Adapted from my new book, The Beginning or the End.
The famed biologist Jacob Bronowski revealed in 1964 that his classic study Science and Human Values
was born at the moment he arrived in Nagasaki in November 1945, three
months after the atomic bombing (which killed at least 75,000 civilians)
with a British military mission sent to study the effects of the new
weapon. Arriving by jeep after dark, he found a landscape as desolate as the
craters of the moon. That moment, he wrote, “is present to me as I
write, as vividly as when I lived it.” It was “a universal
moment…civilization face to face with its own implications.” The power
of science to produce good or evil had troubled other societies.
“Nothing happened in 1945,” he observed, “except that we changed the
scale of our indifference to man…“
One of the most bizarre episodes in the entire occupation of Japan took place less than two months later, on January 1, 1946, in Nagasaki. (For more on this critical period, and my own experiences in Nagasaki, see my new book or previous Atomic Cover-up.)
Both teams had enlisted former college (from UCLA to Temple) or pro stars serving in Japan for their squads. The “Bears” were led by quarterback Angelo Bertelli of Notre Dame, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1943, while the “Tigers” featured Bullet Bill Osmanski of the Chicago Bears, who topped pro football in rushing in 1939 (and then became a Navy dentist). Marines fashioned goal posts and bleachers out of scrap wood that had been blasted by the A-bomb. Nature helped provide more of a feel of America back home, as the day turned unusually chilly for Nagasaki and snow swirled.
More than 2000 turned out to watch. A band played the fight song, “On Wisconsin!” The rules were changed from tackle to two-hand touch because of all the irradiated glass shards from the atomic blast remaining on the turf. A referee watched for infractions. Each quarter lasted ten minutes.
Press reports the next day claimed Japanese locals observed the game—from the shells of blasted-out buildings nearby. The two stars, Bertelli and Osmanski had agreed to end the game in a tie so that both sides would be happy but Osmanski, after leading a second-half comeback, could not resist kicking the extra point that gave his team the win, 14-13.
A commemorative booklet produced for the game included this line: "In the rubble of the atomic bomb, we made a gridiron.”
When the servicemen returned to the US, many of them suffered from strange rashes and sores. Years later some were afflicted with disease (such as thyroid problems and leukemia) or cancer (such as multiple myeloma or forms of lymphoma) associated with radiation exposure. More on this and related issues here.
UPDATE: The images of the program for the game above were new to me until today. A former Marine named Bob Trujillo read my piece and sent it to a bunch of other Marines and the son of one of them responded with the program. I've now been in touch with the son and, yes, his father later suffered health defects he related to his atomic exposure in 1946. Thanks to Bob Trujillo (@chelledaddy) for this amazing contribution.