REAR WINDOW: NAGASAKI : When hell came to the city of Madam Butterfly

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The Independent Online
NAGASAKI, pictured here a century ago, was the setting for Puccini's Madam Butterfly. Here, the story goes, Lieutenant Pinkerton of the US Navy married and deserted the adoring geisha, Cio-Cio San. And here, on his return to take away their son, she killed herself.

This was fiction, but the choice of location was appropriate enough. Nagasaki was the Japanese city with the oldest and closest links to the West. Portuguese traders arrived there in the 16th century, soon to be followed by the Dutch, and for the next 250 years the Dutch trading post on the little island of Deshima, close to Nagasaki, was the only Western presence in Japan. When Japan's long isolation ended after 1859, this was a natural point of entry for Western traders and indeed one of the city's landmarks that survived 9 August 1945 is Doctor Glover's house, a luxurious Victorian villa in its own grounds built by a rich British merchant.

Shaped like an amphitheatre, the city rises in tiers from the shores of the narrow bay. By 1945 the port was past its prime, but Nagasaki had acquired some industrial importance as the site of the Mitsui shipyard and steelworks and the population was not far short of 300,000. Yet it was not one of the targets first suggested for an atom bomb. As late as a fortnight before the attack the name of Nagasaki did not appear on an official list of potential targets. Even on the morning of the mission, it was only the target of second choice. The bomb was destined for the arsenal town of Kokura, but cloud cover there made an attack impossible and the B-29 bomber Bock's Car turned towards the city of Madam Butterfly instead.

The "Fat Man" bomb was much more powerful than the "Little Boy" dropped on Hiroshima, but its effects were contained by the steeply-rising hills. It fell in the northern part of the city, home to one of Japan's largest Roman Catholic communities. By 1950 the bomb had claimed 140,000 lives.

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