The Foundations of Our World

As the New York Times remembers Hiroshima, try this quiz. Name the two greatest losses of civilian life in the Pacific war. Hint. In both cases the civilian casualties were greater than Hiroshima’s. In one case the event took place on American soil.


Hiroshima 70,000–80,000
Battle of Manila 100,000
Nanjing 300,000



The US Ambassador to Japan and the Secretary General of the United Nations will attend the memorial at Hiroshima.  Things have always been more modest in what was once America’s Pearl of the Orient. No memorial or stone was erected to the civilian loss in the greatest urban battle of the Pacific War. Finally in 1995 a modest shrine was built in the old city of Intramuros. On it were inscribed these words:

This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins.

Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 – March 3, 1945. We have not forgotten them, nor shall we ever forget.

May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: the Manila of our affections.


Hiroshima, Manila and Nanjing are tragic in their own ways. But one tragedy that continues even to this day is the selective memory in the capitals of nations who the inhabitants of Manila and Nanjing once called their Allies.  Bravery and sacrifice is fine; but politics is finer. Hiroshima is remembered not only because of the suffering and loss that took place there but because it renews an ongoing narrative, and those Japanese dead can still march in its cause. Manila and Nanjing, which hold the graves of nearly 400,000 people who once fought on the side of the democracies, are forgotten.  But that is no matter. After the first death, there is no other.

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