The boy in Nagasaki

The boy in Nagasaki

I first saw this photo in a book called ” Hiroshima – The World’s Bomb ” (Author : Andrew J. Rotter, Oxford University Press, 2009.) in a bookstore. I was deeply moved – and still am – by this image to purchase this book.

The photo was taken by American photographer Joe O’Donnell in September 1945 in Nagasaki, which was struck by an atomic bomb on 9th August.

Back then O’Donnell was a 23-year old Marine Sergeant. He was sent by the U.S. military to document the damage inflicted on the Japanese homeland caused by air raids of fire bombs and atomic bombs. Over the next seven months starting September 1945, he traveled across Western Japan chronicling the devastation, revealing the plight of the bomb victims including the dead, the wounded, the homeless and orphaned. Images of the human suffering was etched both on his negatives and his heart.

In the photo, the boy stands erect, having done his duty by bringing his dead brother to a cremation ground. Standing at attention was an obvious military influence. Looking at the boy who carries his younger sibling on his back, keeps a stiff upper lip, tries so hard to be brave is heart-breaking. To me, he has epitomized the spirit of a (defeated) nation.

“I wanted to go to him to comfort him, ” O’Donnell later wrote, ” but I was afraid that if i did so, his strength would crumble.”

Emperor Hirohito urged his subjects to “endure the unendurable” in his surrender speech delivered through radio broadcast on 15th August, 1945. This boy was one of those who had to endure it.