speak loud and clear- after seven decades. Real veterans of the 509th never made threats to my publisher about pickets and book-burnings, and in fact veterans and their families contributed details to the new edition. Nonetheless, the publisher had by then prevented book burnings (as threatened in emails from "veterans"), by withdrawing the first edition and pulping it. In the real world, you will be hard-pressed to find an American veteran who endorses censorship. No less an authority on such matters than Tom Dettweiler (who survived the destruction of the Pentagon's Navy wing on 9/11 on account of having been called away for an eye exam), observed: "Despite past attempts to suppress this history, Charles has succeeded in a detailed immortalization of one of the true turning points in human existence... [It] should be required reading for all those making decisions of war." The ultimate accomplishment of 2010's internet hoaxers and impersonators was to bring many new truths to light. Chief among these was the coming forth of survivors who had hidden their experiences, and who had intended to take their stories to the grave. For most, speaking of it was very difficult, often a very painful experience. I cannot thank them more, for their bravery.
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