Bernie Bell: Remembering

Reading Alec Ross’ piece about…memory…history…..what stays – what goes. Has prompted me to put fingers to keyboard myself about this subject – which is a huge subject to tackle.

Memories – statues – if we leave them there – that could be hard to take for those whose families were personally involved – but if we take them away – do we risk losing the memory of what happened? And the memory does  matter – if nothing else, as a reminder that the kind of characters  involved in these atrocities, are still out there and will still behave in this way if they get the chance – and we must not let them get the chance.

In Sutherland, there’s a statue to the Duke of Sutherland – I don’t think Fiona (G) would let me use the term I’d like to use to describe  the Duke of Sutherland! So,  do we remove the statue? It may be hard for the descendants of the people who were affected by his actions to see the statue to him. But – if we remove the statue, do we remove the story and so – the reminder that those **** are still out there and would act the same way if the laws allowed them to.

And the clearance village of Badbea, near Helmsdale in Caithness –  Neither Mike nor I have any temptation to go there – we know the story – it happened in Ireland too.  It’s a long time ago – is it best left? Not completely, as, again, unless we make sure that the law protects tenants, the landowners could, possibly do that again. Trump had a good go at kicking people out of their houses for his golf course. A golf course isn’t even as useful as sheep!

So, if it is important to keep memories in the awareness of the population, how is it best to do so?  Statues, or place names to those who were seen as ‘heroes’ in the past, can, with changing sensibilities, become reminders of their wrong behaviour.  But that reminder is useful in itself.

I’m tying myself in knots. Alec wrote very well of this, I’m just adding my tuppenceworth.  I will now tell you about Mike’s trip to Nagasaki, and his visit to the Hypocentre and museum there.  I think the way the Japanese people have approached this is a good way.  Not focusing on an individual, or individuals, but presenting an idea, a reminder, a warning, but without rancour, and including producing something good for people – a park. Here it is…….

I’ll explain…….Mike  had two trips to Japan last year. First to the North, helping to assess fisheries there, which were wiped out by the tsunami 5 years ago, and are being re-established. Then, he visited the South, with a group from ICIT liaising with people at the University of Nagasaki.

They worked hard, and they also had an afternoon in which they visited some places in Nagasaki itself – including the area where the atomic bomb was dropped. This, briefly, explains how I came to write these musings.

Mike got home on the Saturday afternoon, after a very long journey, with much to tell and many things to show me.  It’s been a very tiring time for him, but also full of interest.

He  told me some of his adventures, but there is so much to tell I think it will take a while for him to absorb and tell it all.


This is the Hypo-centre. The bomb detonated some distance above the ground, and this monolith marks the hypo-centre ( ‘under-centre’) of the blast. It’s a single monolith, with circles radiating out from it, which is set in the centre of a ‘bowl’ in the land. Mike says it’s a very, very, intense place.. (Photo M Bell)

The visit to the Peace Museum and the Peace Park were a strange contrast to each other.  They visited the Peace Museum and the Peace Hall first, and he says that was a disturbing place to visit.  I’d say I can imagine, but I doubt if I can. He was in tears when he left.  Then they visited the Peace Park, which Mike says they’ve somehow managed to turn into a place of peace and beauty.  He told me a lot of this on Sunday morning, and I wish he had the time to write about it, as how he’s described the three places – the Peace Museum, the Peace Hall and the Peace Park, is something which I feel would be good to get across to people, somehow.  There is so much there which provokes so much thought.  Mike says that the Japanese don’t appear to be bitter about it. They just present what happened. I suppose that’s all they need to do – it speaks for itself.

We’re both of the opinion that…….The scientists had been working on something new. Scientists can become very single-minded (so can artists, for that matter) and work on things, without thinking through what might happen if they produce what they’re aiming for (Frankenstein and his ‘monster’ comes to mind – which one is the monster?).  Also, often, scientists produce something which is, in itself beneficial, but then that thing is put to bad usage.

So, the idea of the atomic bomb was worked on, and a lot of money was poured into the research.  They produced something which they themselves didn’t really understand the power of – remember those images of American soldiers, not far from  test sites, wearing sun-glasses to cut out the glare!

Then there was an opportunity for a government to use this new toy. The military are usually keen to do so, and all too often their first response is to attack. God help us all if Extra-terrestrials ever do land, and are faced with humanity showing the kind of aggression it usually shows – if they are more advanced than us, and are advanced enough to have patience with our foolishness, we’ll be OK, if they don’t have patience, well………..

So, the military will have wanted to try out their new toy and they often pull the strings of the governments. And, possibly there was a feeling that all that expenditure had to be justified. So – the atomic bombs were dropped without any real understanding of what they would do immediately, or of what they might do, long term.

It’s said that sacrificing those thousands of lives, saved even more, as it cut the war short. I don’t subscribe to that point of view.  It’s one thing to have a few more years of war (however foolish that might be), and lose numbers of people in battles, on-going. That’s a human thing to do – foolish, hurt-full, but human. To press a button and bomb a city, obliterating thousands in an instant is a different matter.

Temple in Nagasaki

Temple in Nagasaki (M Bell)

Mike read in the museum, that the target could have been any number of places nearby. Nagasaki got hit, because there  was no cloud cover there at the time.  It could just as easily have been any of the surrounding centres of population – it hinged on something as random as cloud cover, the ‘Bomber’s Moon’ effect.  A bloke, in a plane, looking down and thinking “Ah-ha, I can see through the cloud there – bombs away!”  and people’s lives depended on that – cloud cover – or not. No cloud cover, so they dropped the bomb, and produced a ‘mushroom cloud’ – a different angle on the meaning of ‘cloud cover’.  Pure insanity.

Mike brought back a leaflet from the Museum, which has a photo of …..the shadow of a ladder and man’s shadow, on a wall. The blast, blasted the man and his ladder, but imprinted his shadow, and the shadow of the ladder, on the wall – and it’s still there.  What to say?

I’ve gone on a bit, there, and it’s only the beginning. I really wish Mike had the time to write about it, rather than just telling me – there is such a strong message to be had, from such a visit.

It was good to have him home

Then, just to add to our general feeling of un-reality – as we were going to bed, we looked out of the back window, and there were the Northern Lights, dancing across the hill at the back of the house!

Went to bed, feeling decidedly strange.

One last note re. memory – families – humanity. At one point, he wandered out of a temple complex, and found himself in a huge cemetery, stretching right up the hill.

I was thinking – these will be the graves of people who have died since the bomb dropped, but……..when the bomb dropped, Nagasaki will have had cemeteries.  Cemeteries being where people are buried, and also where those who are still here, go to ‘say hello’  and remember the ones who have passed.

Maybe not ancestor worship, as such, as with the ancient folk, but it’s reminiscent of it….it’s a continuation of the idea that ancestors matter, and that our links with family, clan, and connection through time, matters.

So, when the bomb dropped, that will have obliterated the cemeteries of Nagasaki, too.  Thereby wiping out those places of memory, and the ancestors. It’s a different kind of warfare – not only wipe out the living, and the present society, but also wipe out memories, and all evidence of the ancestors. In this case, many of the present people died, too, so they took with them the memories of those who had passed, before them.


Photo M Bell

A pretty effective way to hit at the heart of a people – take away their ancestors.

God almighty, what a species we are.

By the way – they are re-building in the North – re-building the fisheries, and buildings and the population.

What a species we are – we don’t give up.

Contradictory? Yes – ain’t we just.

Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News

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  1. This piece was first published in TON on 29th August, 2017.

    The anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has a particular resonance for me & Mike, as my old friend Philip ( nearly 50 years of friendship – with all its ups and downs!), married a Japanese lady – Yukako. Yukako’s Mum, Mrs. Nishid, was born and grew up in a town not far from Hiroshima – she still lives there. If the clouds had cleared, and that town had happened to be the one the bomb was dropped on, there would have been no Mrs Nishid, no Yukako, no Tohgo and Lily ( Philip and Yo’s children).

    By the by – Philip is of Scots descent – his full name is Philip James Alpin MacGregor Whyte. As you can see, his parents were proud of their ancestry!

    When he told me they were going to call their daughter, Lily, I said – “You do realise she’ll be called Lily Whyte?” And he simply answered “Yup”. That’s Philip, for ya’ – can’t resist a wise-crack.

    Our lives, and nations, connect so much – if we let them.

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