Japanese Attitudes Toward the Atomic Bombs Term Paper

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Japanese Attitude Towards the Atomic Bombings

Japanese Attitude Towards the Atomic Bomb Attacks on Hiroshima & Nagasaki

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The atomic bomb has only been used twice against human beings. The first nuclear device was dropped by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945 and the second was detonated over the city of Nagasaki three days later. In both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 50% of all those located within 1.2 kilometers of the hypocenter died instantly, while 80 to 100% of those exposed at this distance eventually died from wounds or radiation released by the bomb. (Selden and Seldon xxi) It was the single most devastating attack on human beings by a man-made device in the history of mankind. The Americans' unapologetic attitude towards the attack is well-known and is reflected in the remarks made by two U.S. Presidents, 50 years apart. President Truman, justifying his decision to drop the bomb in a letter dated August 11, 1945 wrote: "When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast." Fifty years later, President Clinton said: "the United States owed Japan no apology for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki...and that President Harry Truman had made the right decision to use the bombs." (Quoted by Hume) The subject of this research paper, i.e., the Japanese perspective of the horrifying events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is, however, shrouded in greater mystery. In order to get a greater insight on the Japanese perspective, this paper investigates the initial reaction of the Japanese government and the press to the nuclear attacks, and the perspective from the ground -- the mixed feelings of anger, survivor's guilt, resignation, and divine providence among the survivors of the attack. The paper also contains a review of the Japanese literature, art and films on the atomic bombings, as well as the peace movement started in the aftermath of the war that reflects the feelings of a majority of Japanese people about nuclear weapons and war in general.

Perspective of the Japanese Government and the Local Press

Term Paper on Japanese Attitudes Toward the Atomic Bombs Assignment

When the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the news was widely reported across the United States over the radio and in the newspapers. The situation, however, was completely different in Japan. For quite some time, nobody except those who were present in Hiroshima at the time knew about the catastrophe. The first reports about the bombing were sent to Tokyo about four hours after the explosion through a telegram by the Japanese news agency Domei. (Braw, 11) The same afternoon the managing editors of all the leading Tokyo newspapers and Domei were called to the Information and Intelligence Agency, the government office in charge of censorship, and instructed to bury the news of the bombing and to make it look like an ordinary air raid.

State of Denial: Hence, the next morning's newspapers in Japan, either completely blacked out the news of the nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima, or severely downplayed its effect. By the next day, the Japanese government had received other reports about the destruction of Hiroshima by a "new type of bomb" but it continued to withhold its news from the general public. Professor Yoshio Nishina, Japan's leading nuclear physicist, was sent to Hiroshima to assess the damage. He reported back on August 8, confirming that the unprecedented destruction by a single bomb was the result of an atomic bomb (Ibid. 12). The Japanese government continued to hide the true extent of destruction caused by the bomb and, in fact, did not acknowledge that it was an "atomic bomb" in its official announcements about the attack for the next several days. Those who had survived the Hiroshima blast were too severely injured and shocked to travel. Hence, when the Americans unleashed the second atomic bomb over Nagasaki three days after the attack on Hiroshima, its resident were still unaware of the true destructive power of the atomic bomb and the extent of devastation it had caused in Hiroshima. Even after the Nagasaki attack the Japanese government policy of denial was immediately abandoned.

Reasons for Hiding the Effects of the Atomic Bomb: The most obvious reason why the Japanese government chose to hide the damage caused by the atomic bomb attacks was that they did not want to demoralize their public who had already been hit hard by the large scale fire-bombing of almost all their cities in the previous months and acute food shortages. The militarists and the "hawks" in the Japanese administration were determined to "fight to the death." Even after the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan's Imperial Council was unwilling to accept defeat as the Minister of War, General Anami, the chief of the army general staff, and the chief of the navy's general staff believed that "it would be inexcusable to surrender unconditionally." (Quoted by Kagan 27) Moreover, on August 9, 1945, the Japanese authorities learnt of another bad news -- the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan and crossed the border into Manchuria. The news that Japan now faced one more formidable enemy in a war already going wrong for the country greatly unnerved the Japanese administration, which was uncertain about how to tackle the situation.

Apart from the censorship imposed by the Japanese government on reports on the atomic bomb attacks, people at large and the journalists in particular were used to conveying only the news that conformed to the official view. Hence, a report on the Nagasaki bombing in the newspaper "Asahi" inexplicably stated that the destruction was not so much due to the "new-type bomb" itself as "unfamiliarity" with it. Even a nuclear physicist interviewed on August 10 in the same newspaper assured that "there is absolutely no reason to fear the new-type bomb." He went on to advise that one way to be "absolutely safe from exposure to thermal rays was to refrain from wearing short-sleeved shirts and shorts!" (Quoted by Braw 14)

Use of the Bombings as War Propaganda: Even while hiding the true facts of the nuclear attacks from their own public and belittling the effect of the "new type of bomb," the Japanese authorities did not refrain from using it for propaganda purposes against the United States -- accusing it of cruelty and inhumanity for using the atomic bomb. It lodged an official protest to the U.S. On August 12, calling it "a bomb having the most cruel effects humanity has ever known" and accused the Americans for having "shown complete defiance of the essential principles of humanitarian laws, as well as international law...This constitutes a new crime against humanity and civilization" (Ibid. 15-16) Some of the Japanese newspapers now started to quote the condemnation of the use of the atomic bomb by others around the world and some of the restriction on reporting the destruction caused by the bombs was lifted in order to highlight the cruelty and "illegality" of the American act. The lifting of the censorship may also have been a deliberate policy to prepare the Japanese public for the impending surrender.

Decision to Surrender: The decision to surrender was finally taken by Emperor Hirohito himself who announced the news to his fellow citizens in a radio broadcast on August 15, 1945. His following remarks about the atomic bomb made it clear that the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were instrumental in forcing Japan to surrender:

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 not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and the obliteration of the nation but also it would lead to total extinction of human civilization. (Quoted by Braw 19)

In the days between the Emperor's broadcast and the actual signing of the surrender documents on September 2, 1945, the Japanese press enjoyed a period of freedom from censorship and restrictions. As a result, several stories were published in the Japanese newspapers about the effects of the bombings and the suffering of the victims.

Perspective from the Ground

In contrast to the ignorance of the destruction caused by the atomic bombs, the perspective of the people who directly suffered the bombings was completely different. Calm before the Storm: Prior to the attack on Hiroshima, its residents had wondered about the reasons why their city had been spared the merciless fire-bombing inflicted on other Japanese city. The city was certainly important strategically as it was a staging area for Japan's military operations in China and Southeast Asia, had a large military population, and contained a number of war industries (Lifton 13) Various rumors were in the air; most of them merely wishful thinking. It was said that Hiroshima was being spared by the Americans as large number of people had immigrated to the U.S.; that the city was so beautiful that the Americans… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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