The Atomic Bomb and the End of WWII:
The Japanese Experience and Perspective
This session examines the historical debate surrounding the end of the
Pacific War and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, focusing
particularly on the Japanese experience. It deals furthermore with the
issues of historical memory and commemoration. The site is divided into
four main sections:
1. Living through and with the atomic bomb
2. Viewing the Aftermath
3. Memorializing the Bomb and Contesting History
4. World War II and Japan's Accountability
Throughout this site I give suggestive questions for students (in italics)
and try to raise issues and give background citations for the teacher.
Once you have gone through this site I would highly suggest reading Laura
Hein and Mark Selden, ed., Living With the Bomb. American and Japanese
Cultural Conflicts in the Nuclear Age (M.E. Sharpe, 1997). It is probably
the best single volume that deals with the bombs from both Japanese and
Also of great interest is Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchel, Hiroshima in America. Fifty Years of Denial (Putnam, 1995). Some basic information about the Atomic bomb can be obtained from the A-Bomb WWW Museum's main page: www.csi.ad.jp/ABOMB/index.html. Within that site they may also click on the link "Introduction: About the A-bomb" for additional information. For documents on the decision to drop the atomic bombs, go to: www.dannen.com/decision/index.html
1. Living through, and with, the atomic bomb:
Have the students view this website on Barefoot Gen, the multi-volume comic penned by Kenji Nakazawa, a survivor of Hiroshima. Nakazawa's work, by the way, was the inspiration for Maus; teachers may want to initiate a brief discussion on why artists might use cartoons (or animation), rather than other media, in their work. www.black-kat.com/blackmoon/bomb.html. Some brief biographical information and only a sampling of twelve pages are given, but the students can get a sense of a survivor's first-hand experience. This is a commercial site which offers the video of the comic for purchase, but it is nonetheless useful as an introduction. Students' interest may be piqued enough to read the full volumes themselves (four have been translated into English and are available in paperback editions).
B. Text-based Accounts
For more purely text-based accounts from a number of atomic bomb survivors from Nagasaki, go to: www1.city.nagasaki.nagasaki.jp/na-bomb/heiwa/heiwa01e.html. Click here for Hiroshima survivor testimony , A Child's Experience and Voices of A-Bomb Survivors.
In addition, the following are a few representative examples of survivors'
Kyoko Selden and Mark Selden, eds. and trans., The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (M.E. Sharpe, 1989).
Hachiya, Michihiko. Hiroshima Diary; the journal of a Japanese physician, August 6-September 30, 1945. Warner Wells, trans. and
ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955.
Minear, Richard ed. and trans. Hiroshima: Three Witnesses. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.
(Contains Hara Tamiki's "Summer flowers," Ota Yoko's "City of corpses" and Toge Sankich's "Poems of the atomic bomb.")
For a slightly fictionalized account see Masuji Ibuse's novel Black Rain (also made into a film by the same name). For further background on "atomic bomb literature" see John Treat, Writing Ground Zero. Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb.
While not a Japanese account, all students should be aware of the American
journalist John Hersey's famous New
Yorker article, later published in book form. As a magazine article
"Hiroshima" took over the entire August 31, 1946 issue of the The New
Yorker, had a tremendous
impact, selling out within hours. The full text was read on the radio
in the U.S. and other countries and the Book-of-the-Month club sent a free
copy in book form to all its members.
It traces the experience of six residents, including one foreigner, who survived the blast at Hiroshima; it was the first foreign account to treat the victims as humans and not just statistics, thereby allowingthe reader to identify or emphathize with them.
C. Photographic Evidence
Photographs of some artifacts which remained after the Hiroshima bombing may be viewed at: www.csi.ad.jp/ABOMB/pmm.html
Much more of this type of evidence can be found on the various offical Nagasaki and Hiroshima sites (see 3 C., below)
D. The Second Generation
How has the atomic bomb affected the second generation? What problems have they faced? How have they become politicized? These questions are addressed at: www.csi.ad.jp/ABOMB/nisei.html
2. Viewing the
Having been the second recipient of an atomic bomb Nagasaki has always received less attention than Hiroshima; hence the film "Rhapsody in August" by famed filmmaker Kurosawa Akira. Visit the web page of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum/Peace Promotion Homepage: www.us1.nagasaki-noc.ne.jp/~nacity/na-bomb/indexe.html
Scroll down to the index, which has links to many interesting pages, such as:
Scenes from the main site of the August 9 memorial
Atomic Bomb Museum
For a detailed account of the bombing of Nagasaki with photographs, go to the official site of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum: www1.city.nagasaki.nagasaki.jp/na-bomb/museum/m1-1e.html. Click on the various sites listed on the left part of the screen to see how different parts of the city were impacted.
Click here to see the physical and human impact of the Bomb on Hiroshima.
Also visit www.exploratorium.edu/nagasaki/
(Remembering Nagasaki ) to view the photographs of Japanese army photographer
who visited Nagasaki on August 10, the day after the bomb was dropped on
Click "Next" twice, then once more on the box "The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata."
Click on "Background" to read Yamahata's testimony, written in 1952, upon the exhibition of his photographs (which was only possible after the American Occupation of Japan ended that year)
How do the images compare with those of Barefoot Gen? With those in feature films on the bomb that students may have seen, such as "The Day After" or the first few minutes of Nagisa Oshima's film "Black Rain"?
Compare these ground-zero images with those which Americans saw (mainly
those of the mushroom
cloud)--How are the perspectives different? (the American view
from above, the Japanese view from below) Why might American veterans
not want the public to see the view from below or ground zero? We will
consider the issue of censorship and how this might affect our political
and other viewpoints in part 3, below.
3. Memorializing the Bomb and Contesting History
A. The Atomic Bombs and the End of WWII
Compare the impact of the atomic bombs on the cities and human populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki using the A-bombWWWMuseum site listed at the top of this page. How do the two compare? How do you account for the differences (consider, for example, the types of bomb used andthe selection of targets)? In terms of their destructive capabilities, how do you think the bombs compared with the firebombing of Tokyo in March? How much information and knowledge do you think the Japanese government and people have about the bombs--in other words, to what extent did they understand what had happened?What impact do you think the dropping of the atomic bombs had on the Japanese decision to surrender?
Here it is important to try to try to put the bombs in their proper
historical context: i.e., to consider the nature and scale of warfare which
led up to the bombs and the other important events which were instrumental
in bringing the war to a conclusion. On the first question, John Dower's
Without Mercy. Race and Power in the Pacific War (Pantheon, 1986) is
crucial reading. Dower's discussion of the final "Killing Year," with its
saturation bombing of civilian targets, extensive use of flamethrowers
in the Allied Pacific island-hopping strategy, and the kill-all tactics,
led to an unparalleled level of violence and destruction, which made the
bombs less decisive than they appear to have been in hindsight. In discussing
Japan's decision to sue for peace it is critical to consider the timing
of the events:
August 6: atomic bomb (Little Boy) dropped on Hiroshima
August 8: Soviets declare war on Japan
August 9: atomic bomb (Fat Man) dropped on Nagasaki; that night, imperial war council meets--intervention of the emperor
August 14 (August 15 in Japan)--Japan surrenders (Read the front page of the New York Times from that day)
To understand the significance of the Soviet entry into the war and its impact on the Japanese, students should read the February memorial sent by Prince Konoe to Emperor Hirohito (known simply as the Konoe Memorial). Why did the Japanese fear Communism and the Soviets so? What impact might this have had on the decision to sue for peace? (Reading the reconstructed minutes of the imperial war council meeting (Pacific War Research Society, Japan's Longest Day) leads one to conclude that the bombs were not decisive. The entry of the Soviet Union and the emperor's intervention to break a 3-3 stalement were crucial.)
More generally, what was the emperor's role in decision-making? How much responsibility did he have for waging and ending the war? (Here one might compare traditional views of him as a symbolic figure with more recent reevaluations of a monarch who was not only aware of what the military was doing but was also an active participant in the decision-making process. To understand the constitutional role of the emperor in the Meiji state students might be assigned the Meiji (1889) Constitution, or at least Chapter One (The Emperor), which remained in effect until the end of the war. The work of Herbet Bix, particularly his recent book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (2000), is important in this reinterpretation.) Diane Rehm inteviewed Bix about his book. You can listen to this in RealAudio. Scroll down to the 9/8/2000 for the Bix interview and double click.
Read the emperor's statement which ended the war ("The Voice of the Crane")--summarize the statement in a paragraph. What exactly does it say (e.g. about Japan's war arims? How does he use the A-bomb in his statement?)? What does he neglect to say? Why do you think he fashioned his statement in this manner?
To better understand American policy-making in the dropping of the bomb, see the CIA's monograph by Douglas J. MacEachin, The Final Months of the War With Japan: Signals Intelligence, U.S. Invasion Planning, and the A-Bomb Decision. In what ways does this study amend or refine our understanding of the decision-making process?
B. Public Opinion: Click on: www.exploratorium.edu/nagasaki/mainn.html & then click on the box Commentary and then on the box The Decision and have students read a sampling of messages that were posted, mainly from Americans.
What are the main points
of contention among Americans? Do you notice generational differences?
Does the family background (e.g., related to a WWII soldier, a Japanese-American) of the writer affect his or her opinion?
Go back to the main page and click on the box entitled "Atomic Memories."
Click again on "Responses." Again, have students read a sampling of the
messages sent in from around the world. Respondents were asked to share
their recollections of learning about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. This material should provoke discussion about how people receive
and remake stories they did not directly experience. Have students write
about when and how they first learned of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and what
their reaction was.
C.Memorials and Memorial Activities
Nagasaki: Nagasaki on August 9--click here to see photos and to read text descibing the memorial activities that take place on August 9 (1999). Students might consider, In what ways are the effects of the bomb still felt in Japan today?
How has the city of Nagasaki dealt with the atomic bomb since 1945?What kind of world role do Nagasaki officials, like the mayor, see for the city--and Japan as a whole--today? (Have students read the Nagasaki peace declaration.
What is "peace education"? How have the Japanese reacted to the testing of atomic weapons? How do they see themselves as a result? (unique among nations, having been attacked by nuclear weapons in war; Japan as victim, including a view of the Japanese as victims of American racism; repression stemming from shame; anger and blame, resulting from shame; and like Holocaust survivors, guilt among Japanese survivors)
Read about Hiroshima's peace activities.
Click here to read about, and see images of, memorial activites at Hiroshima. Click on "Floating Lanterns" and "Message."
For a virtual tour of Hiroshima's Peace Park, click here "Tour
Around the Peace Park" and then on specific places mentioned by number
below the map (there are a total of 60 sights). For example:
# 4 A-bomb Dome
#6 Monument to author Tamiki Hara
#10 Children's Peace Monument--the paper cranes in the background were donated by children from across the globe in memory of a Japanese girl named Sadako, who was made famous by the book Sadako and the Thousand Cranes. Click on "Sadako Project" and "Sadako Story" to learn more.
#21 Monument in Memory of Korean Victims of A-bomb--when this site was constructed the memorial was still located outside Peace Park proper. See below for more.
#47 (Eternal?) Flame of Peace--to burn as long as nuclear weapons exist.
Read here for brief descriptions of some of the sights within Peace Park.
What kinds of memorials have been preserved in the park ? What has been left out of the park? (No memorials to non-Japanese who perished in the blast. About a dozen Americans POWs, several thousand Americans of Japanese descent, and an estimated 20,000 Korean forced laborers also died in the atomic blast. Connections can be drawn here to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the dispute over "ownership" of memory. In the case of Hiroshima, it was important to Japanese political figures that it be remembered exclusively as "Japanese victimization." The marginalization of Korean atomic bomb victims can also be linked to the Japanese colonization of Korea, 1910-45, and to the alienation of Koreans in postwar Japanese society in general.).
Why until recently (late 1999) was there no memorial within the Peace Park to the Koreans who died at Hiroshima? To answer this last question have students read: John J. Lies, "Hiroshima and Japan's Neighbors," in Swords and Ploughshares, vol. IX, no. 3-4 (Spring-Summer 1995). The article also addresses the questions, What do South Korean schoolchildren learn about Hiroshima? Why dod they not view it as a tragedy? For a full discussion of the Korean memorial, see Lisa Yoneyama, "Memory Matters. Hiroshima Korean Atom Bomb Memorial and the Politics of Ethnicity," in Hein and Selden, Living With the Bomb, 202-231, and her book, Hiroshima Traces. Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory (University of California Press, 1999).
Various private organizations have been active in trying to help non-Japanese victims of the atomic bomb, particularly those of South Korea.
Photo of the Memorial to Korean victims of the Atomic Bomb, Now Inside
the Peace Park
Text on Memorial to Korean Victims (photos by author)
For other articles on Hirohima in history and Japanese culture, see
the special issue (vol. IX, no. 3-4) of the on-line journal Swords
For example, how have the Japanese dealt with the atomic bomb in literature and film? In what ways has Japanese discourse on the bomb been inhibited by political and social factors?(have students read David M. Desser's article, "Japan: An Ambivalent Nation, an Ambivalent Cinema."
When and why did the Japanese begin to think of themselves as having "special victims status" on a comparable level or even superior to the Jews during the Holocaust? (based on David Goodman, "Responses to Hiroshima in Japanese Literature"). Based on some of the other articles in this on-line issue,
What lessons, if any, has the world learned from Hiroshima?
D. The Controversy over the Enola Gay Exhibition
A public debate between veterans and the National Air and Space Museum erupted over the Museum's proposed Enola Gay exhibit. The
debate began in August of 1993 and hit a crucial point when the Smithsonian,under pressure from veterans and the Congress, cancelled the original exhibit on January 31, 1995. A new, stripped-down, exhibit, which excludes all visual evidence of what it meant to be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, was opened to the public on June 27, 1995 and was visited by several million people. The text, in placard form, at the entrance to the exhibit still, despite all the preceeding controversy, erroneously linked the dropping of the bombs with Japan's decision to surrender.
Read the original text and view the photographs of the original exhibition:
Study the original layout and plan for the exhibition and go through the six units.
What is it about the exhibition (and particularly Unit 6) that so offended veterans' groups? For an excellent discussion of photographs of Hiroshima, including many which were excluded from the Smithsonian exhibition, see George H. Roeder, Jr., "Making Things Visible. Learning from the Censors," in Hein and Selden, Living With the Bomb, 73-99.)
For the veterans' (Air Force Association) viewpoint, go to: www.afa.org/enolagay/home.html
Click here for a sampling of articles from the press
and opinion pieces by members of the academic community.
Read here for the opinion of Martin Harwit, former Smithsonian Director.
How do you think the Japanese reacted to
the cancellation of the original exhibition? Read an editorial
from Japan Echo on this and other, related, controversies.
A lengthy on-line bibliography on the controversy is available, but below are few representative sources:
Fenrich, Lane. "The Enola Gay and the Politics of Representation." The Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. vol. 27 no. 2, April-June
Linenthal, Edward T. "Between History and Memory: The Enola Gay Controversy at the National Air and Space Museum." The
Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. vol. 27 no. 2, April-June 1995.
Also from the same issue cited above, two important voices from the Japanese academic community: Sodei Rinjiro, "Hiroshima/Nagasaki as History
and Politics: and Yui Daizaburo, "Between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima/Nagasaki: A Psychological Vicious Circle."
Nobile, Philip ed. Judgment at the Smithsonian: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Marlowe & Company. (ISBN
1-56924-841-9) Includeds the first script of Enola Gay Exhibit with afterword by Barton Bernstein.
Also, see the entry above of the special issue of Diplomatic History vol. 19 no. 2 (Spring, 1995) entitled "Hiroshima in History and Memory:
A Symposium." (Subsequently published as a book Hiroshima in History and Memory.)
Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, Hiroshima's Shadow (Pamphleteer's Press, 1998).
E. Japan's Own Museum Controversy
The controvery over the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum was closely followed in Japan, but the Japanese government itself became embroiled in a controversy of its own over a plan to construct a museum that was provisionally called the War Dead Peace Memorial Hall (Senbotsusha Tsuito Heiwa Kinenkan). The plan was an attempt by the government to memorialize Japan's war dead. Critics' complaints echoed Japanese government officials' criticisms of the Smithsonian: that plans to commemorate only one nation's war dead were an insult to those of other nationalities who had died. Defenders of the project denied any need to apologize to war victims in Asia. A similar deadlock between political forces in Japan resulted in the abandonment of the original plans; in 1999 the museum, now called the Showa Hall (Showakan) was opened to the public with a different mission, to document the activities and lifestyle of the Japanese people during the war years. In the words of the Japanese government's 1998-98 White Paper on Social Security and National Life:
"Showakan opened at Kudan, Tokyo in March of 1999
which was constructed as part of the aiding measures for the bereaved of
the war dead. It collects
and stores historical materials and information relating to the hardships experienced by the children and other bereaved families of the war dead during the
war and postwar days so as to provide the later generations with an opportunity to know their ordeal. In the seven-story building with two levels of
basement, real materials that depict the living of people during that time are exhibited, related books/documents and images/audio data are offered for
public perusal, general information on libraries at home and abroad as well as information on literatures and materials are provided."
Read more about Japan's Museum controversy in Ellen H. Hammond, "Commemoration
Controversies: The War, the Peace, and Democracy in Japan," in Laura Hein
and Mark Selden, ed., Living With the Bomb, pp. 100-121.
4.WWII and Japan's Accountability
How accountable have the Japanese been for the actions of their military in World War II (Rape of Nanking, Unit 731, comfort women)? Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking, must be used with caution. In it she asserts that there were two "rapes": the human tragedy which took place in 1937 and the (alleged) cover-up which has taken place ever since. The charge of a cover-up is simplisitc, sensationalistic, and reflects the rising ethnic consciousness of Chinese-Americans. Read here for a Japanese critique of Chang. For an American academic viewpoint, click here. On Japanese efforts to document Japan's war responsibility, the work of the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan's War Responsibility has been terribly important, particularly in raising consciousness about the comfort women. Click on "Permanent Exhibition on Japan's Aggression" for a variety of topics. For a critical Japanese perspective on comfort women, see Watanabe Kazuko's article.
War crimes and the issue of war responsibility are closed linked. For a Japanese perspective, see "Changing Japanese views of the allied occupation of Japan and the war crimes Trials," by Utsumi Aiko. Japanese war-crimes in China were not dealt with adequately by the International Tribunal (Click on "Tokyo War Crimes Trials") of the Allied Occupation of Japan, which is one of the reasons why the Japanese have never been able to fully confront WWII. Read here for a Chinese perspective on the trials.
For a discussion of Japanese textbooks and World War II, see Irie Yoshimasa's article "The History of the Textbook Controversy," which includes a discussion of the far right's complaints that the textbooks have gone too far and are unpatriotic. Students can read excerpts from Japanese textbooks to see for themselves what they have to say. (Students should be informed that Japanese teachers select their textbooks from lists approved by the central government's Ministry of Education.) How do these various excerpts compare in therms of historical accuracy and accountability? To what extent do they reveal a victim's consciousness" on the part of the Japanese? Teachers may wish to raise the issue of how other countries have dealt, in textbooks, with unpleasant periods in their national histories, e.g. Germany and its Nazi past, America and the Vietnam War.
No figure is of greater importance in the struggle for historically
accurate textbooks than Ienaga
Saburo, whose three
lawsuits, spanning three decades, forced the government to make changes.
Ienaga's effort gained international
attention (click on "Examples of Concealment of Historical Facts through
the Textbook Screening System" to read about specific points of contention
in textbooks) and has encouraged other Japanese to follow his path. The
and final lawsuit was finally settled only in 1997 and provided Ienaga
with a partial victory (this brief article also includes a concise assessment
of the issue of censorship in Japanese textbooks today). The far right,
led by Fujioka
Nobukatsu, has described these new texts as "masochistic," and has
countered through his own lawsuits, trying for example to expunge the mention
of "comfort women" from Japanese textbooks.