LEGACY OF THE ATOMIC BOMBING OF JAPAN AND OBAMA'S VISIT TO HIROSHIMA

LEGACY OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI


Hiroshima after the blast

Some think Hiroshima has been so overplayed it has lost its meaning. Roland Kelts wrote in The New Yorker, “The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum maintains the bomb’s imagery, often admirably. But sixty-eight years later, the story of Hiroshima, its possible meanings and emotions, are fast becoming dead artifacts, especially in Japan, where the platitudes and memorials are broadcast live once every year, dominating the airwaves with about as much salient impact as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s the most photographed A-bomb site in the world. [Source: Roland Kelts, The New Yorker, August 6, 2013 <<>>]

Sarah Stillman wrote in The New Yorker, “In the final pages of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” he observed that many people he met there were often reticent to speak or even think about the ethics of the bomb; instead, they would offer approximations of “Shikata ga nai,” a Japanese expression that he translated as “It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.” [Source: Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker, August 12, 2014 |~|]

Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, told Slate: “ The atomic bomb narrative is extremely strong in every country I have studied. It is one of the few aspects or parts of the story of the Second World War that haven’t changed, while other parts have. The countries’ national nuclear narratives are very much locked in place. ..There is one other point. The atomic bombings were a continuation of civilian bombing, area bombing, carpet bombing, that every country did in World War II. It was universal. So if we are talking about the lessons of Hiroshima, we need to talk about the lessons of civilian bombings generally....What I am arguing is that” the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “are often singled out but they are a subset. It is a new gadget to do the same horrific thing. It is not going to come up. This is what I mean about the bomb narrative being so solid.” [Source: Isaac Chotiner, Slate, May 16, 2016]

For American or Japanese-American children attending school n Japan, Hiroshima can be an uncomfortable topic. Linda Hoaglund made documentary film about Hiroshima called “Things Left Behind. Her relationship to Hiroshima, Kelts wrote: “is both more transcultural and more intimate. Born and raised in Japan as the child of American missionaries, she was startled one day when her Japanese teacher addressed Hiroshima and the atomic bomb in the classroom. Her Japanese classmates stared her down—a tall fourth grader with blond hair—and she never wanted to visit Hiroshima. “I wanted to dig a hole under my desk,” she says now. “Learning that you belong to a country that has blood on its hands. It disfigured my conscience.” <<>>

Debate Over the Use the Atomic Bomb on Japan

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “There is considerable debate among historians about the necessity of using the bomb to force Japan's surrender; there is perhaps even greater controversy concerning the moral principle involved in subjecting the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to this weapon. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|> ]

Was it necessary to use the atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender? This is a subject of heated debate among historians. Some point to the existence of a pro-peace faction in Japan, resisting the army and growing in strength. This faction had already tried to express Japan's interest in peace through the Russians, whom they believed were still neutral. In fact, the Russians had secretly agreed at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 to attack the Japanese. Moreover, Japanese offensive capabilities were exhausted. The navy and air force were almost totally destroyed by the summer of 1945, and the Japanese islands were completely cut off from the rest of the world. The Russian attack of August 8 on Manchuria met little or no resistance. <|>

Historians have actively debated whether the bombings were necessary, what effect they had on bringing the war in the Pacific to an expeditious end, and what other options were available to the United States. These very same questions were also contentious at the time, as American policymakers struggled with how to use a phenomenally powerful new technology and what the long-term impact of atomic weaponry might be, not just on the Japanese, but on domestic politics, America’s international relations, and the budding Cold War with the Soviet Union. In retrospect, it is clear that the reasons for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, just like the later impact of nuclear technology on world politics, were complex and intertwined with a variety of issues that went far beyond the simple goal of bringing World War II to a rapid close.” <|>


Hiroshima mushroom cloud


Japanese Views Versus American Views of Hiroshima

Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, told Slate: “ The Japanese national narrative is that the bomb gave Japan a mission for peace in the world. The bomb doesn’t end the war: It starts the postwar mission for peace....But then you have future generations that are not all the same. In Hiroshima they start with the bomb, although now they acknowledge there was a war that ended with the bomb. The Japanese ignore everything before Hiroshima and the Americans ignore everything after Nagasaki. Both of the stories are truncated.’” [Source: Isaac Chotiner, Slate, May 16, 2016]

“The American narrative is that the bomb ended the war and saved American lives. That’s the story... The larger story has changed but the bomb story hasn’t changed. Here, I don’t think the story has changed but the attitude is changing. The people who fought in WWII will not change their narrative. They tried to put it on a postage stamp saying, “Atomic Bomb Hastened War’s End.” But then you have future generations that are not all the same. In Hiroshima they start with the bomb, although now they acknowledge there was a war that ended with the bomb. But the Americans end the bomb story in 1945, and what wasn’t acknowledged was the arms race and radiation sickness. This was the subject of the Enola Gay controversy at the Smithsonian in 1995, where veterans did not want to acknowledge radiation sickness.The Japanese ignore everything before Hiroshima and the Americans ignore everything after Nagasaki. Both of the stories are truncated.”

Sunao Tsubio: 'I Had Entered a Living Hell on Earth'

Sunao Tsuboi was photographed on Miyuki Bridge in Hiroshima three hours after the bombing of Hiroshima. At the time of the blast he was a 20-year-old university student on his way to morning classes. The facial scars he carried for all of his life (he was still alive in 2016) are proof of his experience in a “living hell on earth”. In the photo, one of only a handful of surviving images taken in Hiroshima that day, Tsuboi is sitting on the road with several other people, staring at the gutted buildings around them. To one side, police officers douse schoolchildren with cooking oil to help soothe the pain of their burns. “That’s me,” he told The Guardian. “We were hoping we would find some sort of medical help, but there was no treatment available, and no food or water. I thought I had reached the end.” [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, August 4, 2015 <~>]

Tsuboi told The Guardian he remembers hearing a loud bang, then being blown into the air and landing 10 meters away. He regained consciousness to find he had been burned over most of his body, his shirtsleeves and trouser legs ripped off by the force of the blast. Motoko Rich wrote in the New York Times: “His body was burned from head to toe. The pain was so severe that Mr. Tsuboi was certain he would die. He took a small rock and etched on a bridge, “Here is where Sunao Tsuboi found his end.” A classmate rescued him from the bridge and carried him to a military hospital. Several days later, his mother and uncle found him and took him home. It took him a year to walk again. [Source: Motoko Rich, New York Times, May 27, 2016 ~|~ <~>]


Badly burned Hiroshima victim


Tsuboi, told The Guardian “My arms were badly burned and there seemed to be something dripping from my fingertips... My back was incredibly painful, but I had no idea what had just happened. I assumed I had been close to a very large conventional bomb. I had no idea it was a nuclear bomb and that I’d been exposed to radiation. There was so much smoke in the air that you could barely see 100 meters ahead, but what I did see convinced me that I had entered a living hell on earth. <~>

“There were people crying out for help, calling after members of their family. I saw a schoolgirl with her eye hanging out of its socket. People looked like ghosts, bleeding and trying to walk before collapsing. Some had lost limbs...There were charred bodies everywhere, including in the river. I looked down and saw a man clutching a hole in his stomach, trying to stop his organs from spilling out. The smell of burning flesh was overpowering.” <~>

According to The Guardian: “Tsuboi was taken to a hospital, where he remained unconscious for over a month. By the time he came to, a defeated Japan was under the control of the US-led allied occupation. “I had no idea that the war had ended,” he said. “It was difficult to take in.” Since then Tsuboi has been hospitalised 11 times, including three occasions when doctors told him he was about to die. He takes drugs for several illnesses, including two cancer diagnoses, which he says are connected to his exposure to radiation.” <~>

Tsubio’s Life After Hiroshima and His Meeting with Obama

Tsuboi is chairman of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), a nationwide organisation of atomic and hydrogen bomb sufferers. He is one of the Hiroshima survivors that met with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited and gave a speech at Hiroshima. According to the New York Times, Tsubio “gripped Mr. Obama’s hand and would not let go until he had spoken to him for some time.”

Motoko Rich wrote in the New York Times: After Hiroshima, Tsubio fell in love with a woman whose parents did not want her to marry him, fearing that he would soon die. In despair, the couple took sleeping pills, but the doses were too low. Mr. Tsuboi eventually won her parents’ permission, and seven years later they were married. The couple had three children and seven grandchildren. After he retired as a middle school principal, Mr. Tsuboi decided to devote himself to working at the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations. [Source: Motoko Rich, New York Times, May 27, 2016 ~|~]


1st page of the Letter by Einstein to President Roosevelt in 1939 on the threat of nuclear weapons


“Mr. Tsuboi said he was grateful for Mr. Obama’s visit. He said that although the president had made little progress toward the vision of a nuclear-free world that he outlined in 2009, “that’s the stupidity of humanity.” He urged the president to work for world peace after he leaves office. “The world is more complex now,” Mr. Tsuboi said. “But in his heart, he wants people to get along well with each other.”“ ~|~

Tsuboi had three children and seven grandchildren. He makes an annual pilgrimage to Hiroshima Peace Park on 6 August, where he releases a lantern along the Motoyasu river – where thousands fled to escape the heat of the nuclear blast – to “guide” the spirits of the dead. [Source: The Guardian]

Shigeaki Mori: Survivor Who Sought the Truth About American Hiroshima Victims

Shigeaki Mori is a Hiroshima bomb survivor who spent decades after the war researching the fates of American prisoners of war who were killed when the city was bombed. He told the New York Times “how he was walking to school when the bomb exploded, knocking him off a bridge and into a small, shallow river. He was lucky: The river protected him from the firestorm that followed. He remembered searching for food and water in the ensuing days but finding piles of charred bodies instead. “Their mouths were open, because people had tried to identify them by their tooth fillings,” he said. [Source: New York Times website, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“When he grew up, Mr. Mori worked at a brokerage house and, later, a piano manufacturer. “But I’d always wanted to be a historian,” he said. He spent his weekends researching the aftermath of the bombing, double-checking official histories with contemporary newspaper reports and his own interviews with survivors. “There were so many mistakes in the histories,” he said.

“One day, a university professor gave him a list of a names he had found in a government archive. They were Americans, airmen who had been shot down in raids over the area and had been held in a detention center in the city. Their deaths had gone unrecognized: Both governments kept their presence in Hiroshima quiet after the war. Mr. Mori interviewed residents who had seen the downed planes. He scoured American phone books he found at libraries, looking for people who might have been family members of the crewmen. “I made calls for three years before I found anyone,” he said. *-*


2nd page of the Letter by Einstein to President Roosevelt in 1939 on the threat of nuclear weapons


“Eventually, in the 1970s, declassified American documents backed up his findings. The name of the first airman was added to the peace memorial in Hiroshima in 2004; an additional 11 were added five years later...Mr. Mori was one of two bomb survivors who spoke briefly with Mr. Obama after his speech. The men shook hands. Mr. Mori had tears in his eyes. The president gave him a hug, which Mr. Mori returned.“It was emotional,” Mr. Mori told television reporters afterward. “I don’t even remember what I said.” *-*

Obama Visits Hiroshima

On May 27, 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama made a brief but historic visit to Hiroshima. He visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and signed the guest book there. He also gave a speech, met a few Hiroshima survivors and laid a wreath at the cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which commemorates the victims of the atomic bomb blast. [Source: New York Times website, May 27, 2016 *-*]

According to the New York Times: “After his speech here, President Obama exchanged an emotional embrace with Shigeaki Mori, 79, a bomb survivor who spent decades after the war researching the fates of American prisoners of war who were killed when the city was bombed....About 6:38 p.m. local time, Mr. Obama boarded the presidential helicopter, Marine One, and left Hiroshima. The entire history-making visit lasted about an hour and 45 minutes.Mr. Obama then flew back to the Marine air station at Iwakuni, where he changed to Air Force One for the trip to Washington.” *-*

On Obama’s decision to visit Hiroshima, Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, told Slate: “ I think it is a very good decision. I think it is a decision that probably would have made sense to do earlier, but it makes particular sense to do in the context of President Obama’s anti-nuclear policies. It also makes sense in terms of the alliance between Japan and the United States. I think the question is why it took 71 years for this to happen...I think the main thing of the visit—like most things involving the politics of memory—is symbolic. It is a symbolic gesture. It says, “We don’t believe nuclear war is right and we don’t want to see it ever again.” That’s what the banner in Hiroshima says: “We shall not repeat this evil.”... We are saying that this sort of suffering is terrible, and that’s good. Instead of having a huge military parade, which have gotten bigger and bigger in Moscow and Beijing, this is another way of talking about the war.” [Source: Isaac Chotiner, Slate, May 16, 2016]

Obama Speech at Hiroshima


Obama at Japanese PM Abe at Hiroshima Peace Memorial

In his speech Obama said: ““We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner... Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines....The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well...That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow. [Source: New York Times website, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again. Someday, the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change. *-*

“Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonder of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done...The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” *-*

Obama Meets Hiroshima Survivors

The New York Times reported: “After his speech, President Obama spoke and shook hands with several survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He first shook hands with Sunao Tsuboi, who was a 20-year-old student at the Hiroshima Vocational School when the bomb fell. He was on his way to college the morning of the bombing. Mr. Tsuboi, a chairman of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, gripped Mr. Obama’s hand and would not let go until he had spoken to him for some time. [Source: New York Times website, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“Mr. Obama then spoke with Shigeaki Mori, 79, who spent decades working to ensure the recognition of 12 American prisoners of war who were killed in the attack. Mr. Obama gave him a hug. Among the other survivors attending the ceremony were Tsugio Ito, 81, who survived the Hiroshima bombing, married and raised two children only to see his oldest son, Kazushige, die at the World Trade Center during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Ito is a peace activist who has participated in several 9/11 commemorations at the United States Embassy in Tokyo. Another was Yorie Kano, 73, who was 2 when the bomb struck. Her parents were Japanese-Americans who had moved back to Japan before the war. Ms. Kano, an American citizen, now lives in California. *-*

Reaction to Obama’s Speech in Hiroshima

President Obama’s speech was generally received well by Hiroshima survivors. According to the New York Times: “Terumi Tanaka, 84, secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, which represents survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said that he wished the president had spent more time touring the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and speaking with survivors. But he said that Mr. Obama gave a “wonderful” speech. “I think if the survivors read the text of his speech they will all be moved,” he said. [Source: New York Times website, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“Mr. Tanaka said he regretted that Mr. Obama had not been able to make more progress toward a nuclear-free world.“He hasn’t been able to realize the speech he made in Prague, so I wonder how much he will be able to realize what he said here in Hiroshima in the future. We want to support and encourage him with what he said he was going to do today. Of course we have a feeling of wanting an apology.“But the most important thing is to abolish nuclear weapons.” He said he hoped Mr. Obama would sit down and listen to the aging survivors. “If he does not listen to them now, in 10 years, he can never listen to them,” Mr. Tanaka said.

Miyako Jodai, 76, was 6 when the atomic bomb destroyed her home in Nagasaki. Ms. Jodai said she welcomed Mr. Obama’s visit, although she wants him to listen to stories of the hibakusha so he can “understand the cruelty and misery and the human impact of the A-bomb.” Mr. Fukahori said he understood why Mr. Obama would not be issuing an apology for the bombings. “In the U.S. there are various opinions about whether he should apologize or not,” Mr. Fukahori said. “I understand that well, because the U.S. lost so many lives in World War II. We are all victims of war.” *-*

“Tomoko Miyoshi, 50, wept as she watched the president’s speech on her phone. “I am simply grateful for his visit,” said Ms. Miyoshi, who lost 10 relatives in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.” Earlier, “she visited the graves of her great-grandmother and great-grandfather, both of whom died within a week of the bombing. “I told them, President Obama is coming to visit,” she said. As Mr. Obama laid the wreath at the cenotaph, Ms. Miyoshi put her hands together in prayer and bowed. *-*

“Nearby, Rio Monzen, 20, a college junior majoring in international relations, said his grandfather was a bomb survivor. “He always kept saying, ‘I hate that the United States has done such an awful thing,’ ” Mr. Monzen said. He said that he was disappointed the president would not be offering an apology for the bombing but that he was still grateful for the visit. He said he hoped that the occasion would prompt Americans who thought dropping the atomic bomb was justified to reconsider. “I hope that sometime in the future, they will start to realize that this was not the right thing,” he said.” *-*

“Shim Jin-tae, who led a small group of South Korean survivors to Hiroshima, said by telephone that they were disappointed that Mr. Obama did not issue an apology but that they felt their trip had not been wasted. “In his speech, President Obama at least recognized that Koreans were killed in the bombing,” Mr. Shim said. “Now, the world knows that Koreans, too, were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”The South Korean survivors visited the memorial park on to pay tribute at a monument dedicated to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Koreans killed when the atomic bombs fell on the two Japanese cities in 1945. None were invited to attend Mr. Obama’s speech or meet him afterward.” *-*

Image Sources: National Archives of the United States; Wikimedia Commons; Gensuikan;

Text Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, Lonely Planet Guides, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Eyewitness to History , edited by John Carey ( Avon Books, 1987), Compton’s Encyclopedia, History of Warfare by John Keegan, Vintage Books, Eyewitness to History.com, The Good War An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel, Hamish Hamilton, 1985, BBC’s People’s War website and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2016

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