This is reprinted from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Memories and Questions: Congregational Resources for the Anniversary of the Atomic Destruction of Two Japanese Cities (Lima, Ohio: CSS, 1995; copyright 1995 CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio).

Gaillard T. Hunt
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Hiroshima: a Dialogue

(This 15- to 20-minute dialogue can be done in constume or street clothes, with or without scenery, as a skit presented by itself or as a chancel drama during a church service. If scenery is used, it should be a cartoonist's suggestion of heaven: clouds and sunshine. If constumes, double-breasted suits and other suggestions of the 1940s, except as noted.

The dialogue is a mix of fictional language and excerpts from published material. See the "Notes on Sources" in the published book for detailed citations, or contact the author.)


Oppenheimer enters from the front right of the auditorium or church. Einstein enters from the back. Oppenheimer hails Einstein and starts their debate when they are still some way apart and have much of the audience between them. Thus the people they call on, such as Brewster, Teller, etc., are between them, seated in the audience. The people they call on stand while speaking. They may read the quoted passages from books, magazines, or notes, as appropriate.

Sadako Sasaki and the other people of Hiroshima are seated at a plain table, front left. The Host is seated at the center of the table. They listen quietly throughout the initial discussion.)

Oppenheimer(a thin man carrying or weaing an unusually large hat): Albert! I need you again. We must do something about those bombs we made. Come with me to the supper and stand behind me.

Einstein (looks like Einstein: baggy sacks and sweater and disordered hair): I made one great mistake in my life, Robert: that letter to Roosevelt you people had me sign, telling him the bomb could be built.

Oppenheimer: I don't think the Nazis left us any option. We had to assume that they were working on the bomb. Where is Lise Meitner? What did you tell us, Lise? (pronounced "Lisa")

Meitner (a woman well into middle age): At the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin we were bombarding various elements with neutrons. I was lucky enough to get out of Germany in 1938. But I soon heard from my colleagues who stayed behind that they were getting strange results with the uranium atom. My nephew Otto Frisch and I figured it out: They had split the uranium nucleus. That released more neutrons and a lot of energy. We discussed it all with Niels Bohr. He agreed the German government could probably turn this into a powerful bomb.

Einstein (to Oppenheimer): But when the Nazis surrendered, you didn't stop. You didn't even reconsider. Brewster did. Here he is. Brewster, what about that letter you wrote to the President?

Brewster: Don't worry, I still carry it with me. It was my ticket into this place. (reads) "With the threat of Germany removed we must stop this project. If we use the bomb against Japan we would be the most hated and feared nation on earth. Other powers would watch our every move, and some day eventually the spark would be struck which would send the whole world up in one flaming inferno."

I'm pretty sure Truman saw my letter, and I know Secretary of War Simpson did, because he praised it for its "honesty," whatever that means.

Oppenheimer: I never knew you felt this way, Albert. Do you hold me personally responsible for everything that happened?

Einstein: Weren't you, Robert? What did you do when Fermi wanted to endorse the Franck Report and at least give the Japanese some warning? What did you have Teller do with Szilard's petition that the bomb not be used?

Oppenheimer: I told them I thought scientists should stick to their area of technical competence. Here's Dr. Teller, ask him.

Teller: "Oppenheimer . . . conveyed to me in glowing terms the deep concern, thoroughness, and wisdom with which these questions were being handled in Washington. Our fate was in the hands of the best, most conscientious men of our nation. And they had information which we did not possess. Oppenheimer's words lifted a great weight from my heart. I was happy to accept his word and his authority. I did not circulate Szilard's petition. Today I regret that I did not."

Oppenheimer: It was true. There were limits to our responsibility.

Einstein: Meanwhile, what were those "best, the most conscientious men," doing? Let's ask Ralph Bard. I forget your title, Mr. Bard.

Bard: Undersecretary of the Navy. No one could ever agree how to punctuate it.

Einstein: You also tried to get the Japanese at least some kind of warning before the bomb was used. Did these "best, most conscientious men" consider that?

Bard: I do not think the question of a warning was given as serious consideration by the Interim Committee on Atomic Energy as should have been given.

We in the Navy knew that we had already won the war, and there was no need for the Army to come in and take the credit. Japan was completely blockaded. We controlled the sea and air almost 100 percent.

Oppenheimer: There really wasn't time for thought. That's the way it is with technical things. You go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success.

Einstein: I notice nationality didn't make any difference. Here's Rudolf Peierls. Why didn't you go back to Oxford, Dr. Peierls, when the Nazi threat was out of the way?

Peierls: "I have been asked many times why I continued working for the project when the bomb was no longer needed as a deterrent, and whether I felt happy about developing a weapon that was going to be used to cause unprecedented destruction and suffering. . . . The leaders, I felt, were also intelligent men of good will and would try to make wise and humane decisions. In retrospect I have to admit that these views were a little na´ve."

We know now that the Americans had cracked the Japanese codes, and we know that they had intercepted diplomatic messages saying that the Japanese were ready to surrender if they could keep their emperor.

And in the end, that's what happened: After two atomic bombs, and after Russia entered the war against them, the Japanese still waited for assurances that they could keep the emperor, and it was only after they got such assurances that they stopped fighting.

Oppenheimer (drops some of his urbanity, advances to Einstein and speaks with conviction): Albert, this is all history. I want to talk about the future. You insist on bringing up the ugly past, when things were done we all regret. So let's look at the past, in all its ugliness. I can cite witnesses, too. Here's what President Truman said:

(He reads) " . . . General Marshall then estimated that, since the Japanese would unquestionably fight even more fiercely than ever on their own homeland, we would probably lose a quarter of a million men and possibly as many as a half million in taking the two islands. I could not bear this thought, and it led to the decision to use the atomic bomb."

Einstein: (stands his ground) Truman! That's the man who said in a radio address on August 9: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base." (pause) Hiroshima was not a military base, Robert, it was a city.

Then he went on, "That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians . . . " -- and then he invoked God's guidance in the use of the new weapon.

That half million figure was and is pure fancy. The plan was to land troops on Kyushu, the southernmost Japanese island, around November 1. That was three months away. A lot could hapen in three months. There were many official estimates of possible casualties from that landing, if it did go forward: Some were as low as 31,000. That's not a half million and it's not a quarter million.

The second landing, around Tokyo, would be nine months away, and no one thought it would ever happen.

Host (a young man in work clothes, he is relaxed and in command; at no point in the following does he lose his good cheer): Come! The table is ready.

(Oppenheimer turns toward the table where the Host is sitting with Sadako Sasaki and other people of Hiroshima. On the table there is bread and wine. Einstein comes forward.)

Oppenheimer (clears his throat and begins formally) : Before we eat I feel there is a matter we should discuss with you.

Host: Robert, Robert, you are troubled with many things.

Oppenheimer: Yes, I'm troubled. I don't deny my role. I built the first bombs. By our works we are committed, committed to a world united, before this common peril, in law and humanity. But we are not united. What can we do?

Host: Have you met Sadako Sasaki, the girl who made paper cranes?

Oppenheimer: Sadako accepted my apology many years ago. That's what heaven is for.

Sadako Sasaki (a teenager, not a child; the Japanese can be in traditional dress, such as kimonos): I was disappointed when I didn't get to finish my 1,000 cranes. I had only done 644 when the bomb sickness caught up with me. But when I got here the Buddha came out to meet me. He explained -- it's hard to understand -- he said the 644th crane is as valuable as the 1,000th, and the first is as valuable as all of them put together, and it all didn't matter, and it mattered more than anything in the universe. Very confusing.

He conducted me to the section for the children of war. We've got all kinds: Lebanese, Vietnamese, everybodyese. We have four boys and a girl from Oregon, America. They were on a hike in the woods with their Sunday school teacher when they found one of the baloon bombs my people drifted across to America near the end of the war. It blew up and killed them all.

Here's a girl from the London Blitz. She has a poem about this business of the first and the 1,000th and all that.

London's Daughter: It's what Dylan Thomas had to say about what happened to me:

I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
* * * *
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

[Dylan Thomas, "Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London," in Poems of Dylan Thomas (New York: New Directions, 1971), copyright Trustees of the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas.]

First Japanese child (need not be a child; could be a soldier, or other adult):
Forever she's a girl of thirteen years,
The image of my dead sister in my heart.

[Masuoka Toshikazu in The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kyoko and Mark Selden, eds. (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1989).]

Second Japanese child:
Whether or not I listen
Ghosts sob on the atomic field.

[Taniguchi Seinosuke, ibid.]

Third Japanese child (with shoeshine kit):
Peace festival -- none of my business --
I shoeshine. (snaps the shoeshine cloth)

[Numata Toshiyuki, ibid.]

I am become Death
The destroyer of worlds.

(Sings "Oppenheimer's Song" to any solemn LM or 88.88 tune, such as Dickinson College, Hamburg, Olive's Brow, etc.)

The stars are said to sing,
"The hand that made us is divine."
What then made this dreadful thing?
Was it made by hands like mine?

A universe of kindly thought
Reflects the Maker's loving plan.
Now all creation is set at nought
By such a mite as clever man.

God's rule we sought to learn,
With observation, joy and praise.
We only learned that things must burn,
And fire now will rule our days.

But how long can we dwell on the past? There must be no more Hiroshimas.

Host: Is the past past? Have the dead buried the dead? (rises and looks through the audience) Where is that veteran?

Veteran (wearing or carrying a veteran's overseas cap): "When the bomb ended the war I was in the 45th Infantry Division, which had been through the European war to the degree that it had needed to be reconstituted two or three times. We were at a staging area near Reims, ready to be shipped across the United States for final preparation in the Philippines. My division was to take part in the invasion of Honshu in March 1946 . . . . I was a 21-year-old second lieutenant leading a rifle platoon . . . . When the bombs dropped and the news began to circulate that [the invasion of Japan] would not, after all, take place, that we would not be obliged to run up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being mortared and shelled, for all the fake manliness of our facades we cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grown up to adulthood after all."

Host: When did you publish that, Professor?

Veteran: August 1981, the 36th anniversary, in the New Republic.

(ALTERNATIVE: You may use a recent letter or comment in the same vein from the local papers. There will be some every August.)

Host: And where is that contributor to Commentary?

Commentator: "While we would not think it proper to impose upon the youth of Japan pangs of guilt for a war launched by their forebears in 1941, advanced opinion now seems ready to impose on the youth of the U.S. a more searing guilt for the way in which our country ended it . . . .

"Modern warfare [narrows] the scope of moral choice into a series of increasingly grim alternatives. The decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima was just such a choice. It was almost certainly the correct choice."

Einstein: The truth is, Robert, that most of our countrymen still believe what Truman told them, that it was a case of taking a few lives to save more lives. But not everyone thought so at the time.

Robert, I think what our host is trying to tell us is that the past is never past; it will keep on doing us harm until we at least get our facts straight

Oppenheimer: If I'm to wander unforgiven until journalists and columnists get their facts straight, I will wander, like Beloved Disciple, a long, long time. Commentary! How can a fellow traveler like me be responsible for Commentary?

Host (laughs): Yes, that was unfair. Don't wander at all. Please stay; the table is ready and all are welcome. (picks up his toolbox, leaves the table, crosses over and moves toward the exit)

Oppenheimer: Must you go? I'm embarrassed to admit I'm not sure who you are.

Sadako: I know you, Master. But why must you go?

Host: You do know me, all of you. Most of you know me as a rabbi from Palestine; some of you have been wise enough to know me in the eyes of a child, or a bag lady raving on the street, or a convict going to the gallows. But you all know me.

Sadako: Why must you go? Stay. We need you.

Host: You do need me. I must go to be crucified again. (he exits)

The characters' historical words have been used as much as possible, and sources are detailed in the published book. Brewster's letter is from Michael S. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven: Yale, 1987) 326-328. Teller's speech is from Edward Teller and Allen Brown, The Legacy of Hiroshima (Garden City: Doubleday, 1962) 13-14. Peierls' speech is from Rudolf Peierls, "Reflections of a British Participant," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 1985, 27-29. The Veteran is from Paul Fussell, "Hiroshima: A Soldier's View," The New Republic, August 22 and 29, 1981 (used by permission). The Commentator is from Andre Ryerson, "The Cult of Hiroshima," Commentary, October 1985, 36-40 (used by permission).