Start A Petition

Football at Ground Zero: The 'Atom Bowl', Nagasaki, New Year's Day, 1946

Science & Tech  (tags: science, scientists, society, study, world, safety, investigation )

- 1966 days ago -
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 Brit

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.


JL A (281)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 8:27 am
Football at Ground Zero: The 'Atom Bowl', Nagasaki, New Year's Day, 1946
Greg Mitchell on December 31, 2012 - 10:08 AM ET

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… “

When Bronowski returned from Japan he tried to persuade officials in the British government and at the United Nations that Nagasaki should be preserved exactly as it was. He wanted all future conferences on crucial international issues “to be held in that ashy, clinical sea of rubble…. only in this forbidding context could statesmen make realistic judgments of the problems which they handle on our behalf.” His colleagues showed little interest, however; they pointed out delegates “would be uncomfortable in Nagasaki,” according to Bronowski.

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.

Back in the States, the Rose Bowl and other major college football bowl games, with the Great War over, were played as usual on New Year’s Day. To mark the day in Japan, and raise morale (at least for the Americans), two Marine divisions faced off in the so-called Atom Bowl, played on a killing field in Nagasaki that had been cleared of debris. It had been “carved out of dust and rubble,” as one wire service report put it.

Both teams had enlisted former college or pro stars 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. 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 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 glass shards remaining on the turf.

Press reports the next day claimed some Japanese observed the game—from the shells of blasted- out buildings nearby.

Like this article? Support this journalism with a $5 donation now.

Over nine thousand Allied POWs were processed through Nagasaki, but the number of occupation troops dropped steadily every month. By April 1946, the US had withdrawn military personnel from Hiroshima, and they were out of Nagasaki by summer. An estimated 118,000 military personnel passed through the atomic cities at one point or another. Some of them were there mainly as tourists, and wandered through the ruins, snapping photos and buying artifacts.

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.

Greg Mitchell is the author of more than a dozen books on politics, history, nuclear issues, capital punishment and media, including Atomic Cover-up on the decades-long suppression of film footage shot by the US military in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Dave Zirin writes that 2012, full of wild moments in sports, was the year they broke.

. (0)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 12:32 pm
We may have won the war militarily but not economically. Take a good look at Detroit and some other cities and compare them with modern day Nagasaki. What a beautiful, modern city and clean too.

Kit B (276)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 2:02 pm

I have a friend that hates it when I say that the US did not win WWII, we did declare ourselves the victors and then went about the process of writing a history to that effect. The Japanese had been hammered by intensive bombing from the US and other allied forces and the Russians had smashed through the Eastern front. The Japanese were ready for a surrender before the use of the Atomic Bomb. Then again---- we did have this new weapon, as yet untested on the field of battle so of course we used it, and no it saved no American "boys". But it did murder, intentionally, thousands more civilians. To this day we live under the constant thread of nuclear annihilation from that one VERY bad decision.

By this point of the war, our troops and even those at home had become fully immune to the humanity of the Japanese people. Playing football was but one more insult to a broken people. War makes a few wealthy and destroys all humanity in the rest of us.

JL A (281)
Tuesday January 1, 2013, 2:35 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.
Man's inhumanity to man dehumanizes him and sows the seeds for our own destruction.
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

Giana P (398)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 1:27 am
My father was in the US Airforce and had his epiphany in Hiroshima after viewing the destruction there. He also wrote a book about it. It changed his philosophy on life completely. This event must have changed many people's lives...

Jaime Alves (52)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 3:01 am
Sad, noted.!!

Tanya W (65)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 6:03 am
Yes sad. Also noted.

Suzanne L (99)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 6:28 am

David C (131)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 9:00 am

JL A (281)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 9:01 am
Thanks Giana--my father's Army time was Europe--his epiphany was with the bombing of Dresden on the back-drop of his MASH unit responsibilities. You cannot currently send a star to Giana because you have done so within the last week.
It is sad Jaime and Tanya.
You are welcome Suzanne.

Hayley C (7)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 9:01 am
Thanks for sharing.

JL A (281)
Wednesday January 2, 2013, 9:15 am
You are welcome Dave and Hayley.
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:
Please add your comment: (plain text only please. Allowable HTML: <a>)

Track Comments: Notify me with a personal message when other people comment on this story

Loading Noted By...Please Wait


butterfly credits on the news network

  • credits for vetting a newly submitted story
  • credits for vetting any other story
  • credits for leaving a comment
learn more

Most Active Today in Science & Tech

Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.

New to Care2? Start Here.