Atomic Bomb Museum; Nagasaki, Japan

Nagasaki is a sobering and emotionally overwhelming experience. It is the site of the world`s second and most recent nuclear attack, the first being Hiroshima only three days prior.

Inside the Atomic Bomb Museum, you will see at least two mechanical clocks, shattered and stopped at exactly 11:02, which is when the United States dropped its nuclear bomb on the city (late morning, not night). These two clocks were not particularly close to where the bomb exploded, otherwise they would have been obliterated instantly, turned to dust.

You will also see the bones of a human hand fused with what used to be a bottle but now is nothing more than a blob of green glass. There are countless haunting relics, too many to mention, but what is most striking and hurtful is that many (if not most) of the relics came from nearby elementary or middle schools. The most haunting image for me was a reproduction of a photograph that showed the shadow of a man. He had been standing next to a ladder propped against a tar-sided building. The tar was wiped clean off the building, as was the ladder, but the tar behind the ladder and the man remained.

In America we are taught the bomb was dropped to save countless American lives, to bring soliders home earlier, to not prolong the agony of war. We are not taught that the bomb was dropped on a map that was littered with mostly schoolchildren. Nagasaki was perhaps Japan`s most Western city, founded by Dutch traders and Christian missionaries. Within one kilometer of the blast`s center were two elementary schools, two middle schools, one medical college, and a hospital. In the few kilometers surrounding, there were too many schools to count.

If your American pride is swelling up defensively, thinking perhaps its convenient anti-American propoganda to fill the museum with artificats from schoolchildren, it is worth considering that the museum is also filled with honest criticisms of Japan`s own behavior, primarily its persecution of Christians, and its discrimination against Koreans, which they readily admit exists today. Many of the bomb victims were Korean, and the discrimination extended even to their corpses, some or many of which were left untouched, leaving their eyeballs to be eaten by crows.

The museum also includes leaflets dropped by American bombers, with warning messages of what happened three days earlier in Hiroshima, pleading that the Japanese quit fighting and leave the city. Reportedly, many witnesses claim these leaflets were not dropped until after Nagasaki was bombed, which makes sense considering that Nagasaki wasn`t the original target, that it was chosen at the last minute because of poor weather, and that no similar pamphlets were said to exist in Kokura, the original intended target.

Today Nagasaki appears like many other large cities, for the most part no better, no worse, no different. But when you`re inside that museum, it is impossible to not be physically moved by what you experience, especially when you are reminded that some of the survivors are still alive today.

Nearly all of the exhibits include an English translation, but one in particular did not: It was about 15 framed large pieces of paper, written presumably in Japanese characters, and at first I thought it was a diary, but then I realized it looked more like a book of recipes, perhaps recovered from a nearby community. When a Japanese man told me in broken English that it was directions for making an atomic bomb, I started to cry, because it is a reminder that such a horrifying event did not happen by chance, but only with careful and calculated planning.