13. ‘Nothing, Nothing’: Memories of Hiroshima

To be sure, there was more than a little self-censorship surrounding the surviving victims of the bombs, the hibakusha. Few wished to be reminded of the terrible day; even those, like (Ota, who felt compelled to write about the experience of Hiroshima, wished they did not. The victims’ vulnerability seemed to embarrass them. They also felt ashamed of their appearance and for the burden they placed on friends and family for their medical care. ‘Hibakusha were not welcome compatriots in the new Japan,’ John Dower has written. ‘Psychologically if not physically, they were deformed reminders of a miserable past.’ Occupation censorship and Japanese self-censorship concerning the bombs thus worked in tandem to the probable satisfaction of all parties; there existed, according to Robert J. Lifton, a guilt-induced ‘ “conspiracy of silence” between instigators and victims’ of the bombs. In what may have been an act of displaced guilt, or perhaps just spite, in November 1945 Groves ordered the destruction of Nishina’s cyclotron at the Riken. US soldiers using torches, sledgehammers, and crowbars dismantled the machine and dumped its pieces in the bay. Nishina watched and wept.59

Some who survived in Hiroshima expressed resentment of or hatred for the Americans they blamed for their misery. ‘I think they must have been crazy,’ said a bar worker of the Americans. ‘[Toward them I felt] nothing but hatred.’ A businessman who lost his son in the bombing acknowledged the ‘wonderful things America has done for us’ during the occupation, but added that ‘until the moment I die I will feel resentment toward America’, while another survivor focused his ‘strong hatred’ on President Truman, whom he characterized as ‘a cold-blooded animal’. In general, though, the anger felt by survivors was either directed elsewhere, or was sublimated, denied, or transformed into some other emotion entirely. Kenzaburo Oe blamed Japan’s accelerated modernization for leading to Japanese aggression in Asia, and, inexorably, to the atomic bombings. Michihiko Hachiya spared both his emperor and the Americans his rage, settling instead for ‘hating the military authorities’ who had ‘betrayed the Emperor and the people of Japan’, and another writer agreed: ‘the anger we felt at the end of the war’, she told Lifton, ‘was not toward the bomb but the Japanese militarists.’ Toyofumi Ogura blamed himself and his fellow citizens for allowing the military to pursue its disastrous course: the bomb must be accepted as an ‘expiation of these sins’. For others, there was neither anger nor blame, for the bomb was a powerful abstraction, a ‘surreal new dimension of existence’ that was beyond the control of any human being, even those who had ordered it built and dropped. No one could be blamed for a force beyond human comprehension or control.60

Mostly, the survivors suffered, and grieved, and tried to get on with their lives, with the articulate or artistic or merely thoughtful among them occasionally coaxing forth their responses to being bombed. There were the writers, like (Oe, Tamiki Hara, and Yoko (Ota, the last of whom in 1955 published the story ‘Residues of Squalor’ (or ‘Pockets of Ugliness’). Five women and girls are sleeping in a hovel in post-bomb Hiroshima. The narrator, unable to sleep, watches in horror and fascination as ‘countless’ slugs crawl over the mosquito net under which her family members lie. Awakened, the narrator’s mother and sister prepare salt water in a can, then, using discarded chopsticks, pluck the slugs one by one from the netting and drop them into the can. The narrator has no love for the molluscs, but finds herself revolted by this method of killing them:

I looked in the can. They were half melting, but not completely melted. Thick and muddy, there was no sign of their having put up resistance to this sole primitive measure... I had begun to suffer from an association. It was about human beings heaped up in a mound of death, half burnt but not completely melted, with no energy to show any sign of resistance. They were so alike.

She cannot see the slugs die without remembering ‘the pale white radioactive flash [that] burnt H City as though to toast it’. An ordinary act of pest extermination is transmuted into a vivid metaphor for the annihilation of human beings.61

Poetry, especially in its Japanese forms, seemed to lend itself to the expression of shock and lamentation. Haiku in particular captured the intensity of the bomb experience. Herewith three haiku by Hiroshima survivors:

An empty shell I walk flowers hit my eyes (Isami Sasaki)

To the jeep that quickly came I refused autopsy (Nobuyuki Okada)

God suddenly averted His eyes at 8:15 (Genshi Fujikawa)62

The hibakusha poet Eisaku Yoneda caught the pathos of hope deadened by despair, of ‘winter sunshine’ overmatched by ‘cold wind’:

Going along the dirt road,

I see the winter sunshine brightly;

The young shoots are through already,

Steadily pushing between the ashes.

And yet I look in vain for my young one,

Hearing only the far sound of a cold wind.

I stand on the Aioi Bridge, sick at heart.

In the deep water something flashes!

Ah! It is but an image,

An image of his childhood.63

And finally, the unalloyed bleakness of Hiroshima, the dead city, in ‘Ruins’. The poet is Sadako Kurihara:

Hiroshima: nothing, nothing—

old and young burned to death,

city blown away, socket without eyeball.

White bones scattered over reddish rubble;

above, sun burning down:

city of ruins, still as death.64

Last, and hardest, are the stories of survivors, related in letters or memoirs or told to journalists, psychologists, or historians (often Americans), not in soaring or bitter literary phrases but in the straightforward, significant prose of ordinary people. One of these was Fumiko Morishita, a waitress at a Hiroshima restaurant who seemed on 6 August unharmed by the bomb. But she had been exposed to radiation and soon sickened. Her fiance, a soldier who had been away for years, against all odds returned intact and renewed his suit, despite Fumiko’s illness. Having watched from her hospital bed as pregnant women gave birth to visibly damaged babies, she turned him away: it was not fair, she said, to subject him to the likely trauma of having retarded offspring. He persisted, holding her erect as they walked in the hospital garden, insisting that he still wanted to marry. But she would not be swayed and at last they parted company. She would never wed.65

Masao Baba was 5 years old and living in Hiroshima on 6 August. ‘The atom bomb wrecked our big house and killed my father,’ he recalled five years later. ‘My brother lost an ear and my little sister lost an eye.’ Masao’s family left for the countryside but had moved back to the city when his mother received permission to build a ‘shelter’ there. His mother was running a second-hand store and his brother went to work each day. His sister got teased for having just one eye. Masao told her tormentors off, which temporarily put a stop to the teasing. It was harder for him when adults teased her too. ‘If our father were alive, he would take her to the hospital and her eye would get better, but we don’t have enough money to do that,’ he said. ‘I always worry about her and it’s hard to study because I worry whether she is being teased or whether she is crying by herself’ When grown-ups laughed at her he thought: ‘You just wait, you just wait!’66

Walking near a crossroads in Hiroshima two days after the bombing, the historian Toyofumi Ogura came upon a makeshift booth, patched together from bits of wood gathered from the wreckage that surrounded it. ‘On the shelves’, he observed, ‘were rows of small packets made from old folded newspaper... like the ones in which peddlers wrap seeds. However, each of these packets contained a small quantity of ash and had a name and address written on them. Many didn’t even have names—only a description, such as “Male about thirty years old” or “Forty-year-old female” ’. Bereaved family members, Ogura noted, had come to claim the minuscule remains, even if it meant guessing wildly about whose ashes they were getting. Ogura’s wife, Fumiyo, was doomed to die less than two weeks later. He continued to write letters about his experience, all of them addressed to her.67

Some five years later, after the stories of the hibakusha and their lost loved ones had begun to come to light, after censorship about the atomic bomb had eased in Japan and permitted publication of some memoirs and poems, Hanson W Baldwin, the distinguished military affairs writer for the New York Times, published an essay in an edited volume called Great Mistakes of the War. Baldwin reviewed what was then known of Japanese decisionmaking during the summer of 1945 and concluded, in agreement with a number of postwar critics, that the atomic bombs had not been necessary to win the war. The Japanese, he wrote, were on the verge of surrender, the Emperor having aligned himself with the peace faction in July. By using the bombs, the Truman administration had exacted from the people of Japan a terrible price and had compromised America’s moral standing in the world. Americans had ‘inherited the mantle of Genghis Khan and all those of past history who have justified the use of utter ruthlessness in war’, and were ‘now branded with the mark of the beast’. Equally troubling was the precedent the bombs established of ‘Total War’. By unleashing on defenseless citizens the power of the nucleus, the United States had removed the final restriction on the conduct of war, and it was utopian to assume that the United States itself would now be spared the consequences: ‘We sowed there a whirlwind of hate which we shall someday reap.’ In an age of bitter Cold War rivalry, and with the Soviet Union having detonated its first atomic bomb the previous summer, Baldwin’s prediction had about it the ring of ominous and terrifying common sense.68

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