Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War
by Susan Southard, Souvenir Press, £15
This important book should be read by everyone who has followed the recent war of words between President Trump and North Korea. The latter, which possesses all the characteristics of a rogue state, understands too well that its claim on world interest lies in its pursuit of nuclear firepower. This dangerous strategy is employed whenever the country’s dictator feels like it.
Susan Southard, an American scholar of Japanese language and culture, has written a well-researched, harrowing narrative, based on many interviews over several years with five hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945) in particular, as well as 12 other survivors. On reading her book one can only agree with the goal of those who chose to speak out about the “extraordinary perils of nuclear war” rather than conceal their trauma.
Nagasaki has received less publicity than Hiroshima, which was bombed three days earlier, on August 6. Nonetheless, its sufferings were almost as immense. More than 200,000 people died, some instantly, others days and weeks later, and yet others of radiation sickness after several months. The author explains that the American public were duped, both about the gravity of the atomic bombs and their targets: defenceless people living alongside armaments factories in crowded cities. As she writes: “Even after stories of hibakusha suffering emerged in the United States, President Truman never publicly acknowledged the human impact of whole-body, large-dose radiation exposure.”
The excuse that its use helped save lives by ending the war in Asia more quickly is also highly controversial.
Southard, conscious of the part played by her own country, has painstakingly assembled the sombre data of the hibakusha she interviewed, their “acute physical pain, psychological trauma and personal history split in two by nuclear war”.
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