Atomic Scars

As the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki the process of recovery, understanding, and moving forward is still very much a process for the 131,000 surviving Hibakusha (as of 2016) and their families, still dealing with the effects of actions carried out in 1945 (Motoko 2016) (Yoneyama 1999, 88). The tree of history branching out from August 6 and 9, 1945 incorporates an innumerable amount of perspectives, stories, and information. However, through this exhibition, it is our goal to focus on the stem of medicine and interpret how the branches of health, memory, and destruction intertwine and how they can inform future generations about the personal and societal impacts of atomic weapons. The history of atomic weaponry often skews towards an American bias and promotes the theory that dropping Little Boy over Hiroshima, and his brother Fat Man in Nagasaki, were necessary evils in order to expedite a Japanese surrender, protect American lives, and to advance US diplomatic interest in opposition of Soviet encroachment (Walker 2016, 18). The aim of our exhibit, and the sampling of our five primary sources, is not to deny this perspective but supplement this dominant narrative with a more personal point of view that will allow current audiences to understand Hiroshima on a more holistic level, not just on a military level.

Previous commemorative occasions such as the 50th anniversary exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington have become proverbial battle grounds between what a historical narrative means and who the history is for.

 Historian and author, John Dower, critiqued the pervasive “triumphal American narrative” as “eulogizing American ‘valor and sacrificial service’ (in the words of the Senate resolution), and applauding the bombs for forcing Japan’s surrender and saving American lives” (Dower 1995, 1126). Dower further questions what is left out by commemorating a military viewpoint and correlates the difficulty American audiences have with humanizing the Japanese victims as they symbolize a reflexive history highlighting American culpability in their horrific deaths. Our process of historiography embraces the uncomfortability of victim reality as a tool to promote their stories as an integral component of understanding Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, by placing the focus of our whole exhibit on the medical histories it is our aim not to discredit alternative narratives but work in conjunction with them.

The final element of our exhibit explores the nature of victimhood through the medical history and how the consciousness of a victim is defined differently by physical or psychological trauma. In the years immediately following Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims were defined by their physical scars but as the decades passed and the more obvious wounds faded emotional and testimonial scars became the realm externally defining hibakusha. This exhibition aims to elevate the validity of hibakusha testimony while simultaneously contextualizing hibakusha within the broader narratives of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, World War II, and atomic weaponry.

By: Michael Houstman, Cosmo Taylor, and Joshua Williams

Testimony of Akihiro Takahashi – 1987

. . .Even I myself was terribly burnt, I could not go home ignoring him. I made him crawl using his arms and knees. Next, I made him stand on his heels and I supported him. We walked heading toward my home repeating the two methods. When we were resting because we were so exhausted, I found my grandfather's brother and his wife, in other words, great uncle and great aunt, coming toward us. That was quite coincidence. As you know, we have a proverb about meeting Buddha in Hell. My encounter with my relatives at that time was just like that. They seem to be the Buddha to me wandering in the living hell.

Afterwards I was under medical treatment for one year and half and I miraculously recovered. Out of sixty of junior high school classmates, only ten of us are alive today. Yamamoto and Hatta soon died from the acute radiation disease. The radiation corroded the bodies and killed them. I myself am still alive on this earth suffering after-effect of the bomb. I have to see regularly an ear doctor, an eye doctor, a dermatologist and a surgeon. I feel uneasy about my health every day. Further, on both of my hands, I have keloids. My injury was most serious on my right hand and I used to have terrible keloids at right here. I had it removed by surgery in 1954, which enabled me to move my wrist a little bit like this. For my four fingers are fixed just like this, and my elbow is fixed at one hundred twenty degrees and doesn't move. The muscle and bones are attached each other. Also the fourth finger of my right hand doesn't have a normal nail. It has a black nail. A piece of glass which was blown by the blast stuck here and destroyed the cells of the base of the finger now. That is why a black nail continues to grow and from now on, too, it will continue to be black and never become normal. Anyway I'm alive today together with nine of my classmates for this forty years. I've been living believing that we can never waste the depth of the victims. I've been living on dragging my body full of sickness and from time to time I question myself I wonder if it is worth living in such hardship and pain and I become desperate. But it's time I manage to pull myself together and I tell myself once my life was saved, I should fulfill my mission as a survivor in other words it has been and it is my belief that those who survived must continue to talk about our experiences. The hand down the awful memories to future generations representing the silent voices of those who had to die in misery. Throughout my life, I would like to fulfill this mission by talking about my experience both here in Japan and overseas.

The Takahashi testimonial is from a hibakusha that describes the medical conditions that he and his classmates faced after the bomb. He describes the physical effects of the bomb and radiation sickness. His testimonial came out in 1987 which was an important decade for atomic bomb survivors. During the 1980’s it was a era where nuclear war was a possibility and Japan was helping aid the United States by allowing U.S. operations to take place even including the storing of nuclear weapons (Yoneyama 1999, p. 99). Leading up to that period in the 1960’s, according to Yeneyama from information that was released publicly in 1981, the United States and Japan created a treaty that allowed, “U.S. naval vessels carrying nuclear warheads to make portcalls, in disregard of Japan's antinuclear principle” (Yoneyama 1999, p.100). This period was a pivotal one that the hibakusha wanted to guide the world to peace so another Hirohima or Nagasaki would not happen because the two superpowers, the United States and Soviet Russia, had come close to war before.. Also, Takahashi may have given his testimony at the time he did because it resonates with other hibakusha and their medical issues. Throughout all of Todeschini’s article the medical issues are spoken about by Hibakusha but one part that tells of the struggle they are going through is when it states, “military personnel are "rewarded" for their service on behalf of the nation, while civilian war victims, including hibakusha, are asked to "endure."(Todeschini 1999, p. 92). The time frame in which this is happening is in the 1980’s and Takahashi is suffering from permanent issues which he speaks of in his testimony like having lack of motion because his muscles and bones were melted together.

The publication, “A-Bomb Survivors are About Normal” is a deliberate method by the United States Government to downplay the severity of human life through the atomic bombs. The New York Times “A-Bomb Survivors are About Normal” was published on November 13th, 1947, without an indication of an author. The purpose behind the publication is to ease the guilt felt by American citizens regarding the horrific event of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The larger picture when pertaining to the article is that the statement “A-Bomb survivors are about normal” is a method of propaganda issued by the United States government to serve as damage control to launching these nuclear attacks and conceals their own lack of information on the long term effects of radiation on humans. Specifically, the reinforcement of the lack of information on the medical treatment is demonstrated by a quote from Navy Captain Shields Warren in the article, saying “it will take twenty-five years before the genetic effect can be completely determined.” The newspaper title suggests that atomic bomb victims are okay, but the quote from Shields seems to suggest the lack of knowledge pertaining to nuclear radiation exposure. The uncertainty of effects also translated to the lives of american personnel, as american soldiers in Camp Desert Rock were tested in 1951 to see the detrimental effects of radiation on the human psyche. Unbeknownst to american soldiers, the radiation they were exposed to proved to have hazardous health effects on those who were exposed, much like the hibakusha. As research progressed, it became clear that the effects of radiation on the body is undoubtedly harmful for long term health with an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular problems.

Permanent radiation and psychological damage to the hibakusha proved to be an exemplary example of a forced american narrative on the false condition of bomb victims. Initially, a United States study showcased the number of deaths due to radiation to be around 8-10% but field medical staff who spent time in Hiroshima came up with a number ranging from 15-20% casualties caused by the bomb; along with thousands being exposed to nuclear radiation but had no definite illness. Captain Warren went on to expand his statement and also commented that it is doubtful that a dose of radiation would surmount permanent damage to most organs or tissues. However, permanent damage would be found in the case of Sumiteru Taniguchi, who was hospitalized until 1949 due to injuries obtained during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Taniguchi would be in pain for the remainder of his life, dealing with several prevailing scar and tumor illnesses that would continue to appear until his death by cancer at the age of 88. Lastly, the psychological damage of the trauma that the atomic bomb victims face is irreversible. The social pressures combined with the potential loss of loved ones on top of experiencing such a traumatic event, it becomes improbable to assume that most atomic bomb survivors are alright after only two years have passed from the bombs. The publication from a prestigious newspaper organization like the New York times surmounted to an american narrative the United States Government was trying to portray the false reality of the bomb victims to the american people.

The United States Bombing Survey portrays a narrative that gives an emphasis on the scientific, mathematical observations instead of giving focus to the human stories behind the bomb. Additionally, the survey serves as a foundation to support the sheer destructive power the bomb had structurally on the affected cities. The survey was produced in 1946 by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey to document the effects of the nuclear bombs for research purposes. One significant feature of the survey is it showcases the widespread devastation that the bomb had on Hiroshima. For example, magnitude of the bomb was massive as “Charred telephone poles were discernible for 10,000 feet south and 13,000 feet north of ground zero at Hiroshima” and demonstrates the capability for destruction the bomb possessed (United States Strategic Bombing Survey 1946, p. 25). When compared to the other primary sources in the exhibit, the atomic bomb survey gives a more analytical analysis rather than providing a more human narrative on the hibakusha. By doing so, it doesn’t discredit Japanese victims, it just takes on a narrow focus that is based on the bomb itself and not of personal accounts like the testimonials. However, the lack of inclusion of hibakusha testimonials makes the survey more indicative of the portrayal of the bomb as a weapon, rather than giving a voice to the many hibakusha victims to which the bomb severely affected.

Moreover, the documentation for the survey was produced in an effort to gather information on the destructive capabilities of the bomb, which would then form a consensus that the bomb was not necessary to secure a Japanese surrender to the allied forces (Walker 2016, p. 98). By taking the information presented from the atomic bomb survey, the american narrative presented by the Truman administration comes into question the validity that the bomb was necessary to force japanese surrender. The document, however, remains non-partial  “in an attempt to keep the survey’s findings impartial, prominent civilians, instead of military officers, were appointed as directors of the survey’s division” (Gentile 1997, p. 53-54). The document provides an adequate history on the detailed effects of the bombing and even allows for the inclusion of prominent citizens who do not need to worry about military implications and restrictions. The Atomic Bomb Survey purposely gives an emphasis on the mathematical destruction caused by the bomb, which provides an accurate representation while maintaining an american narrative which downplays the role of hibakusha in Hiroshima.



“Longest Day” by Hiroshi Sawachika, Army Surgeon

In 1945, I had just gotten married and lived in a guesthouse belonging to a wealthy person in Kusatsu Town. In the morning of August 6, I passed by train through the area that was soon to become the ground zero, and went to the Army Marine Headquarters in Ujina Town, where I worked. As soon as I entered my room, a red flash went off in front of my eyes and I felt my face burn. Though I thought that an incendiary bomb had hit, I suddenly felt as if I had been placed in a vacuum. When I came back to myself, I found a desk and a chair blown to the corner of the room and myself lying down near them. No sooner had I confirmed that I was safe, except a scratch that was bleeding on my cheek, than I was asked to provide medical care to an injured person. When I treated that person, injured people came one after another and filled the room around me.

Soon, crowds of citizens came to us, making weird sounds like moaning or crying. The spacious premises of the Army Marine Headquarters quickly filled with injured citizens. They began to wait for treatment, forming a line. Since most of them had suffered burns, we made endermic liniments and applied them to the burns as first-aid treatment. We opened the main hall of the Gaisen-kan (Hall of Triumph) for them, where nurses and corpsmen provided treatment endlessly. Though I treated patients in a doctor’s office, there were so many patients seriously injured that all that I could do was to administer first aid. Suddenly, a middle-aged woman rushed into the office with her child in her arms without waiting for her turn, crying, “Help us, doctor!” She had already lost her sight, but she cried, “Please help my child at least!” When I separated her child from her, soothing her, the child was already dead. When I told her to leave her child to me and receive treatment, she looked relieved and fell down there, without coming back to life. . .
The testimonials from on field medical doctors on the ground in Hiroshima allows for a unique medical perspective on sustained injuries on hibakusha. Memoirs of Medical Doctors, by Yamashita Yoshihiko, illustrates a list of doctors giving their own experiences treating those injured from the atomic bomb. In a testimonial by Yoshimasa Matsuzaka, a hibakusha doctor, showcases the dire situation where “many medical institutions were destroyed and there were not sufficient healthcare staff and pharmaceutical products left, they were unable to provide adequate medical treatment  to A-Bomb victims coming one after another.” (Yoshihiko Yamashita, p. 5). The lack of medical personnel in contingent with the devastation of medical institutions left the treatment of hibakusha to be a nearly impossible task to support the treatment of the vast number of Japanese victims. Dr. Kanichi Yoshida, a lead medical doctor in the Fukuromachi Temporary Aid Station, treated Hibakusha survivors to the best of his ability. Hibakusha were initially diagnosed with dysentery, however the deaths of these individuals were, unbeknownst to the medical doctors of the time, was due to the great amount of radiation exposure. Many other member physicians and healthcare professionals who worked at airdefense aid stations also devoted themselves to relief activities and eventually died of radiation diseases in a situation where many medical institutions were destroyed and there were not sufficient healthcare staff and pharmaceutical products left, they were unable to provide adequate medical treatment to A-bomb victims coming one after another.

This source, Memoirs of Medical Doctors, is vital because they take two perspectives in from the bombing, that of a bombing victim and as a first responder medical personnel who treat and diagnose hibakusha. The source was produced in 1990 and sheds a light on what the doctors experienced throughout the duration of the victim's life, at times succumbing to being the victims themselves. It illustrates the initial and post medical effects of the bomb which is part of what our exhibit focuses on.  The atomic bomb “shattered the fabric of community life and disrupted the organizations for handling the disaster… 30% of the population was killed and another 30% were injured.” (United States Atomic Bomb Survey, pg.6). The first responders of the medical crisis gives a clear cut indication if the brutality of the atomic bombs on civilized life. It becomes critical for doctors to tell their story in regards to the bomb because it gives us an insight of just how chaotic and cruel the conditions were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their testimony alone serves as a method for giving hibakusha legitimacy on their ongoing health issues, and for the fight of their rights (Todeschini 1999, p. 92). The medical perspective is critical for understanding the nature of radiation poisoning on hibakusha and the persistent treatments the some had to experience throughout their life.