The Nuclear Challenge (5): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Weird ‘Good Fortune’ of Tsutomu Yamaguchi

26 Aug


Over the years I have often thought about the political and moral consciousness associated with the atomic targeting of Japanese cities, as well as the absence of any expression of official remorse for the suffering caused and the precedent set. I was struck by the decision to bomb Hiroshima instead of Kyoto out of respect for Kyoto’s cultural heritage, and by giving the flight crew orders not to drop the second bomb on Nagasaki if weather conditions obscured the city center. It was the then Secretary of War, Henry L Stimson, who is credited with making the successful plea to the president to spare Kyoto. Stimson, an American patrician public servant, had visited Kyoto twice in the 1920s, and was impressed by the city as a tourist, and also was reported to have been concerned that America’s postwar reputation would suffer if it were to destroy such a place of cultural heritage. With Nagasaki, the crew despite its orders and the presence of cloud cover decided to launch the atomic attack, reportedly worrying that retaining the bomb would be too dangerous as the weapon because of its weight might detonate in the course of landing at its American airbase and no prior authorization had been given to drop the bomb into the sea.


In retrospect, we come to realize that the urban specifics of this most apocalyptic of decisions by the leadership of the American government and its military personnel could have turned out differently so far as the identity of the Japanese victims is concerned. This means that the tragic fate experienced by the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was determined in its specificity by the arbitrariness, perhaps inevitably so, surrounding the logistics and politics of a target selection in a distant place of unknowing.


Of course, the criminality associated with the use of such a weapon of mass terror exists quite independently of whether this or that Japanese city had been subject to an atomic attack. It is this criminality that makes the absence of remorse a continuing blemish on the American way of conducting itself in World War II. In one sense, the American justification at the time based on considerations of ‘military necessity’ and the validity of all tactics associated with winning an ongoing war was consistent with the still prevailing militarized ethics of warfare. What might have set these atomic bombs apart

was their scale of destructivity and its accompanying radiation inflicting cruel

injury and sickness long after the guns of war fell silent, as well as setting a precedent favoring use under wartime pressures.


Viewed less as an operational matter of how and where, and more as a political question of why, we become sensitized to the apparent relevance of sinister geopolitical maneuvers that underlay the decision to use the bomb against Japanese cities rather than to rely on diplomacy to end the war or at least to make this radical innovation in destructiveness by way of an exhibition in an uninhabited part of the ocean. The U.S. Government at the time partly wanted to end the war with Japan as rapidly as possible so that it would not be necessary to include the Soviet Union in the negotiation of a Pacific peace in a manner similar to the Yalta and Potsdam diplomatic process among the victors in the war that produced a divided and quasi-occupied Europe in the aftermath of the German collapse. It also seemed to be the case that the American leaders, already looking ahead toward an impending rivalry with Moscow, were intent on exhibiting the full destructive capability of their super-weapon. It seemed irrelevant to mainstream political consciousness given the war atmosphere of limitless self-justification that such decisions behind closed doors translated into ten of thousands of crushed and radiated victims killed or left to die amid the ruins of these two Japanese cities, devastated beyond recognition by such geopolitical maneuvers that have still never been exposed to the sunlight of full disclosure. Instead, the spin masters of the day wove a diversionary tale of lives saved through the avoidance of a supposedly necessary invasion of Japan that was calculated to cause the death of at least a million Americans and Japanese. With unbounded cynicism, the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while being aware that Japanese diplomats were sending peacemaking signals is another facet of this most shocking of horror stories associated with World War II. Such stories have yet to be fairly told or rescued from a continuing struggle between competing narratives of motives and context.


Yet Japan, although mercilessly victimized during the war, was far from innocent. Its militarism led to aggressive warfare and conquest throughout Asia, and inscribed memories of occupation cruelty that linger vividly even now in countries such as China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia. And of course, it was Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that created the basis for America’s formal entry into the war against both Japan and Germany. At least, in the aftermath of the war Japan has acknowledged, although ambiguously at times, its own responsibilities for aggression that created the chain of events that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs, whatever its principal explanation, whether geopolitical, vindictive, or military. In the historic Shimoda case brought by atomic survivors in a Japanese court, seeking symbolic repudiation of the atomic attacks and only nominal damage for personal injury and suffering to underscore their anti-nuclear animus. The court invited expert testimony from distinguished international law experts in Japan, who concluded that the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki indeed violated legal prohibitions against indiscriminate, poisonous, and inhumane weaponry, and thus the attacks violated existing customary international law even absent any treaty explicitly prohibiting atomic weapons. What the Shimoda court did so impressively, aside from providing the world with its first and last judicial assessment of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was to offer their conclusions without moralistic posturing. This outlook of contrition was confirmed by issuing this decision condemning the use of atomic weapons on December 7th, the 22nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


The experience of persons exposed to an atomic attack is easier to interpret than the public rationale due to the concreteness of individual experience, and the physicality of the harm. Nevertheless, there is a zone of ambiguity due to the uncertainty of the connections between exposure to the radiation generated by the bomb and the rise in underlying cancer rates. We can never explain with certitude many particular cases, especially if the symptoms are deferred to a time remote from the event. This may account for the term hibakusha used to set apart the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the rest of the Japanese population. To qualify as a hibakusha (in literal Japanese translation, ‘explosion affected people’) a person had to prove that she or he was physically present in one of the two cities at the time of the blasts so as to be eligible for government compensation and assistance. It was definitely not socially desirable to be perceived as a hibakusha, and many survivors did their best to hide this identity to avoid severe discrimination against themselves and even their children, which took several forms, especially employment and marriage. This discrimination was rationalized by the widespread acceptance of the fallacious belief that those exposed to radiation were contagious or genetically affected so that future generations would be similarly afflicted. As of 2015, there are 185,519 hibakusha known to be alive, 1% of whom suffer from radiation sickness. Additionally, separate memorials to deceased hibakusha list over 297,000 in Hiroshima and just under 169,00 in Nagasaki. Among the cruel ironies associated with having been in one of these cities on those fateful days was the mystifying combination of survivor guilt and social ostracism that further burdened the strange destiny of what survival must meant to each hibakusha.


There were also some uncanny ironies associated with such a survival. Perhaps the most extreme irony was the strange fact that an estimated 165 persons experienced both attacks and qualified as what came to be called double hibakusha (a documentary film Twice Bombed: The Double Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2006) depicts this grotesque phenomenon). And of these, the strangest case of all, at least that is somewhat publicized, is that of Tsutomu Yamaguchi.


Mr. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on August 6th as part of a business trip on behalf of his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, when the atom bomb exploded. He was at an office meeting 1.8 miles from ground zero, and suffered serious burn injuries on his left side, but not so serious that he could not return to his home in Nagasaki the next morning. What is somewhat startling is that Yamaguchi went to work in Nagasaki on the following day despite his condition, and on August 9th told his officemates about the amazing fact that a single bomb had destroyed the entire city of Hiroshima. His boss reacted by telling him he was crazy to believe such a ridiculous thing, and at that moment of vengeful irony the Nagasaki bomb was detonated, repeating the awful saga of Hiroshima, and validating Yamaguchi’s story greeted with such skepticism moments earlier.


Yamaguchi, a draftsman who designed tanker ships, survived both attacks despite sustaining injuries in each, and evidently “thought Japan should never start a war.” But he also is reported to have considered at some point killing his family with sleeping pills if Japan lost the war. Yamaguchi died of stomach cancer in 2010 at the age of 93, and his long life exemplifies the ironic nature of what strikes us decades later as a remarkable survival story posing an enduring question decades later to those of us detached from the immediacy of such calamities: was Yamaguchi supremely unlucky to have been in the only two cities ever attacked with atomic weapons or was he extraordinarily lucky to have survived both attacks and lived to the age of 93? Rarely have good and bad fortuitous experience been so intermixed, and perhaps the word ‘lucky’ is too casual given the epochal significance of this dreadful dawn of the nuclear age.


Not until 2009, a year before his death, did the Japanese government officially decide to recognize Tsutomu Yamaguchi as the first person certified to be a double hibakusha. Apparently even the authentication of atomic victimization became its own further ordeal thanks to the draconian workings of the Japanese state bureaucracy.


While hibakusha remain alive, we are movingly reminded that the tragedies endured in 1945 remain lived realities that should never be interred within a larger impersonal assessment of the military policies that ended the war. We are also reminded of the failure of the organized world community to take the necessary and possible steps to ensure that there are no future generations of hibakusha.

21 Responses to “The Nuclear Challenge (5): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Weird ‘Good Fortune’ of Tsutomu Yamaguchi”

  1. Mark Selden August 26, 2015 at 11:06 pm #


    Just in case you’ve not yet run across Charles Pellegrino’s important new book.

    Surviving the Last Train From Hiroshima: The Poignant Case of a Double Hibakusha



    • Richard Falk August 26, 2015 at 11:18 pm #

      Thanks, Mark, for calling Pellegrino’s work to my attention. Hope you are fine. Are you living in NYC.
      I will be there in late October for a week. Warm greetings from Yalikavak, richard

    • Richard Falk August 27, 2015 at 12:32 am #


      Do you think I strayed too far from my comfort zone of awareness in this post?
      I was mainly reflecting on the broader implications of what was done and is being done.


      • Brewer August 27, 2015 at 1:41 am #

        You did not stray too far Richard.
        I have long pondered morality and warfare. Fact is the concepts are irreconcilable.
        The accepted wisdom is that the A-Bomb accelerated the Japanese capitulation (probably a false assumption).
        It was Churchill (hero of my youth) who pioneered civilian bombing. He, and the authors of Hiroshima, relied on a principle that, oddly enough, is used in the present era as cassus belli.
        For Terror was the principle, the agent of change.
        How ironic that the Middle East is now a devastated wasteland as a direct result of the “War on Terror”.

      • Richard Falk August 27, 2015 at 3:57 am #

        Thanks for this important series of reflections. There was no civilian bombing in WW !? Are
        you referring to Churchill’s advocacy of civilian bombing British colonial Africa?

        Best wishes

  2. ray032 August 27, 2015 at 2:36 am #

    The indefensible Hiroshima revisionism that haunts America to this day
    Seventy years ago this week we vaporized 250,000 civilians, and yet still view the bombings as an act of mercy

    • ray032 August 28, 2015 at 4:42 am #

      This is the introduction to the Salon link in my comment on my Public Facebook page:

      I’m glad to find this report Today. In my comments on various articles in many different on line news sites, I always referred to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the other unmentioned Holocaust of WWII.

      The Civilians were burned alive. The victims of Hitler’s camps, not only Jews, but gays, gypsies, political opposition to Hitler, and even deformed blue eyed, blond haired Germans, were dead before they were incinerated.

  3. Carlos August 27, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    Heart wrenching, reading this. Was it true that the Japanese were capitulating., so long as their emperor was not charged with war crimes? We must keep supporting n bans.

    • Kata Fisher August 28, 2015 at 7:04 am #

      A note:

      Banned Psychology would be much more effective, along with Psychiatric terms. Call it evil by its name. Otherwise, let lay people be confused and have no idea when they sin against God’s Spirit.

      God’s Spirit was Blasphemy prior WWI, and WWII – after such corporate sins, what condition of the human race do you expect? Satanic seals, blasphemy of God’s Spirit in bloodlines on a corporate and world-scale.

      Martin Luther ripped Books of the Scripture from Old and New Testament. To do such thing for anyone is the grave and irrevocable sin according to the Teaching of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

      While I was at the study of the “Acts of the Apostles” and Marting Luther came up – he was referred as “one of the greatest theologians of all times.”

      Now Protestants want to welcome Martin Luter to the square in the Rome. I believe they should also have it so – but he was the person who was tempted by Satan and also overthrown by Satan, and many were led into the deception.

      Protestants can and should put Martin Luther into the Rome’s square on his 500 year anniversary coming to Rome, but they should put his nun-wife along with him – the girl he sexually abused /woman in the Church that he touched and broke away from the Church and her spiritual vows.

      They should put his nun-wife along with him with Luther otherwise they are unrighteous and evil in their request!

      When Church talks about Satanic seals and blasphemy of God’s Spirit, we do not give any jokes to origin of-of some things. Certainly we do not give jokes when comes to the origin of Psychology. For some examples, Sigmund Freud, as well as Carl Jung, were humans in some “sealed demonic possessions.” Likewise, Martin Luther was so.

      Applying anything of “sealed demonic possessions” to those who are the Church end ups with vile destruction toward those who do such evil.

      Those who pursued Nuclear technology at that time were devil directed, as well as those who pile it on.

      • Gene Schulman August 29, 2015 at 3:36 am #

        Oh dear, she’s back! With more non sequiters, yet.

      • Kata Fisher August 29, 2015 at 7:30 am #

        Hi, Gene.

        I hope you have wonderful and good morning. It’s about 8:30 here and I am on my way out to run some errands. I would chat some more, but I am in a hurry this morning.

      • Gene Schulman August 29, 2015 at 10:23 am #

        Swonderful. Slow down, Kata, catch your breath. Where is ‘here’?

      • Kata Fisher August 29, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

        Just a few (most 25) minutes from Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson and Forth Carson.
        I think about 35 Minutes from Ted Haggar’s New Life Church – that is is very to close to Airforce Academy.

        Just in that neighborhood.

      • Gene Schulman August 30, 2015 at 2:24 am #

        Well, it’s a good thing I know America so well, otherwise your description of ‘here’ wouldn’t mean anything. It could be anywhere. But the military bases and Air Force Acad gave it away. And only twenty minutes from New Life Church? That must be inspiring for you.

        PS – Richard, I am still not receiving notice of new comments (I’m not the only one). I have to go looking for them. Anything your blog server can do?

      • Richard Falk August 30, 2015 at 5:30 am #

        I will try, but have not had much success in the past..

      • Kata Fisher August 30, 2015 at 9:28 am #

        I find more interesting then inspiring what Fr. John and Bob and Marilyn have said.

        According to Fr. John New Life Church is motivating hub. Fr. John was just recently ordained, in June last year, I think. Prior to that, he was a chaplain for Firefighters.

        Rev. Frykhlom, and his wife Marilyn have said that when he was pastors of downtown’s First Baptist Church and did trying to put together some social ministry work with other churches it was very interesting. There were some churches that did not want to do anything because “social ministry it was just not their thing” according to Marilyn. They did accomplish something with few other churches here in the town.

        Since then, he pastored another Church that was out of the state and now is retired.

        They told me that when we were out together with some Family and friends.

      • Richard Falk August 30, 2015 at 11:46 am #

        Kata: Why are you sending comments of not relevance whatsoever to this blog?

      • Kata Fisher August 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

        Professor Falk,
        I do agree with you – but I do not think so. Why is that; I do not know.

      • Laurie Knightly September 1, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

        Gene: The trajectory of the New Life Church in Colorado is a rather amazing mega religious success story, Its founder, Ted Haggard, was in weekly communication with Pres George W. and he became head of the National Association of Evangelicals – a huge and powerful organization. Ted’s spiritual unfolding occurred when his use of male prostitutes and meth was revealed – albeit he has strong family values and opposes same sex marriage. The guy lost his job but is now experiencing a period of contrition and has started a new church deploring the lack of understanding and forgiveness on the part of his former empire. That stuff is OK if you don’t get caught and their rejects can get vindictive.

        Maybe if more of us hit the blog with this crap, our leader would realize how it affects the due respect of those who aspire to a different level of discourse. We can’t stop it; he can do so. Enough!

      • Kata Fisher September 1, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

        This is what I understand:

        I do not think or believe that Pastor Haggard received charismatic ministry / conversion in a valid way – that added to his spiritual struggles.

        It is written that we are not to receive sneak when we ask for bread.

        If anyone had to wrestle with evil- God would have never dismissed her or him. This is absolutely never.

        For all humans and that no matter who we are, we all have an inner desire to sin and do evil. It is only by the Grace of God that we do not do sin and do evil when we are put to the test or a choice to sin against another and ourselves.

        Most important is that a person is in peace with them self and their conscience. Also, by the Grace of God – we as humans can’t sin against others in the way that they cannot handle.

        We can or have to accept or submit to divine assistance, otherwise whatever is coming against us will also overpower us as humans.

        Still, by the Grace of God it will not destroy us nor it can.

        Signing against someone’s conscience can be of extreme harm, be of grave sin. By that sin against another it is possible that lay-people are moved to believe a lie. The lie that lay-people would think believe is that they as lay-people are under a call to be appointed to be in the stewardship of the Gospel Teaching – to be in bondage to the Authority of the Church. So, they would think that they are Commissioned to Teach in accordance to the Word of God others what is best for them – or what ought to be done while applying Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to theirs authority.

        The Church would hold Sacrament of Ordination in a same care as Ark of Covenant was handled, on importance level – and the work of God’s Spirit would never be separated from the ordination of the Church – just as presence was not separated from the Ark, until the presence if God left.

        I do not know what is pastor Haggard sin, but one thing I know is that he is in Church Marriage. I cannot believe that Evangelicals sinned against that fact, but I am not surprised.

        Church has dismissed him and has not restored him. Perhaps, if they have had done that – they would have also figured out what is wrong with their Chuch-practices, all together. Look and see that they have not repented, in corporate order and practices of charismatic ways.

        There are specific orders in the teaching of Apostle Paul on this, as well as how to handle specific sins – as well as ordinations.

        I believe that Pastor Haggard (individually) will be fully restored at some point in time and his reputation will be set free, but that Church that violates Church Order (in corporate) will be continuously judged – if not given over to Satan to destruction.

        Unless, pastor Haggard fell of from Spirit – but he could not have had if the charismatic ministry that he received was authentic toward him.

        Whether they accept their sinful nature and acknowledge by the witness of their conscience of the origin of sin, understand that they are sinners and in need of God’s Grace or that they are not sinners and that they are not in need of grace of God as humans – they have to be in peace with themselfs.

        That is they have to accept who they are and be content and conferable with that – in this way they will not sin against their conscience.

        It is sins against Church Orders what trips up the Church, but it does not destroy nor it can.

        God is Graceful toward human race, and the enemy to the human race is only the evil one, the devil.

        Health and Wealth Gospel is not right – unless they do works of the Gospel in secret and all their service to God is in private.

        Gospel of Jesus Christ is not realized without entire and whole work of the Gospel within a Church.

        Health and Wealth Gospel is terribly wrong.


  1. Richard Falk: The Weird ‘Good Fortune’ of Tsutomu Yamaguchi - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics - August 28, 2015

    […] By Richard Falk By arrangement with Richard Falk […]

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