The “Black Rain” – A Re-assessment on the Dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on Japan, pp. 5 of 8

Eerie silence. People walking in lines with their hands outstretched and skin peeling off – like automatons, dream-walkers, scarecrows, a line of ants. Corpses frozen by death while in the full action of flight. A dead man on a bicycle. A burned and blinded horse. Youngsters huddles together awaiting death. Mothers with dead children. Infants with dying mothers. Corpses without faces. Water everywhere – in firefighting cisterns, swimming pools, the rivers that fed the city – clogged with dead bodies. Fires like the inferno of hell.  A man holding his eyeball in his hand. Survivors in crowded ruined buildings, lying in vomit, urine and feces. Everywhere flies and maggots (p. 165).

This is the familiar iconography of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing provided by eyewitness accounts. We should also not dismiss the total exhaustion and despair of the Japanese people as they came face to face with the victors on their own homeland. Japan, as a nation, suffered a state of total psychic collapse, which was so deep and widespread that it became termed as the “kyodatsu condition” (Dower, 1999). The Japanese were physically and emotionally exhausted. There was widespread alcoholism, drug addiction, suicides, violence and starvation. There are plenty of visual and written primary sources for the teacher to use to reinforce the discussion on “What happened to Hiroshima after the nuclear explosion?” It would be a one-sided historical narrative if we do not provide our pupils with a sense of what happened to the Japanese people when “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” exploded.

Then, we have the plight of the hibakusha, the survivors of the bomb. The US Occupation authorities had repudiated and censored writings, photographs and pictorial depictions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All early journalistic accounts about the horrible consequences of radiation were also canned. The hibakusha were marginalized and outcast by the Japanese society.  Again, in John Dower’s words (2012: 147-148): “Some were disfigured. Some were consigned to slow death. Some, in utero on those fateful midsummer days, were mentally retarded… And all initially were presumed to carry the curse of the bombs in their blood”. Journalist Rodney Barker (1985) in his Hiroshima Maidens, documented the story of a group of 25 young, grotesquely disfigured Japanese women who were brought to America for reconstructive surgery. Reading it, one can empathize the fear and deep-seated pain etched in the women and, at the same time, their courage and resilience remind us of human values which may yet triumph in the face of adversity and misfortune. The price to pay for being “the aggressor” was indeed heavy.  

Paradoxically, the dropping of the bombs led to the rise of Japan’s post-war advancement in science and technology. The bomb thus became Janus – simultaneously a symbol of terror of nuclear war and the promise of science. The horror inflicted by the bomb brought home one crucial lesson for the Japanese – the defeat of Japan was due to the country’s weakness and deficiency in science and technology. Defeated Japan recognized that the only way to rebuild the country is through the promotion of science and technology. An article in the Asahi Shimbun in August 1945 declared with the headline, “Toward a Country Built on Science”. It stated that Japan “lost to the enemy’s science”. Henceforth, the drive to promote and advance science and technology in Japan was relentless. With the impending communist victory in China in 1949, the US foreign policy now focused on the strategic balance of Asia. Japan now became a potential ally and became a recipient of American’s technological generosity (Morris-Suzuki, 1994: 167). Transfer of knowledge and skills in manufacturing technologies, management, training and quality control flowed into the country. In no time, Japan was exporting its “Made in Japan” products, known for its quality and exemplified by household names such as Sony and Toyota. In the words of Sony’s Akio Morita (1987: 78), “We were bringing out some products that had never been marketed before – never made before, actually, such as transistorized radio and solid-state personal television sets – and were beginning to get a reputation as a pioneer”. By the 1980s, Japan had risen from the ashes of nuclear destruction to become an economic superpower.[iii] Along with the mother goose, younger geese learned from Japan’s economic transformation in a “flying geese” formation, with mother goose Japan at the front of the flying pack.[iv]The “economic miracle” experienced by Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s owed much to the assistance provided by post-war Japan. It is a testimony to human resilience that war-ravaged Japan was able to pick itself up and transform to become a world economic and technological power by the 1980s. This lesson of History should be told to our young generation.

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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