The “Black Rain” – A Re-assessment on the Dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on Japan, pp. 2 of 8

One of the stated learning outcomes related to the end of the War as stated in a Curriculum Planning and Development Division (CPDD) document is to “empathise with people who have lived through trying times under extreme conditions” (CPDD, 2012: 29). The “people” referred to were those living in Singapore or broadly human beings whose lives were devastated by war.  We know that history is one of the best subjects in the curriculum to develop empathy in the young. Historical empathy involves the ability to look at people, events and issues in the past as the people in the past would have looked at them. This means that our pupils will be expected to comment on history from the point of view of someone who was living at that period of time under discussion. To understand what happened in the past they must learn to set aside their own ideas and background and picture themselves in the past. The pupils need to think about feelings, motives, attitudes, beliefs and opinions of the people living in a specific place and time in history. To do this, they have to use their imagination. History as narratives deals with basic and powerful emotions familiar even to younger children (Egan, 1979; Levstik and Barton, 2008). Understanding history is more than just equipping pupils with knowledge. We need to make them see the significance of events, to develop insights into the social and moral values that led to the unfolding of events within the particular historical circumstances.

In my opinion, the bomb and its aftermath is one of the best topics to drive home the lessons of history and its relevance to us today. This topic lends itself to cultivate in our pupils the need to show sensitivity to the memory of the victims of the atomic bombs and the feelings of the survivors – just as they do for the Chinese during the Sook Ching operations in Singapore. Today, we read first-hand accounts and see photographs and video footages of the destruction of cities in Syria, particularly the large-scale devastation of the ancient city of Aleppo, marked by chemical attacks, widespread violence against civilians and targeted bombing of hospitals and schools. As in the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how do we explain to young Singaporeans the human motivations behind these atrocities in the twenty-first century when they themselves are enjoying the good things in life in this part of the world? How do we get our young to assess objectively such mindless actions of man?

On 15 August 1945, in the unforgettable radio broadcast, the “Son of Heaven”, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s capitulation. It was not easy for Hirohito who had to repeat recording three times his unprecedented message. His voice was “sacred” to ordinary Japanese. The Japanese – as the Emperor’s loyal subjects - had supported the country’s long war, beginning with the Manchurian Incident in 1931. At the end of 15 years (1931 to 1945), close to 3 million Japanese were dead and 9 million were people made homeless. Sixty-six major cities had been heavily bombed, culminating with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In his Surrender Imperial Rescript, Hirohito carefully stated that “the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives.  Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization”. Japan’s surrender, in the official imperial rendering, thus became a magnanimous act that saved humanity itself from possible annihilation. Interestingly, on 9 August 1945, the celebrated political cartoonist David Low published his cartoon in the Evening Standard that featured a Western scientist holding a ball nicknamed “Life or Death” and tempting a baby representing “Humanity” crawling on the globe, with the caption “Baby play with nice ball?” (Bryant, 1989: 145). It drives home the stark message that the scientific creations of man could eventually lead to the final extermination of mankind. Today, the “new” Cold War between U.S. and Russia continues with the tension over the deployment of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) weapons. And China poses the main challenge to US supremacy with its large inventory of INF weapons, threatening American military installations in South Korea and Japan. Clearly, the nuclear race is still with us.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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