JB: I wrote a book called the Identity of Man. I never saw the cover of the English edition until the book reached me in print. And yet the artist had understood exactly what was in my mind, by putting on the cover a drawing of the brain and the Mona Lisa, one on top of the other

Letters to Rita from Japan 1945


Nagasaki 1 November 1945

My dearest Rita,

Either I have got out of step with myself or my memory is at fault. That is, I recall writing to you on Thursday last, 25 October, the day when I got to Tokyo; how since then, things have been so topsy-turvy that I am not clear whether I did indeed write during the weekend, as I intended, or whether it got swallowed in the general tohu-bohu. In any case, you will have had my account of Tokyo and the Japanese misery. (You should also have had a wire which I sent in Washington, the Air Ministry and the office, but without great faith in its arrival.)

We were due originally to leave Tokyo on Sunday, the Monday and finally got out on Tuesday just before the weather closed Tokyo down for days. We flew into a place in South Japan [...]; and got a train from here, taking one and three-quarter hours but slowing more of the Japanese countryside than all our flights and car rides had done. (We had driven about 20 miles on Sunday to see damaged factories etc., and 20 miles of Japanese dirt roads is practically a day’s trip.) To complete this charming and intimate picture of Japan, I should add the exhibition of classical Japanese dancing which the University Club of Tokyo put on for us on Monday. And which I enjoyed immensely; I even discussed the rhythm of their music, much to my surprise and probably theirs.

The countryside, however nicely wooded and watered (practically everything is on river, sea or lake) is squalid – no countryside as poor as this can be anything but dirty and unpicturesque – however it is nearer the storybook Japan than the ‘urban blight’ of Tokyo in ruins.

It was almost dusk when we drove into Nagasaki, so that the fantastic tangles of steel and concrete (this was a highly industrialised steel and shipbuilding area) stood savagely against the sky; and the atmosphere of the impossible was underlined when, at the end of a day’s journey by air and train, we were taken aboard ship to eat and sleep (four-tiered bunks full to the brim). By the mined quay building (3 miles from the bomb) the ship’s loudspeaker system was singing “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”

At first light, we roused ourselves to look for a place to sleep and work anywhere but on the ship and found the British Consulate (no windows and broken doorframes, but structurally sound) in which I now write this.

I spent yesterday (Wednesday 31 Oct to keep the timescale straight) arranging the work of our team, transport, accommodation and the normal 101 things; then began to look at the damage. The Japanese hold that no single house in Nagasaki was damaged and they are probably right; but even more spectacular is the mass of large and solid factory buildings smashed-in in the mile or two round the explosion. The ruin is beyond description; I have seen nothing so terrible before; even the little mound of bones where they have burnt the bodies found in the rubble are not an index of it. It is not worse than Tokyo in appearance, of course (except for the tangled steel buildings pushed askew), but in one’s awareness that this happened in seconds, not hours.

Well, we are really getting down to work here and I think am getting on well. We expect to be here for about a fortnight and then to spend the rest of November in Hiroshima – where there is more damage than here, but less of interest. Since I missed your letters so far, I can’t expect anything to reach me until I get back to Tokyo, probably early in December; how I hope to find a sheaf of them. I hope you have kept writing, because I miss hearing from you very much; but probably it will be pointless to write to me at the APO 234 address by the time this gets to you and I would like you from the end of November to write to me c/o the Rolls, to await arrival.

I miss you very much, my love. Look after yourself and the children and have happy times. I’ll send Lisa a picturecard with this.

All my love, my dearest Rita: I love you so much – Bruno.

Wing Cdr Bronowski USSBS APO 234 c/o PM, SF

Two more letter excerpts

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.