The events leading to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings by the United States have different meanings to different people. Reading different historical sources, one notes that different authors have given different meanings to the same events that happened in the later months of 1945. The events that occurred after the bombings also have been given different meanings by the observers who had the chance to be on the ground days after the two bombings. As such, a conventional reader cannot help questioning whether the authors either had different experiences of the same effect or whether it was a case of selective use of evidence. In this essay, different author’s accounts on the happenings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be evaluated in order to prove that authors giving first-hand accounts of events sometimes choose to use evidence selectively in order to advance what they believe is right or wrong. Most of the times, this means that history appears different to audiences who hear or read the first hand testimonies.
The effects of both Atomic bombs, only three days apart, as written by Fusell (6), who was a soldier, ready to join the battle field in Japan, is that it saved the lives of many soldiers who would otherwise have died in the battlefield. Fussell’s argument is that although the war would have ended eventually, there is no knowing how much longer Japan would have carried on with the war since it had sworn to fight to the bitter end. In this same account by Fussel (1- 12), he discusses anti-bomb sentiments and thus concludes that the bombs were part of a necessary evil that helped end the war and save countless lives. Fusells sentiments are also echoed by the written narration of the Stimsons (1-11), the then secretary of war the United States who says that the United States had only two options in dealing with Japan. The options were the use of Atomic Bombs or pursue diplomacy. Either way, Stimsons (6) says that human life would have been lost. The only difference was that the bombing would mean loss of innocent life in Japanese cities; while more troops would have lost their lives in battlefield if diplomacy was pursued. These sentiments are however not shared by Palchikoff (2) who was among the first Americans soldiers who visited Hiroshima right after the bombing. Palchikoff contends that although the bombs might have been necessary to convince Japan to surrender, the United States did not have to target the bombs on areas with huge populations, as was the case with both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By targeting the bombs in sparsely populated islands, Palchikoff (2) argues that Truman would have succeeded in proving to the Japanese that the US was capable of using the Atomic bombs as earlier threatened in a July 1945 warning communiqué, without necessarily having to waste innocent lives through the bombings.
Weller (16) was among the first American Journalist who arrived in Nagasaki right after the bomb. In his book first in Nagasaki, he confesses that the destruction was enormous, yet he concludes bomb as a fair retaliation of Americans against what the Japanese had done in Pearl Harbor. Indirectly though, Weller (18) admits that the bombings had far-reaching and lasting effects on the affected Japanese survivors since the effects of the atomic radiation affected the coagulation ability of their blood. This meant that people with simple injuries would bleed to death within hours. What Weller does not address is whether the second bombing was necessary at all. According to Hasegawa (114), the Hiroshima bomb had already forced the Japanese to take actions and was enough indication that the country had taken the first bomb attack seriously and were therefore reconsidering their continued involvement in the war. Hasegawa analyzes the account given by two historians namely Richard Frank and Asada Sadao and concludes that the Nagasaki bomb was not necessary (Hasegawa 114). This was because a day after the Hiroshima bombing, a cabinet meeting was held by the Japanese authorities. The meeting proposed that Japan surrenders and accepts the Potsdam proclamation, on grounds that the United States had the destructive atomic bombs. Contrary to popular belief and statements given by the Japanese authorities that the surrender was motivated by the atomic bombings, Hasegawa (114) argues that the invasion by the Soviet Union most likely affected Japanese decision to surrender than did the bombs. To this, the author argues that even without the use of the bombs, the entry of the Soviets would have led Japan to surrender before the first day of November. Unlike Fussel (1-16) and Weller (1-22), whose narration of the accounts in Nagasaki were motivated by what they saw on the ground, Hasegawa bases his account on what Frank and Asada have written about the events. In such a case, the probability of reconstructing history through selective use of evidence is even greater since the first two historians must have used a measure of the same process in literature, from where Hasegawa (113-144) borrows his criticism. One gets the impression that the different authors use the selected evidences to prove their own convictions to their audiences. Their selection of evidences however affect how persuasive their arguments are because some have made their biases obvious through the writing. Weller (1-22), was no doubt a United States sympathizer whose ability to write objectively about Nagasaki was shrouded by the suffering he had observed earlier among his fellow Americans in Pearl Harbor. Palchikoff(1-2) on the other hand was an American who was born in Japan to Russian immigrant parents. He was part of the United States’ army intelligence due to his eloquence and comprehension of the Japanese language. Although he initially supported the Atomic bombings, he admits that traveling to Japan after the Hiroshima and witnessing the destruction and suffering caused by the bombs was a turning point for him. Having admitted this is his own writing, any reader studying the arguments presented by Hasegawa would no doubt have a preset mind that his writings are anti-American. In another account of the Japanese jails before the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hasegawa (106-113) makes observations of the Japanese jails and only compares two incidences, which he uses to conclude the jailers in Japan were strange. One can however argue that the author only used to example to prove the claim and that many other incidences could have been ignored.
An apparent difference in how the different authors relayed the happenings in Nagasaki to their audiences is the deathly picture created by Palchikoff(1) about the aftermath of the bomb and the same account by Weller (14-16). While Palchikoff description is short, describing human suffering, the loss of life, animals and the collapse of buildings, Weller’s description is more detailed at times going into details of how the deaths occurred. However, While Palchikoff(1) says there were no people, animals or undestroyed building in the streets, Weller (14-16) clearly states that there were “people trying to put out small fires in the streets before the water run out”. One gets the impression that Palchikoff (1-2), a sympathizer of the Japanese suffering was trying to engage the sympathy of the reader by magnifying the desolate state that hit Nagasaki because of the bomb. Weller (14-16) on the other hand manages to underplay the effects of the bomb; by stating that there were strong-enough survivors, who even tried to put out fires caused by the bomb. This was despite the enormous destruction of property and huge numbers of people who were either dead or injured. Weller (10) even states that out of an estimated 300,000 people living in Nagasaki when the bombing occurred, only 25,000 people died and 40,000 injured. From these two authors, one gets the impression that Weller has no regrets for Nagasaki bombing. His views are shared by Fussell(1-11), who claims that it is easy for modern readers to sympathize with Japan since much of Japanese actions before the bombings are not highlighted much by historians. He justifies his support of the bombings in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki as just what the “treacherous, barbaric and implacable” Japanese needed to pay for the atrocities committed against the American Nations and people from other Asian countries.
The admission by Prince Konoe (Dower1) that defeat was inevitable for Japan was a clear indication that Japan knew that that it would not last in the war much longer. The main concern was however not invasions from the Americans (who they had so far gained dominance over), but the Soviet Union, which the Japanese feared would introduce communist ideas in their country therefore weakening the country’s national polity (Dower 1). This assertion seems to support Hasegawa’s (144) conclusion that the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not influence Japan’s decision to surrender. This view however cannot be justified if one was to consider the surrender statement by Emperor Hirohito (1-2), which cited the use of a “cruel bomb” by the enemy among other reasons, as the main motivation behind the surrender. In his account, Hasegawa (144) maintains that the bombs may have heightened the need for Japan to surrender, but the main motivation was the entry of the Russians.
Selective use of evidence has been used in the past to give different meanings to the same events. The use of this kind of narration can be either voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary selective evidence is usually common where the author intentionally wants to communicate a particular view to the readers. Involuntary selective evidence on the other hand is shaped by the memory of the author and the different ways that the human mind perceives issues. Selective evidence as used in the case of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings falls in to both categories. The different authors published the events according to how they viewed and understood the events at the time. This explains the controversy surrounding whether the justification or lack of it for the bombing among historians, journalists, social scientists and ordinary citizens.
Dower, John. Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878-1954. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1979
Emperor Hirohito. “To Our Good and Loyal Subjects.” A broadcast to the Japanese People. August 15, 1945
Fussell, Paul. Thank God for the Atomic Bomb. New Jersey: Summit Books
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. The End of the Pacific War: Reappraisals. California: Stanford University Press, 2007
Palchikoff, Nikolay. “The Nuclear August of 1945” New York Times Company. August 06, 2001
Stimson, Henry. “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” Harper’s Magazine. Vol. 194, No. 1161, February 1947.
Weller, George. First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War. New York: Crown Publishers
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