Nagasaki : Life After Nuclear War / Susan Southard

Hibakusha is a Japanese word used to describe the surviving victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The term literally translates as “explosion-affected people.” In this book, Susan Southard highlights the lives of five hibakusha: Dó-oh Mineko, Nagano Etsuko, Taniguchi Sudmitera, Wada Kóichi, and Yoshida Katsuji. Each of them were teenagers in Nagasaki on the the day of the bombing, suffering serious injuries as a result.

The opening chapters make for a chilling read. Southard does a marvelous job of bringing to life what was occurring in Nagasaki shortly before the bombing, and more importantly, the devastation the blast caused. More than 30,000 people were killed immediately, while more than 40,000 died from their injuries by the end of 1945. By focusing on these five individual survivors, the author is able to put a human face to the horror experienced by the citizens of Nagasaki.

The second half of the book is much less gripping, although just as important. It tracks the lingering effects of nuclear fallout on the country’s survivors. Many suffered punishing injuries that lasted a lifetime, including acute and late-life onset radiation-related illnesses, as well as post traumatic stress disorders. The five hibakusha featured here became vocal spokespeople campaigning against the use of nuclear weapons.

Her book also highlights the extent the United States government went to cover up the lasting effects that the bombings had on the survivors. To this day, our government still claims that the use of nuclear weapons was necessary to save the lives of American soldiers and to bring about Japan’s eventual surrender. Southard presents convincing evidence that surrender was likely even without the use of nuclear weapons. But she also describes how many ultra-nationalists in Japan refuse, to this day, to admit their country’s own war crimes during the conflict.

While the threat of nuclear war has diminished in recent years, the possibility is still a sword that hangs over our heads. As Southard reveals, many Americans have no knowledge of what occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Her account does an excellent job of ensuring that the legacy of these bombings is never forgotten. The people she profiles spent their lives working to make sure that Nagasaki remains the last atomic-bombed city in history. Let us pray the injuries and the horrors they experienced are a lesson that humankind takes to heart.

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