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How 5 People Survived Nagasaki’s Nuclear Hell via National Geographic

Three days after Hiroshima, an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. A new book tells stories of those who lived through horror.

Seventy years ago this Sunday, on August 9, 1945, an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, obliterating much of it and killing 74,000 people, mostly civilians. It was only the second time in history an atomic bomb had been used as a weapon. (Read about Hiroshima, the first target of an atomic bomb, 50 years later.)

In Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard follows the lives of five hibakusha (survivors) who escaped the firestorm and through extraordinary courage and resilience went on to live happy, fulfilled lives.

Speaking from her home in Arizona, she talks about the battle for the truth over what happened in Nagasaki; how square dancing helped heal the wounds of war; and why the survivors no longer harbor feelings of animosity towards Americans.

[…]

One was direct denial of any radiation effects by key U.S. military leaders like General Leslie Groves, General Thomas Farrell  and the U.S. War Department. During the U.S. occupation of Japan, which lasted from 1945 to 1952, General Douglas MacArthur also instituted a strict press code banning “false or destructive criticism” of the Allied powers out of concern that too much anger could put the thousands of U.S. troops in Japan at risk.

General Groves and others promoted the idea that the Japanese were using the effects of the bomb as anti-American propaganda. So, the people of Japan, other than the people in the cities directly affected, didn’t know for years what was happening in their own country. There was medical censorship as well. Physicians working with the survivors weren’t allowed to publish studies or findings of what was happening.

They also didn’t want the decision to use the bombs to be challenged in the U.S., by books like John Hersey’s Hiroshima. So President Truman and the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, made a concerted effort to publish articles justifying the use of the bombs, excluding any information about what happened to the people beneath the atomic clouds.

The justifications were so airtight that they became the dominant way of perceiving the decision to use the bombs on Japan: that the two bombs ended the war and saved a million American lives.

[…]

One of the more bizarre actions taken by the Americans after the bombing was to introduce square dancing. What was that all about?

It’s so crazy! And quite lovely in the end. It began in Nagasaki. The people assigned to lead the occupation efforts in Nagasaki were very sympathetic toward the suffering of the survivors and tried to find ways to help them. One night, the director for the U.S. occupation in Nagasaki, Winfield Niblo was at a dinner party with Japanese educators.

Afterwards there was a presentation of Japanese folk dancing. Niblo decided to present some American square dancing to add to the festivities. It caught on nationally to become a post-war American contribution to Japanese life.

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