Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Sanctity of Remembering

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Dear Mr Matsumura,

Victims of the Nuclear Arms Race

Victims of the Nuclear Arms Race

The novel The Sanctity of Remembering was written to resurrect Nagasaki and Hiroshima and to purge modern history of the myth and abuses that still surrounds the use of atomic bombs. While changing the voice of America by one and thus one at a time the novel took on both form and purpose. A voice previously not yet heard was to be created in the art of fiction, the best conveyance of truth. As in all poetic prose the plangent sound of the ill treated and unexpected becomes audible as I knew it might if I just stayed the task and kept writing and revising until help arrived. I wrote the novel because I conceived that one nation under God conceived in liberty would so endure and one world under the same God would learn to know each other in the truth. My characters were charged to address all on this globe in every way they knew until all things are made new. Too bad I have only a novel to give to the cause but it is a good one and I am happy to have it completed to honor another anniversary in Japan. I was exposed to four atomic bombs as teenage soldier in the United States Army and this is the fallout and my fall out and my fall in to the ranks of truth seekers without borders. Also know please that this specially conceived commentary is very much overdue.

John McCabe

The Sanctity of Remembering

A Novel by John A. McCabe*

Two very different plot lines set worlds apart lead the reader to anticipate how they will come together. Reiko is a young Japanese woman orphaned by the blast in Hiroshima. Raised by American missionary nuns, she learns the language skills that enable her to find work in 1962 as a secretary and translator for a published writer, a retired Catholic bishop of American descent, himself a hibakusha from the Nagasaki bombing.

McGrath, our protagonist, is an all-American young man who enlists in the Army with his best friend, Spots Daniels. They march unquestioningly into the desert in the summer of 1962 where they are subjected to four nuclear bomb detonations the government is experimenting with to determine how foot soldiers will fare on a nuclear battlefield. These experiences mark them physically and psychologically for life in ways that slowly manifest over the years. Daniels succumbs eventually to leukemia, but before he dies he makes a study of their exposures compared to the Japanese, exchanging correspondence with the bishop for whom Reiko works.

Sixteen years after his nuclear epiphany in the desert, McGrath begins to reveal his visions and his feeling of connectedness to the hibakusha. When his occupation entails a trip to Japan, McGrath is betrayed to the Japanese news media by Daniels’ wife who claims that he is on a mission involving the U.S. government and unresolved nuclear matters. Subsequently, McGrath is followed closely throughout Japan by a diligent Tokyo reporter. He also makes the acquaintance of Reiko, who acts as his guide and translator on his trip to Nagasaki, where he tours the city and meets Daniels’ correspondent, Bishop Rocks.

McGrath’s innocent pursuits with the bishop and Reiko stir unexpected political interest among war era Japanese fanatics whose hatred for Americans has not abated. The fanatics kidnap McGrath and hold him incommunicado for weeks while they threaten Reiko and negotiate for an apology from the U. S. government for the insults they believe McGrath’s “propagandist mission” has brought down upon Japan. When McGrath is released in Nagasaki, he has taken on an altered persona. Given the grace to glimpse both the looming disaster and the holy in the people and places he encounters, he is thought to be somewhat mad.

A dramatic climax comes with McGrath’s final encounter with the bishop, in which McGrath’s sanctity and sanity is fully and shockingly revealed. It is a private revelation: only the two of them ever know that on August 9, 1945, they shared a mystical experience. Although undeniably impossible, both McGrath and Rocks know their experiences were genuine, and they explore their memories in a conversation that would be totally irrational to others.

Joined by his wife and four American friends, McGrath once again tours Nagasaki and Hiroshima, this time guided by Reiko and the reporter Natsume. Reiko’s Uncle Shiro, a monk who is also a hibakusha, warns the group of lurking danger, which surfaces when they least expect it as a vividly drawn attack on their van by a rogue truck on the way back to Tokyo. At the hospital, McGrath experiences a disturbing face-to-face encounter with his kidnapper that leaves him confused about just who his enemies are, learning only later that his nuclear history has incited a violent Chinese espionage group that fears the increasing media coverage will expose their clandestine dealings with the American Atomic Energy Commission. This new danger threatens McGrath as long as he stays in Japan. Reiko and the bishop are also targeted and are relocated outside the country for their safety. Protection for Natsume and McGrath comes from an unexpected quarter. At last McGrath is able to fly safely home to his life both devastated and mysteriously enriched by his experiences. McGrath comes strikingly to grips with the shocking dust of the earth, its uranium and humanly altered emitters of death in the novels resolution. With the overwhelming choices of good and evil cast to all living beings his intellect is joined by the words, “You will not remember the darkness. It will be removed,” and the novel, like one walking out of a wasteland, unceremoniously sends him back to the ordinary world as one among many awaiting a new reality to be conceded to his species.

*This synopsis of The Sanctity of Remembering is a composite of remarks made by Anne K. Kaler, Professor Emerita, Gwynedd Mercy University, Chair, Writers Guild, Pearl S. Buck Writing Center in a review of the work; by Joshua A. Snyder, Visiting Professor of English, Phang University of Science and Technology in his paper titled American Hibakusha: A Review of John A. McCabe’s The Sanctity of Remembering; and by the author, John A. McCabe. 


The morality of the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities and the ensuing arms race with its nuclear testing has long been called into question. One scholar, Father James Gillis, editor of The Catholic World, in September 1945 wrote, “We … have struck the most powerful blow ever delivered against civilization and the moral law”; Thomas Merton would speak of the “unspeakable”; and peace theologian James Douglass, of “the cold war theology” that allowed the poisonous atmospheric tests we read about in The Sanctity of Remembering. Catching up to current historical accounts not yet common knowledge, the novel reflects insightfully on the myths and abuses that surround the use of atomic bombs. Was an invasion of Japan cancelled before August of 1945, and who would conceal that information? Did the Russian army with its onslaught of Communism and the successful U. S. naval blockade end the war with Japan? Was the nuclear bureaucracy in the United States, from the Manhattan Project to recent times, as over-funded and uncontrolled as the NSA may be today?

John A. McCabe’s novel is a moral work, even as it avoids cheap moralization. Rather, it is a compelling narrative with all the excitement of a spy novel and equally compelling characters that leads the reader to question some basic assumptions about a Creator and the validity of some accounts of human history and government. The voice of an American, perhaps unheard before in Japan, is set in print as compelling literary fiction, addressing once more the realities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. By creating a new point of view, an American hibakusha speaks out from the very memory of the mushroom clouds.

The characters in both plot lines are sympathetically and richly drawn. Reiko and her uncle, a Buddhist monk, are depicted with the subtle brush strokes of Japanese art, and McGrath and his American cohorts in the vivid Technicolor of his era’s cinema. Indeed, the two interwoven parts read like two separate novels, one reminiscent of Kawabata, Oe, or Endo, and the other bringing to mind the cinematic work of Elia Kazan. But far more than just intriguing characters, in Reiko and McGrath we see the spark of the enlightened, a divine spark that ignites in each of them and slowly develops into a raging fire fueled by their individual responses to nuclear weapons.

Author, John A. McCabe

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