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Dialogue Among/Beyond Hiroshima/Nagasaki Class

This blog entry has been created to foster a space for, but not limited to, class discussion for the students of the ongoing Hiroshima/Nagasaki course at the University of Chicago, taught by Prof. Norma Field.

Everyone, including but not limited to students from the course, is encouraged to post their responses to the symposium as comments below. The general guideline for students is:

  1. try to be as concise as you can,
  2. note that this is not a critique competition——no one should judge naive points others may make,
  3. understand the public nature of this blog——your comments along with your names are visible to the entire Internet community (and, yes, many people understand English these days), and
  4. as students and thus experts on this issue, expect replies from people outside the classroom, the University, and even the academe.

All the comments from this entry have been reposted here.
Editing and deleting your comment are not prohibited. Contact masaki@uchicago.edu should you wish to replace or delete your comment.

Posted in *English.

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25 Responses

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  1. Faraz Khan says

    Among the many things that were discussed at the symposium on Saturday, the most interesting idea was that the nuclear issue is one that can be solved if we can get businesses, scientists, and concerned individuals work together. This was specifically discussed in the movie Ashes to Honey. For most of our readings and discussions, it always appeared that the scientists and anti-nuclear activists viewed businesses and corporation antagonistically. Even in Ashes to Honey, nuclear companies are often viewed as being insensitive and uncaring of the people’s lives that are destroyed. On a side note, I thought the panel did a good job of bringing other perspectives in such as community members who view nuclear energy and corporate expansion as a good thing. Back to the point, I think corporations should not be viewed as being on being the other side of the fence and should be engaged in dialogue with. I am aware the movie made it clear that the corporate side usually doesn’t listen, but I think the method of discourse often selected makes it hard to generate goodwill from between the corporate and the common people. If you call people “tyrannical” and yell at them, I am certain it will make them less willing to listen. Although I make it sound so simple, reality is rarely this linear and I understand that I might be overlooking certain issues; however, increased dialogue between corporations and anti-nuclear activists in a non-threatening/ condescending environment can go a long way.

    In HnN class the question of political necessity and humanitarian concern for the bomb, has been a long withstanding question that I have been grappling with during my time in this class. The symposium addressed this question and basically discussed nuclear deterrence. Although there was no clear answer on this question, one of the things I took away was that we are making progress (e.g. nuclear disarming between Russia and U.S) and that we are dealing with imperfect information when political decisions are made meaning that the nuclear disarming is a complicated question.

    Overall, I found the documentaries to be sobering and thought that the focus on sustainable energy for Ashes to Honey was appropriately called for. I think the question is now a matter of how can renewable energy be viewed as a feasible alternative; this question of implementation will likely come down to businesses. Perhaps a system were markets are not tightly regulated like in Sweden would be a good way to organize it, since in this way people can decide where their energy comes from and if it saves them money, they will be less likely to use other kinds of energy like nuclear or coal. However, deregulation of markets is often associated with negative externalities; it might be that we may need to sacrifice a lot more land to harness wind energy, which may cause deforestation. I am playing devil’s advocate, but basic point is are there any unforseen obstacles with implementing a strategy that deregulates the market?

  2. Jonathan Emberton says

    One aspect that was quite visibly lacking at the symposium was the presence of a qualified scientists’ viewpoint. This was disturbing particularly in light of the fact that we’re living on a campus full of nuclear scientists and radiation experts. Prof. Nagel himself, whose speech I enjoyed quite thoroughly, admitted that he has very little to do with the field of nuclear energy and that his own opinions would therefore be limited in scope. So where were the nuclear scientists? Why were there representatives of anthropology, sociology, religion, East Asian studies, and filmmaking, but no representatives of the most relevant scientific field at hand?

    In the anti-nuclear movement, it seems that a perpetual distrust exists toward scientists, and especially scientists in the fields of radiation and nuclear energy. The reason? Because most radiation experts will, upon being questioned, reveal the safety of limited doses of radiation and most experts in nuclear energy will reveal the fact that the amount of radiation emitted from nuclear power plants is in fact usually less than the amount of radiation from coal-fired power plants. This discredits the movement, and so therefore nuclear and radiation experts are deemed untrustworthy and complicit with a government cover-up. The contradictions of this viewpoint are easily seen: nuclear scientists were the primary force protesting the usage of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the point that some, such as Szilard who we have discussed, came to be seen as a significant threat to the government. Yet when it comes to nuclear energy, nuclear scientists are seen as complicit with the government and clearly lacking conscience and morality. When the anti-nuclear movement desires to oppose nuclear weapons, it points to the actions and morality of nuclear scientists who opposed the dropping of the A-Bomb. Yet when the movement wants to oppose nuclear energy, the nuclear scientists become untrustworthy to the point that we cannot find even ONE PERSON to represent nuclear scientists at the very institution at which nuclear scientists completely opposed the dropping of the A-Bomb 66 years earlier!

    I recently read a student writeup concerning the protests by UChicago nuclear scientists pre-Hiroshima. He lamented that scientists were not given a fair say in the use of the atomic bomb, for which they had sacrificed so much. 66 years later, we have the same problem. No one wants to let the scientists speak because their words might carry potential harm to the movement and information that we don’t want to hear. But that their opinions have been ignored demonstrates a critical hole within the movement: that of willful ignorance. And any movement in which willful ignorance resides is doomed to fail.

  3. Han Zhu says

    After watching Rokkasho Rhapsody, I, and the rest of our class, was struck by the complexity of the nuclear plant issue. This was in large part because Rokkasho Rhapsody showcased both sides of the economic argument over the construction and existence of the reprocessing plant. While a majority of the film was dedicated to following the stories of farmers and activists whose lives were negatively impacted by the construction of the reprocessing plant, the film also gave due attention to characters whose economic well-being was improved by the plant. While some of these people were more sympathetic and likable than others (the single father who worked at the plant to support his three children was certainly more likeable than the laundromat owner who benefited from having many more uniforms to wash), it was still understandable as to why they supported the existence of the plant.

    Ashes to Honey, on the other hand, lacked that counterbalance of perspectives. There were allusions to those on the other side of the debate – the grandma club talked about a division between supporters and those against the plant and the Chugoku representatives spoke of the jobs that the plant would bring. Ashes to Honey also presented options for renewable sources of energy but didn’t delve into the economics of making those solutions viable for Japan (i.e. how much biomass would we have to burn to replace the amount of nuclear-originated energy that, say, Tokyo consumes?)

    While I walked away from Ashes to Honey thinking that it was a great film and emotionally moved by some of the amazing people featured in the film, I also walked away with doubts as the feasibility of implementing the solutions presented in the film, both because of the resistance of those who would benefit from the issues and because of the economics of applying small-scale, decentralized methods of generating energy to a country like Japan.

  4. Rohan Sharma says

    I too, along with Han, thought that Ashes to Honey, although well made and clear in its stance on nuclear energy, failed to provide an accurate assessment of the situation. Alluding to renewables is easy but to actually delve into the economics and feasibility is what is really important. It seems that most of these documentaries shy away from printing numbers or giving realistic and well thought out alternatives to nuclear energy.

    MT Silvia’s Atomic Mom on the other hand, is a much easier film to defend. Framing itself as a retrospective on nuclear weaponry, I thought that the angle of understanding the past through the lens of her mother was an interesting concept. This was highlighted by Professor Sidney Nagel afterwards during the roundtable discussion as well. His remark on how his mother too worked on the Manhattan projected really helped me understand the intensely personal impact that such a grandiose plan at the time can have on people decades into the future. The convergence of advanced scientific research with modern weaponry is always an uncomfortable topic at best and alarming at worst. This is mainly due to the fact that such research becomes a public good and can be manipulated to serve many purposes. Professor Nagel commented on this too when he joked that his research involves piles of sand-things that children entertain themselves with. However, his work too can be used for military purposes and this was what alarmed Nagel the most, the fact that even such innocent things can be used for destructive means.

    While Silvia’s film carried a strong anti-nuclear weapons message what struck me most her mother’s belief that her work on the Manhattan project had no correlation with her current health complications. Although I do not think one can blame such work as the cause of her health issues, it is hard to argue that they were not a contributing factor. The fact that soldiers were placed in trenches near nuclear bomb tests and that the scientists and other staff lived in tents on site surely supports the notion that their safety was greatly compromised. While I do admire Silvia’s mother for her dedication to her work and loyalty to her nation, it is important to keep a neutral perspective and entertain all possibilities, especially since radiation and health complications have a notoriously strong connection.

  5. Izzi says

    The importance of being willing to admit an edge to our knowledge and to our understanding is not something that commonly occurs in academia. Instead, generally discussions are based around what is known and what is understood. This, for me then, was an enormous part of the value of the Symposium. Hearing people admit the limits of their own knowledge, and admit that there were a number of generally unconsidered facets to the issue of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

    To recognize and try to reconcile the emotional aspects with the intellectual requires, I believe, an admittance of this limitation of knowledge. And, it is a point from which information can truly be synthesized. The desire to claim that all is known, or knowable is one that is deeply ingrained in academic knowledge, Cohn does not even need to include it as a part of the way that Defense Intellectuals think about and process the world. Perhaps, and partially to respond to Jonathan’s comment, this is why there were no scientists present. Admitting ignorance of the full effects of a phenomenon is, in some ways, no small feat. I do not think that the symposium has to be understood as willfully ignorant. But, to understand it as a place of knowledge, one must first acknowledge that scientists are not the only authorities or persons whose viewpoints matter. There are moral, political and economic concerns tied up with nuclear weapons, as demonstrated by both Atomic Mom and Ashes to Honey. My argument is not that nuclear scientists are not a highly important and relevant part of the conversation. The issue is that too often their opinions are assumed to be the only ones which matter. I only hope that symposiums like this one are able to demonstrate that there is a need for more than one framework through which to understand the potential benefits and costs of nuclear weapons and energy.

    I do agree that it would be beneficial to include nuclear scientists in the discussion, but my issue is more that they should not be the only ones included. Scientists should not be distrusted by the anti-nuclear, for they have much to contribute. In fact, there are a number of scientists who have been on both sides of the nuclear issue, either supporting use of the weapons, or, like Szilard, attempting to dissuade the government from using them. But this is not simply a matter of science. Too often scientists’ opinions were dismissed by policymakers, because scientists were not able to make arguments against use that the policymakers found compelling. This is why Symposiums like this one ought to include as many perspectives as possible.

  6. Laura Tong says

    I was very intrigued by Professor Nagel’s comments on the responsibility of the Chicago physicists involved in the creation of the bomb. There seemed to be a moment of inarticulation for him when talking about the question of responsibility, and I wondered if this in part was because he had never considered this question before. As he said, the excitement and urgency of the scientific community surrounding nuclear science probably made it very difficult for a physicist to say, “Wait, maybe we should think about this before we go on.”

    I also wonder how much scientists think about morality and ethicality while doing their research. As many of the panelists mentioned, we tend to think of scientific progress and discovery as something that is value neutral. I think this might be changing today as there is more work being done challenging the concept of life and death itself, like stem cell research or genetic engineering. But certainly, as Prof. Nagel suggested in his own research on sand dunes and its relevance in the Gulf War, the responsibility of scientists to morality goes far beyond we imagine. It is probably outside of even the scientists’ imaginations what kind of technology their own research might result in, but as Prof. Nagel said, this doesn’t make them any less responsible. And for society as a whole, maybe it is time for us to stop letting scientists speak for us as though their scientific knowledge represents the whole truth. When a scientist endorses a technology or a product (like nuclear energy), first we cannot assume that they even know all the environmental or health consequences of such a technology. Furthermore, it is ultimately up to us to consider the full moral and ethical consequences of any technology.

    • yukimiyamotodepaul says

      I enjoy reading everyone’s thoughtful comments.

      I agree with Laura that “it is ultimately up to us to consider the full moral and ethical consequences of any technology,” not to let scientists off the hook, but not to create more victims due to my negligence. This is from my own experiences of learning about the crippled nuclear power plants in Fukushima. As a scholar who have researched atomic bomb victims and other radiation victims, I had always been against nuclear power plants, yet I did not commit myself fully. Somehow to abolish nuclear weapons seemed more urgent than to be independent from nuclear energy–and now this prioritization itself indicates the fact that I actually bought into the “safety myth” of nuclear plants, prevailed in Japan. Now I see that both nuclear weaponry and power plants are not separate issues, but are rooted in the same nuclear industry that is deeply embedded in our everyday life, beyond national borders.

  7. Julie Park says

    As a student studying to become a biological researcher, Ms. Silvia’s mother and Professor Nagel’s comments about scientific research and its potential use for war efforts made me think about what type of researcher will I be able to, or want to, become. As Professor Nagel had mentioned, the time when nuclear weapons were being developed was an exciting time for scientific discovery. However, Ms. Silvia’s mother recollected that she was conducting biomedical research without knowing that she was participating in the greater scheme of making and testing nuclear bomb and that she could not possibly have said ‘no’ to the government if she wanted to keep her job. Furthermore, Professor Nagel said that something that seems innocuous as sand can potentially become a subject of research for the purpose of warfare in hostile times. This made me think about the choices that scientists face between their passion for research and the potential use of their findings, especially if they become aware that their research is being used for a purpose they would not personally support.

    Research is done to find out the unknown and expand human knowledge, but at the same time, I think the application of findings from research is very important. But the application of scientific finding may be potentially destructive. How can this be resolved? Research should not be curbed for the sake of preventing development of harmful (this is a relative term) technology. On the other hand, nations do not want to fall behind in the global nuclear war. Although it is easier said than done, not making any more nuclear weapons and destroying the existing ones, and focusing on developing alternative energy would be the first step so that the demand for nuclear weapon and power can be decreased. Also, government should not withheld information from researchers or the people, especially if not doing so leads to health risks and destructive outcomes.

  8. Megan Yuan says

    I brought my interlocutor to the symposium, and he felt seriously offended by one comment in the Atomic Mom, “Sometimes, we should just not know.” My interlocutor believes that the passion about knowledge makes humans different from other animals, and it is the fundamental value of civilizations. He argues, “If humans are destroyed by vicious people knowing too much sometime in the future, that is our destiny.”

    In fact, many scientists voluntarily undertook certain social responsibilities, but many of them were undervalued. For instance, many scientists, except for Wernher von Braun, refused to work for the nuclear program of Nazi Germany, because they thought it was immoral. Another example, it was precisely scientists’ social responsibility to create nuclear bombs in order to deal with Germany during the Second World War, although now we think their responsibility should be not to do so. It is unfair to impose our understanding of what social responsibility they should have taken on scientists who participated in the early nuclear program in retrospect.

  9. Chrissy Hu says

    I completely agree with your interlocutor, Megan, as this idea of knowledge / remembering was a key theme I noticed throughout the symposium, all coming together in the controversial statement, “Sometimes, we should just not know.” First and foremost was the incredibly powerful idea in the Atomic Mom of asking the right questions, and having the courage to remember. The most vivid scene in Atomic Mom was illustrating this very courage that is necessary to deal with the consequences of remembering, where M.T. Silvia’s mother is emotionally unable to watch the scenes with the test dogs, to the point that M.T. Silvia omitted these scenes in the version she showed her mother. The bravery it takes in order to confront these memories, and take responsibility for being a part of these memories is necessary to moving forward. It is because her mother had enough courage to face her darkest memories that we are able to learn.

    A related example was when one of the physicists introduced himself during the first panel discussion, and qualified his introduction with the statement, “I really do not know much about nuclear history.” This was incredibly powerful to me because he proceeded to say that what emotionally appeals to him is the connection that his mother had also been a researcher at the time, and played a similar role in bringing nuclear technology to the forefront. Thus, he is a testament to the idea that knowledge is necessary for a global issue like this one. For people who turn their backs to the devastation, thereby refusing to take responsibility for the events they were a part of, they may live an blissful life of ignorance, but an incomplete one. Further, being content with simply living without knowing is counterproductive to progress in the world.

    Thus the idea of social responsibility, that you mentioned Megan, as a human being presents itself as the single most powerful quality necessary in order for us to progress in this nuclear debate. No matter if you are a student, researcher, banker, etc, this is a global issue that effects every sphere of society, and thus in order to make progress, knowledge and confronting memories is necessary.

  10. Andrea Nishi says

    One thing that I’ve been thinking about since the symposium was a comment that the filmmaker of Atomic Mom made during the discussion of her film. She was talking about how pressing the concerns of nuclear technology are and she said that they were posing a much greater threat to humanity than global warming. This comment really irked me. It doesn’t seem like we should be categorizing imminent threats to the survival of the species into more and less pressing. It seems that both of these issues should be tackled immediately, and can even be dealt with through a “two birds with one stone” situation. I was just a little disturbed by the rhetoric that she was using when talking about these issues, implying that some of these very pressing threats are of more importance or deserve more concern than others. Did anyone else get that vibe, or am I exaggerating it? Either way, should we be characterizing matters in these terms? What can be gained and what is lost from doing this?

  11. Marina Grozdanova says

    I also agree with Megan’s interlocutor – the fact that we cannot control the devastating expanse to which our knowledge may take us is perhaps humanity’s greatest tragic flaw, one which we are seeing we may be destined for … Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to be that flaw which defines us and shapes our knowledge of the past or the future. We often see the past as “mistakes we need to learn from.” Though this is usually correct, and necessary for our attempts at not repeating these mistakes, it’s helpful to look to the in-betweens of history, say, Szilard’s petition against the use of the bomb and other scientists’ refusal to work on such projects.

    What really stuck with me during the symposium were the personal relationships that were explored in Atomic Mom and then further discussed by Professor Masco. The daughter-mother relationship, between both M.T Silvia and her mother as well as the Hiroshima survivor and her daughter in Japan, made me think of how the “narrative of nuclear war” (Masco) or any other context of the sort can literally mold and create new forms of personal relationships, relationships to the knowledge of society, and ultimately create a citizenry suitable for whatever is needed in a given context. The secrecy surrounding research on nuclear energy, and even the secrecy (or just plain lack of communication) between a mother and daughter about traumatic life experiences can therefore only expand to other areas of life. A distancing and unawareness between mother and daughter can only lead to one mimicked upon the rest of society – which can only show that communication is vital for any type of adequate “moving forward,” and even survival!, whether actual, or emotional, psychological, etc…

    This “narrative” that is shaped by media, government, taboos, secrecy, is very relevant to the way in which we think of ways to understand possible alternatives to the many brick walls we face. He mentioned how our discourse on these subjects tends to be either utopian or apocalyptic, and again, the “in-betweens” (or at least this is how I call them) are harder to acknowledge. The fact that the symposium centered around the two documentaries and their filmmakers was one of these “in-betweens” which I feel are pushing harder and harder to enter into the playing field of the narrative, of the discourse. It’s very refreshing to have a panel and symposium focus around people like this, and not only scientists or nuclear physicists or other “officials.” I found it was very productive how they were able to be in conversation with each other, despite certain conflicting views, from a starting point that was these two documentaries. The narrative therefore formed around the impulses generated by these films, rather than, say, only the “official event” in itself (the a-bomb, Fukushima, nuclear policy), and turned out to be quite collaborative, and even hopeful?

  12. Grace Chen says

    What struck me most about Atomic Mom was Pauline Silvia’s transformation from silence to discussion and reflection. The experience had been “compartmentalized” in her mind. She was merely doing her job, with her actions detached from her moral considerations or independent thoughts. Censoring herself, she cut off her troublesome doubts and questions. In the atmosphere of enforced secrecy and urgent sense of purpose, her reticence and limited considerations would seem to me only natural. What would I have done in her place? The job had to be done. Perhaps someone else would’ve come in and filled her position. But still, plans are actualized through the collective choices and actions of many individuals. What if we all made a collective decision above all individual or national interests? How powerful we’d be! The divisive forces seem to be stronger. Only after many years, in a slow process of transformation, did she begin to reexamine her experience and the larger project she was part of. Her eyes were wide open in the Atomic Testing Museum. Her work had been transformed into a spectacle. An issue so contentious had been transformed into flagrant nationalism and commercialism. The film brings out the continued process of reconciliation with history and how different reality is from the clear cut conclusion presented by “authoritative” textbooks and governments. Decades later, she is still tormented by the sound of animal nails against a table. Down the long chain of power, politicians, scientists, citizens, soldiers, bombing victims, animals, who is not a victim? Who should be held responsible and how? As M.T. Silvia stated, we must find our own sense of responsibility. Perhaps we are all undergoing a journey of opening our eyes.
    The compartmentalization that Pauline experienced could be applied to so many facets of our own lives: the truths we don’t want to hear, the changes we don’t want to make. Because they are too hard. Because we don’t want to imagine anything else. Because we are too ashamed to be wrong. As Pauline faced her past, we must face our present. Through our little choices, we are actors as well, and the smallness of our actions is no excuse for not performing them. As Dave Kraft aptly illustrated, we are energy addicts, focused on consumption and refuse to imagine conservation. From our small choices, we can change today, this very instant. It is stimulating examining the problem from a seeming distance, as economists, historians, political theorists, but do we care enough to change?
    Ashes to Honey was all too convincing, so neatly wrapped. I had such esteem for Hitomi Kamanaka’s previous films, and had become so accustomed to a familiar lens that I failed to think critically. Perhaps I became too enveloped in the individual stories and could only nod my head to the larger political message. I was abruptly awoken by a neighbor, vehemently complaining about the movie: “It’s pure propaganda! It was filmed horribly—it isn’t even cohesive!” Indeed, the film seemed to have grossly misrepresented reality. I would have appreciated a mention of the opposing group, the director’s attempts to contact them, their size, arguments, and activities. The focus on renewable energy in Sweden was also out of proportion when the country still produces 45% of its energy using nuclear power. I would’ve liked to be informed of this, even if it made a less convincing argument. What are the demands on individuals and groups wanting to convey a message? Can a more ambivalent message be communicated and be just as powerful?
    Like Faraz, I greatly appreciated the effort to engage different perspective into discussion. Kamanaka’s attitude of curiosity and wanting to hear the opposing point of view is one I believe we should all have, even at the risk of being wrong. Only by casting aside our pride can we learn from our mistakes, however grave or embarrassing they are. Only by admitting that we do not know can we find out. Though the films and both panels were obviously biased towards an anti-nuclear energy point of view, I feel that Robert Rosner, the lone opposition, was very well informed and got ample opportunity to voice his views. I also appreciated Yuki Miyamoto’s presentation on the pro-nuclear perspective what was not shown in the film. However, at times, I felt that the panel was somewhat disjointed. Each individual had interesting ideas, some conflicting, that were never discussed to resolution. Perhaps there is no clear cut resolution, but I still don’t quite understand why Rosner supports nuclear energy. If Kamanaka’s film argues staunchly for renewable energy, that clean, easy to build, and economical, then why isn’t renewable energy more widely implemented? If Sweden’s progressive policies have few barriers to transitioning to renewable energy, then why does it still represent a fringe source of energy? And if all the ideas in Kamanaka’s film were true, then how could Rosner support nuclear energy? It is not a matter of opinion, but there must be some substantive facts to prove either side wrong in certain points. Did we ask the hard questions? Could we have had a cohesive, effective discussion with both points of view equally represented?

    • yukimiyamotodepaul says

      Just a little correction. The panelist who presented pro-nuclear perspective was Dr. Tomomi Yamaguchi, another organizer of the symposium. That was valuable piece of information, hard to attain, as those pro-nuclear activists tend to be very careful and alert in interacting with scholars.

  13. Siya Yang says

    One of the things that stuck me the most from the symposium was a question posed by Kennette Benedict in the first panel discussion. She asked (and I paraphrase), “How do we deal with a nuclear society in a democracy? And what of democracy in the face of nuclear technology?” What often comes up in the debate over nuclear power is the argument that nuclear energy is for the “greater good”. Even though a community surrounding a nuclear power plant is expected to live with any possible risks from the operation of the plant, like an accident or a meltdown, plants are still being built because nuclear energy allows for, as in the case of Japan, cheaper energy with low carbon emissions. However, referencing the movie Ashes to Honey, is it fair that an island community with strong agricultural traditions is forced to change their way of living and to live with the threat of a nuclear plant accident? Are we comfortable in making such a decision even if it is for the better good for the majority? For that matter, is it indeed the choice of a majority? And can we trust citizens to make informed decisions about nuclear energy?

    Theoretically, in a democracy, the needs and preferences of citizens hold sway over the decisions of politicians in a democracy. This is should be especially true of residents in the community surrounding a planned plant site since it is these residents who will be living with the consequences of the nuclear power plant should an accident happen. However, from Ashes to Honey, the audience is given the impression that the voices of the group of people against the building and operating of a nuclear plant were suppressed. Though we have to admit that the film might be biased, the film does portray people who have been protesting for almost 30 years to no avail, since the operation of the plant will still continue as planned. Considering that nuclear power plants are often considered as issues of national security, how much say should we give to the people? And how much do they currently have?

  14. Zahed Haseeb says

    First off, I’d like to share some of my opinions on the symposium and the films in themselves. I didn’t necessarily enjoy “Atomic Mom” very much, perhaps because it didn’t strike me as particularly insightful. The fact that many people found it powerful did not surprise me due to its personal nature, but as far as presenting a unique point, I think it fell short of its potential. On the other hand, I really enjoyed “Ashes to Honey”, and I’ve come to really like Hitomi Kamanaka’s style of presentation. The documentary presented for me a valuable window into the lives of some truly interesting, inspiring people. The discussions that ensued throughout the symposium were mostly excellent, and I found it really nice that, in an event related to our class only in subject matter, so much of our class discussion was relevant throughout.

    Some valuable discussion points came out of the symposium. The question of responsibility bears significantly in my mind as a major component of how scientists and policymakers are to relate to the work they do, especially when that work has ambivalent or even totally destructive potential. I’ve dealt with this question, to some degree, in my discussions with my interlocutor, and I’m not sure I know yet what to expect from people in these situations. On the surface, one might say that someone involved with projects of questionable morality should have the conscience to refuse to continue work, or that, in retrospect, they should have thought about the consequences of their actions. However, it is often impossible to make effective decisions about the future when present conditions are so dire. Hindsight is 20/20, and judging past decisions is thus always difficult.

    I thought many of the conclusions that came out of “Ashes to Honey” were really fantastic. It is a point of great importance, in my mind, that so many of the problems of nuclear energy come from human errors and not necessarily inherent risks from nuclear energy itself. Realizing this point allows for discussions on the viability of nuclear energy to be carried out with much more clarity. I’m always hesitant to accept criticisms of nuclear energy that use Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima as examples, primarily because those disasters occurred because people shirked responsibilities. I’m not aware of a nuclear accident that occurred when everyone was taking care of avoidable mistakes. In other words, I don’t know of any nuclear facilities that just went wrong on their own. However, because so many problems do occur, I suppose it’s important to ask whether people are even capable of handling the challenge of nuclear energy. With great power comes great responsibility, and nuclear energy is pretty darn powerful. Is the human race adequately responsible? I must also echo here the sentiments shared by the panelists that coherent plans need to be outlined in order for sustainable renewable energy to ever take hold in this age. One problem I did have with the panel discussion was that people essentially glossed over the discussion of civilian supporters of the nuclear facility in Iwaishima. Overall, however, I’m truly appreciative of what I saw and heard throughout the day.

  15. Robert Lin says

    In the film Ashes to Honey, the scene filmed in Stockholm where the man was astonished to hear that those in Japan could not choose their source of home electricity was particularly noteworthy for me. The privatization of the energy industry is something I didn’t consider prior to watching the film Ashes to Honey, and it led me to consider whether or not the energy industry (and particularly the nuclear energy industry) could exist in the private sector, without governmental support. Frankly I am not sure such a notion would be even feasible, considering much of the research done into alternative energy is funded by the government, rather than private energy companies. Although the free market would surely respond better to consumer demands than the current monopolistic system, I think that the assumption that cleaner energy would be chosen is heavily reliant on (1) the notion that “cleaner” energy sources are cheaper (which intuitively does not make sense, based on the expenses in further developing the technologies behind ‘cleaning’ a fuel source and/or developing cleaner renewable/alternative energy solutions to those currently at hand) and (2) the fact that the public would be impassioned enough to make the conscious decision to switch to alternative fuels if they were not more cost-efficient.

    In my opinion, the symposium seemed to be a bit too “Japan-centric” which, although understandable, given the particular relationship shared between Japan and the Atomic Age (Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Fukushima), this particular emphasis seemed to de-emphasize the role that other parts of the world, particularly countries in the developing world, played in the Atomic Age. I felt that by addressing the the concerns facing the developing world as countries such as China, India, and Brazil (among others) begin to search for energy supplies to meet the growing energy needs of their respective populations, those attending the symposium would have been able to have a better understanding of the issues our world will have to face in the short-term future. As these countries look into expanding their energy generating capacities it is important to keep in mind how the role that they may play in the Atomic Age, especially if nuclear energy is not stressed as a potentially catastrophic source of electricity generation.

    The statistic mentioned above by Grace is astonishing: although Ashes to Honey stressed Sweden as a prime example of a country converting to renewable energy sources, in actuality 45% of the country’s energy is generated by nuclear power. And although 45% may seem like an incredible statistic, keep in mind that the size of Sweden, and its population, does not compare to some of the countries whose energy needs we will have to be increasingly wary of, as China, Brazil, and India’s populations are all many times the size of Sweden’s. Imagine a China that generates 50% of its energy from nuclear generation. If this were to happen, the risk posed by nuclear energy generation would surely increase in both size and scope.

    Although it is important to reflect on the atomic legacy we face today, it is also important to address concerns and issues we may have in moving forward into the next few decades of our Atomic Age.

  16. Jennifer Hsiao says

    I wanted to share Atomic Mom with my interlocutor, because I found it interesting that the two women had such different experiences about the atomic bomb and wanted to find out if that cross-generational gap could be crossed in other instances. My interlocutor’s grandparents were interned during WWII and so I asked if he ever felt distance from his family due to the fact that he didn’t himself experience those negative events. What the film demonstrates is that when we attempt to understand one another, what is important in creating a connection is more than shared culture or experience, but a system of values that hold meaning to us. I’m not Japanese, but I can feel an immense feeling of human empathy from learning about the atomic bombings. We have discussed how hibakusha sometimes feel that they cannot claim a right to that identity for not having suffered the same sort of pain or memory as others. But both my interlocutor and I find that if we learn and educate ourselves about these experiences, as MT Silvia genuinely tried to understand her mother, we can gain that understanding. Another thing that this film showed was that the choosing of subjects for a documentary is important. How much of a role does gender play in understanding how these individuals have come to peace with the atrocities of the past? In what ways can you alter the message of a piece by choosing quieter scenes vs. raw footage of physical human and material damage?

    Ashes to Honey seeks to answer the question of how we can find sustainability in developed societies that are heavily dependent on energy. Japan has the dilemma of needing nuclear energy but possessing a history of pain inflicted by the atomic bombings. Japan is also a country prone to earthquakes, further raising the need for Japan to look for alternatives, as the current situation with Tohoku/Fukushima demonstrates. Although the film moves between two different countries (Japan and Sweden), the distinction only made me think of how specific the nuclear power situation is to Japan. For example, as the people in Iwaishima looked to the situation in Sweden, I wondered – are there fundamental differences between the political, social, and economic situations that may keep Japan from reaching the same conclusion in terms of energy? What about the United States? Will we be able to do the same? Is humanity defined by a specific set of circumstances or can we connect across borders and agree on the same conclusion?

  17. Aiko Kojima says

    Reading all comments, I find some good points and some not, but still, cannot help but have an impression that unfortunately for the large part of the audience the risk of having nuclear power plants may still be regarded as someone else’s affair. While seemingly most of the people have less difficulties to discuss about the harm of nuclear weapons, once it comes to nuclear power I recognize many of them become uneasy to make their words articulate.

    As Dr. Benedict clearly put, “either military use or civilian use”, at the end of the day it is nothing but the radiation risk to human, animals, and environment what we are all confronting. You may call it a biased propaganda, however, before the fact that one may not be able to take her son to see his grandparents in Japan indefinitely, which means that his old grandparents who have difficulties to travel to the states may not be able to see their only grandchild forever, the fact that one need to think twice if she would like to have a child in future given her planned research trip to Japan in next month, and the fact that women in Japan who have just gave births to their babies are worrying about not only how to nurse them when radioactive substances were found in a mother’s breast milk, but also whether it would be OK to bathe them in tap water when they have difficulties to secure safe water even for drinking, evaluations of merits and demerits of nuclear power, in/feasibility of non-nuclear options, or the differentiation between military and civilian use of nuclear power mean very little. I just want people to seriously recall Director Kamanaka’s appreciation for the air from open windows.

    I do not oppose against an opinion that it would have been nice if ATH could include footage and words of nuclear power supporters as well, although, I realize the every efforts the director made to do so. Isn’t it too much burden for one filmmaker, if s/he is undervalued until s/he succeeds in including both sides to make a “balanced” claim? I do not oppose either against a suggestion that the symposium could have invited nuclear scientists to cover the diverse stances, with being surprised by its implication that Argonne and Fermi scientists are disqualified. All nuclear plants in the world were planned, designed, operated, and some of them went out of control under the expertise of scientists. Among them there indeed exist many scientists who take their responsibility and keep presenting the data and analyses to prove the enormous danger of nuclear power with their expertise. In fact in Japan 16 nuclear scientists who have been taking initiatives in the national nuclear energy policy made a public apology for their inability to estimate the risk. I wonder what if one of those 16 would have been invited to the symposium. Would it have satisfied all audience? Or would he have been also disqualified because he does not represent the other stance, –or because he is not known in the states, even if he is indeed a nuclear expert? History shows that when “the experts” are demanded as the absolute authority in nuclear discussions, what is often demanded indeed is not his expertise per se, but his supporting of nuclear power. You will see what I mean if you have a chance to watch news programs in Japanese TV after Fukushima.

    I just hope everyone thinks about nuclear power and its incomparable risk as your own problem, not as a problem somewhere in Far East. Congratulations that we, at least the midwesterners, are highly unlikely to have earthquakes and tsunami. But tornadoes? Floods? Minor mistakes that can lead to a major accident? I cannot emphasize more that nuclear is not a clean energy no matter what merits it has. I beg each of you to use your imagination before it gets too late. We don’t want to repeat the phrase “we thought we would have more time”.

  18. Sophie Benbenek says

    After Atomic Mom I didn’t feel particularly moved; I felt rather uncomfortable. It was a very personal story that seemed isolated to MT Silvia. There were no interviews with other “atomic mom’s” or any mention of MT Silvia’s sisters point of view. Nor was there any discussion on the pople Pauline worked with at the testing. These were all aspects that I felt could have connected the movie to a larger audience. It was too focused on MT’s emotional story and it was hard for me to get much out of it. Ashes to Honey on the other hand was hands down the best anti-nuclear documentary I have seen. Unfortunately I find many documentaries focus solely on the negative aspects of things. They point out the problems and the blemishes and do a very poor job at finding solutions to things. These sorts of documentaries only do half the job. If there is no way to fix it, is it worth informing the public about? However Ashes to Honey actually provided answers to the energy issue and evidence of real people’s efforts to stop the nuclear industry. I have to disagree with Grace, I think the issue may have been neatly wrapped in Ashes to Honey, but it gave the anti-nuclear movement a clear thesis so to say. It made it much easier to understand exactly what was wrong and how there were viable solutions. Trying to inform of everything at once doesn’t work for the general public. The movie is supposed to act as the base for more research and information, it has to be convincing.
    The issue that jumped out the most to me was that of responsibility. I found it interesting that MT Silvia was adamantly against granting responsibility to the scientists, while the scientists believed they should have responsibility. One would think that would work the other way, the outsider placing blame and the insider rejecting it. However it almost seemed like a pride thing, Pauline and the scientists on the board stated they were in some ways proud of their research. It was new and exciting. Thus it is their right to hold claim to how their findings affect the world. It was interesting to attempt to draw a line between curiousity and common sense. Will there someday be a line humanity won’t cross in research? We’ve already undertaken things that could create black holes and giant explosions, it doesn’t seem like this could ever happen.
    I think more than having responsibility for their creations scientists have a duty to inform the public. Transparency and freedom of information is of the utmost importance because I believe in a democratic society it is the people’s job to protect the technologies. One of the pannel members said we must plan the energy sector or nothing will happen. We is not limited to the government or higher up officials. Without public backing, no government is going to decisively do anything. The public needs to become more informed so that it can begin to make choices that can help cure the energy industry.

  19. Kimberly Wright says

    One interesting theme relating to the development of nuclear technology has been the role and responsibility of scientists in creating nuclear energy and weapons. In Atomic Mom, the director’s mother expresses profound regret over her role in performing experimentation on the effects of radioactivity. Seemingly caught up in pursuit of science and in an environment that stresses finding causes and results, her mother does not critically analyze the morality of their experiments until years later. This “type” of scientist that is detached from humanity is contrasted with the socially conscience one who actively advocates against the use of this knowledge and acknowledges that there should be a limit to scientific curiosity. The scientists that created the first atomic bombs were clearly against the use of the bombs without prior warning, even suggesting that this would lead to an arms race since this one use would justify future uses. The US should have created an international discussion on the creation of this powerful new weapon instead of dropping it in a show of bravado. With the McMahon Act, the atomic energy commission acquired authority over decisions regarding atomic energy, yet the military apparently interfered in the commission’s activities and research.

    Still, it is easy to forget the promise nuclear technology was believed to have for society during its early development (and perhaps still today). Some believed that by the year 2000, half of the electricity produced in the United States would come from nuclear energy. Nuclear energy was thought to one day be economical for us to convert waste products into fertilizer, sea water into fresh water, coal into gasoline, and so forth. It could have been the answer for ‘have-not’ countries like India. It seems like most of the time we criticize the scientists for their immoral experiments (and they were sometimes pretty immoral..) it is mainly in retrospect, since we have realized that nuclear technology has not successfully evolved into the clean, safe energy source it was once believed to be. However, even though scientists may have realized how risky nuclear technology was back then, aren’t their experiments and continued development justifiable given their optimism of it developing into a great benefit for society? To me, it has never been “curiosity for curiosity’s sake,” but rather curiosity for the sake of humanity.

  20. yukimiyamotodepaul says

    Not that I disagree with Kimberly (I really enjoy reading all the posted comments), but I was also reminded that those scientists who were against the use of the atomic bomb have finished inventing it. They were not necessarily against the creation of the bomb. When they began to collect petitions against the use of it, their “scientific curiosity” was already fulfilled (recall what Dr. Nagel said at the symposium). Also, Szilard was excluded from the project by that time, not in New Mexico. These examples again do not exclude some scientists who refuse to work before pursuing their curiosity, though.

    I appreciate it that Kimberly problematizes “curiosity for curiosity’s sake.” It is, even for the betterment of humanity (the question arises: how to define the betterment), highly unsettling to me, too.

  21. Catherine Khadabux says

    I wanted to comment briefly on the Moore sculpture. As a fixture on campus, it’s always seemed weird to me. On one hand, I understand that it represents something so meaningful to the scientific community, in terms of global progress. The first sustained nuclear chain reaction is a BIG deal. But the statue as an object, with its resemblance to a mushroom cloud, as well as the later applications of that scientific discovery it memorializes, makes the entire piece feel somewhat uneasy to me. When I first came to the University of Chicago, I had no idea what that statue was for. The first time I saw it, a student was sitting inside the hollow part studying. And other times, it was surrounded by tourists (a lot of the ones I’d seen were groups of Japanese tourists). Most of the time, however, I never even paid attention to it. Now, however, every time I pass it, I find myself staring and feeling uneasy seeing other people’s lack of reaction. Is anyone else having a similar experience? Has your impression of the statue changed since taking this class?
    I also wanted to say something about “Atomic Mom”. I thought it was interesting that MT Silva chose to not conclude the film with the song she’d written. In the film when the song was first mentioned, I found myself wondering what it sounded like. At first, I was sort of disappointed that I never got to hear the song, but when Silva explained that viewers thought that the song was “trying to make them feel something,” I began to appreciate the time left for reflection at the end. Music has played a very powerful role in the films we’ve seen so far this quarter. Robert remarked last week that he had problems with the music in the DU video, and I remember the music in the French film we watched being similarly annoying for me. You don’t even notice the effect the music is having on you until it changes. I think it’s interesting that MT Silva chose to express her feelings through song, and it’s really cool that she consciously made the decision to end the film the way she did.

  22. yukimiyamotodepaul says

    I appreciate Catherine’s comments on artistic expression of this issue, which was often overlooked in the discourse on nuclear weaponry/power.

    As for the Moore sculpture, I initially felt uneasy about it as well. Then, I began to realize the ambiguities of it. In other words, the sculpture looks like the shape of a mushroom cloud, which often represents the scientific achievement and a triumph of the war, instead of evoking our imagination for people’s lives underneath the cloud. But it also appears to be a skull, doesn’t it? And I came to see the sculpture as embodiment of the ambiguity of science. We still do not know, as epitomized in our postings, how to address moral and ethical implications of nuclear science–is fulfilling human curiosity ethically neutral? Or can we point to intrinsic wrongness in certain experiments?

    I did not think much of music, and thank you for drawing my attention to it.

Continuing the Discussion

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