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Tsutomu Yamaguchi dies at age 93.
January 6, 2010 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Japan's only officially known survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings dies. In his later years, Yamaguchi gave talks about his experiences as an atomic bomb survivor and often expressed his hope that such weapons would be abolished.
posted by Lobster Garden (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I applaud this person for attempting to use his unique history in an attempt to better the world, but part of me thinks that if I had survived two atomic bomb blasts, I would double dog dare world leaders to just try to nuke me, punks.
posted by Flunkie at 11:53 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I heard an interview with him on the radio a few months ago. A hell of a story, and a great reason to abandon all nukes.
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posted by bystander at 11:55 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by brundlefly at 11:58 AM on January 6, 2010


I remember hearing about him a while back. I've always wondered, does surviving two nuclear bombs make you really lucky? Or really unlucky?

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posted by kmz at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2010


Previously discussed on MeFi, in case someone missed it.

. for Mr. Yamaguchi

. for our crimes
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


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posted by eatdonuts at 12:06 PM on January 6, 2010


I've always felt that there must have been a terrible moment when the bomb fell on Nagasaki where he must have thought, this is it, they're bombing everywhere. Everywhere.

That must be the most terrible feeling in the history of the world.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:11 PM on January 6, 2010 [16 favorites]


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posted by scody at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2010


成仏

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posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2010


greekphilosophy what crimes are you referring too?

Atomic weapons being horrifyingly destructive aside I can think of no method that would have ended WWII that could have caused less bloodshed then using the bombs. The Japanese had proven time and again that they would not give any ground without bloodshed, and our invasion of Okinawa demonstrated decisively that none of the "home islands" could be taken through conventional methods with anything short of massive amounts of death on both sides but with the lion's share falling on the Japanese populace. Yes the war sucked, and for the most part the Japanese public was not responsible for the incredibly brutal atrocities that their military inflicted across Asia and during the decades leading up to WWII but I would ask you come up with a realistic alternative to the bomb that would have ended the war with fewer casualties.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:38 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always felt that there must have been a terrible moment when the bomb fell on Nagasaki where he must have thought, this is it, they're bombing everywhere. Everywhere.

I had the same sense when trying to imagine his experience. He had no way of knowing that the US didn't have a huge supply of bombs and wasn't systematically wiping out every Japanese city. It's a natural conclusion to make when you leave one obliterated city only to have the next incinerated. It's hard to imagine the intensity of emotion and its aftereffects that he had to carry with him.

I've always wondered, does surviving two nuclear bombs make you really lucky? Or really unlucky?

Living to be 93 and keeping your wits while living for a cause (and getting a government stipend for your troubles) probably puts one in the former category. Unlucky would be dying a day after the blast in a vomiting, skin sloughing delirium.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:40 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we just mourn this guy without once again getting into another pointless and tiresome game of verbal tennis about whether or not dropping nukes was a good or bad idea?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:43 PM on January 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


RIP Mr. Yamaguchi.
posted by nikitabot at 12:46 PM on January 6, 2010


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "Can we just mourn this guy without once again getting into another pointless and tiresome game of verbal tennis about whether or not dropping nukes was a good or bad idea?"

What's it like being on the Internet for the first time?
posted by Plutor at 12:50 PM on January 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Unrealistically optimistic.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:53 PM on January 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


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posted by lord_wolf at 1:15 PM on January 6, 2010


BobbyDigital: I can think of no method that would have ended WWII that could have caused less bloodshed then using the bombs. The Japanese had proven time and again that they would not give any ground without bloodshed...

I was just listening to an interview on my local public radio station where the dude said that the Japanese were completely ready to surrender, and the U.S. knew this but decided to go ahead with the bombing anyway. I'm pretty sure it was this interview.
posted by exhilaration at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by mek at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2010


BobbyDigital: "Atomic weapons being horrifyingly destructive aside I can think of no method that would have ended WWII that could have caused less bloodshed then using the bombs."

Perhaps using them on exclusively military targets?
posted by brundlefly at 2:22 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


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posted by smoke at 2:43 PM on January 6, 2010


From long archived memories, I remember hearing an analysis in a history class that the use of the atomic weapons in Japan was strongly influenced by U.S. desire to intimidate the Soviets.
posted by bastionofsanity at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


And then there are those who believe that Operation August Storm (the August 1945 Soviet invasion of Japanese-occupied Manchuria) made the Japanese surrender. Previously.
posted by A-Train at 2:52 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was just listening to an interview on my local public radio station where the dude said that the Japanese were completely ready to surrender, and the U.S. knew this but decided to go ahead with the bombing anyway.

I did a paper on this (in grade 12, but let's not talk about how long ago that was) and that's what all the sources I uncovered indicated as well. The one sticking point was that Japan wanted to keep the Emperor, and thus the US didn't consider it an "unconditional" surrender.
posted by aclevername at 2:52 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are no such things as exclusively military targets anymore, but anyway, apparently one of the last people Mr Yamaguchi met was James Cameron, the movie director. Odd meeting.
posted by A189Nut at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2010


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posted by Splunge at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2010


Aw, shoot. I've been thinking about this guy a lot lately. I'm student teaching this semester and the very first unit I'm working on is World War II. I keep mulling over Yamaguchi's story and can't get it out out of my head. I've told it multiple times within the last week, but hadn't been able to remember where I first heard about him. Apparently it was on mefi.

What an amazing life. Such a shame he's gone.

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posted by lilac girl at 3:03 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey while in High school. It gave me nightmares. But it stayed with me ever since. When I found out that neither my son or stepson were being required to read it, I purchased a copy and made it required reading on my own. Then I had a long talk about the book with each one.

I don't know if they took away the horror that I did from the accounts in the book. Their generation has been inundated with images of nuclear war in movies and TV and perhaps they are a bit jaded. But I at least tried to inculcate in them the true nature of nuclear weapons and respect for all humanity.

I hope I've done some good.
posted by Splunge at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


A189Nut: "There are no such things as exclusively military targets anymore"

I'm sure there could have been alternative, non-population center targets.
posted by brundlefly at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there could have been alternative, non-population center targets.
posted by brundlefly at 3:11 PM on January 6 [+] [!]


In 1945, Japan had roughly twice the population of 2009 California in something like ten percent less space. The entire country has been fully explored/settled for more than a thousand years. The only "non-population center targets" were in the ocean, and nobody is dropping hundreds of millions of dollars of payload* from a B-29 in the Sea of Japan to prove a point.

While I think mass civilian bombing is despicable, I'm not sure that mass slaughter between civilians and sea-borne infantry is preferable.

You think D-Day was a bloodbath? Try invading an island while under fire for miles, where the only beaches available for invasion have been scouted for ages. Invading Japan would have made the invasion of Europe seem like a Boy Scout camp-out. One can point out the flaws in Truman's reasoning, but it's difficult to argue the results.

*and that's in 1940's dollars, when $500million was real money.
posted by Sphinx at 3:48 PM on January 6, 2010


...and nobody is dropping hundreds of millions of dollars of payload* from a B-29 in the Sea of Japan to prove a point.

Why not?
posted by Splunge at 3:55 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our friend Wikipedia says "A study done for Secretary of War Henry Stimson's staff by William Shockley estimated that conquering Japan would cost 1.7 to 4 million American casualties, including 400,000 to 800,000 fatalities, and five to ten million Japanese fatalities. The key assumption was large-scale participation by civilians in the defense of Japan."
posted by A189Nut at 3:55 PM on January 6, 2010


Sphinx: "The only "non-population center targets" were in the ocean, and nobody is dropping hundreds of millions of dollars of payload* from a B-29 in the Sea of Japan to prove a point. "

Actually, I was thinking more like on a fleet of warships or something like that. I don't see how using the bombs to completely destroy two cities, killing thousands of civilians, was the only or even best way of demonstrating their power.

Because that was the point, correct?
posted by brundlefly at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once met the guy that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima...... We've talked about Paul Tibbets here a few times as well... irony that Tibbets died before this gentleman.
posted by HuronBob at 4:02 PM on January 6, 2010


When I came to Japan the first time, as a part of a study abroad program, one of the days here was spent in Hiroshima, at the Peace Park. One of the great things about the program was that nearly everywhere we went, we were giving more than just the average tourist view of the places we visited. In Hiroshima, we attended a lecture by a survivor of the bombing. I don't recall his name anymore, but I do recall some of his story, things like his wife's parents refusing to allow their marriage for many, many years because they expected him to die at any minute.

The most amazing part, for me, was his statement that for years, he absolutely hated the sound of "a" because it reminded him of America. That everytime he heard it, he felt rage inside. And that, finally, he realized that his rage wasn't doing anything but hurting himself, and he learned to let it go.

I'm still trying to figure that part out for myself, but I imagine that someday, if I can manage that, my life will be all the better for it.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


RIP...

And to correct the person who stated the dropping of the bombs was the only way to stop the war is incorrect. Japan was already in the downward spiral of the war and a surrender on their behalf could have been in the close future, as it was Japan financially was not able to support the war for much longer anyway.
I still want to visit Hiroshima to see the peace park, I lived in Okinawa for 3 years and saw the peace park there and seeing some of the images and reading the stories of civilians caught up in the middle is truely horrible. And reinforced how much I really detest wars and such pointless loss of lives. Really if you think wars are "cool" and want to join the army to kill the terrorists or what ever you've been brain washed to kill this time, goto a war memorial site like in Japan or German and see some of the horrific stuff your signing yourself up to do, then rethink do you want to be resonsible of inflicting that suffering on someone else.
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 5:14 PM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Everything leading up to Hiroshima indicates that virtually no population center was off limits in World War II. Just ask the Chinese, among others, about the need to protect civilians from murderous invaders, like the Japanese.

As horrendous as the bombings were, I don't know that simply dropping one onto a fleet, as mentioned above, would have convinced the Japanese militarists. After all, if seeing Hiroshima wasn't enough, how persuasive would the destruction of a mere fleet be? Whatever fleet was left, that is.

As the child of someone who would most likely have been cannon fodder in an invasion of Japan, I'm glad it ended when it did. As far as the morality, I frankly don't see a difference between an atomic bomb and repeated firebombings of German cities or rockets on London, or enslaving and butcherin g local populations. But I am truly sorry about the horrible loss of life in those two cities, and sorry, too, to have just learned about Mr. Yamaguchi. I'm glad he lived such an amazingly long life. Good for him.
posted by etaoin at 5:17 PM on January 6, 2010


Whenever I start feeling bad for myself, I read John Hersey's Hiroshima. That'll beat some perspective into you.
posted by brundlefly at 5:19 PM on January 6, 2010


irony that Tibbets died before this gentleman.

Not irony, my friend. Poetic justice.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:37 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whether dropping one bomb or not is a very big question. Dropping two, however, was in my opinion completely unecessary, and I don't have the link now, but it has been argued that Nagasaki was more a research experiment than a strategic manoeuvre.

Of course, that ignores the fact that the US was prepared - and planned - to drop many, many more bombs as well. Positing Hiroshima and Nagasaki as cruel-but-necessary actions to avoid further bloodshed ignores this fact, I feel. Make no mistake, the US was prepared to bomb the shit right out of Japan.
posted by smoke at 5:57 PM on January 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lots of 20/20 hindsight in evidence here. Max Hastings put its clearly:

"Those who today find it easy to condemn the architects of Hiroshima sometimes seem to lack humility in recognising the frailties of the decision-makers, mortal men grappling with dilemmas of a magnitude our own generation has been spared."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jul/30/japan.secondworldwar
posted by A189Nut at 6:09 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


A189Nut: ""Those who today find it easy to condemn the architects of Hiroshima sometimes seem to lack humility in recognising the frailties of the decision-makers, mortal men grappling with dilemmas of a magnitude our own generation has been spared.""

I recognize all of those things, and I don't condemn the decision makers. I have no idea what I would decide, faced with that sort of thing. That doesn't mean I can't question the decisions they made.
posted by brundlefly at 6:21 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Those who today find it easy to condemn the architects of Hiroshima sometimes seem to lack humility in recognising the frailties of the decision-makers, mortal men grappling with dilemmas of a magnitude our own generation has been spared."

Frankly, this sort of thinking implies that any decision made during such a "dilemma" should be excused. That seems like a bizarre suggestion, given that we were and are still unwilling to extend the same moral immunity to the Japanese and Germans regarding their own "dilemmas"... and, in fact, held many of them personally accountable at the end of a rope.

Understanding the lead-up to the use of the atomic bomb includes understanding that we had more than one option: the Joint Intelligence Staff had a blockade-and-bombing plan which did not involve atomics or an invasion, and would most likely have forced a surrender by the end of 1946 at the latest. In addition, the Joint Chiefs believed that surrender could have been had by diplomatic means by early 1946, if the State Department softened its stance on unconditional surrender by allowing the emperor to remain as a figurehead.

But that's the problem -- softening that position and/or prolonging the war was politically unacceptable to its planners. Political pressure at home, the difficulty of keeping the Army on a war footing over the long term, and possible Soviet entry into the war all made a quick-but-casualty-heavy plan more attractive to them than a prolonged effort. The Joint Chiefs chose invasion primarily because they believed it would bring a quick end to the war, not because it was the only way to end it; Truman dropped the bombs for much the same reason, even knowing that the Japanese were already interested in surrender.

In short: invasion was a choice, as was dropping the atomic bombs. The Japanese did not force us to do these things; we did them because we chose to, and we must now face the political consequences... which include condemnation of our decision to use atomic bombs on civilians (as well as thankfulness for our decision not to use them on Kyoto or Tokyo, to be perfectly fair). This isn't about "20/20 hindsight"; it's about making a choice, and having to pay the natural consequences for that choice, human frailty or not. After all, Nimitz himself condemned the atomic bombings as unnecessary in a public speech in 1945, so it's not as if this position is solely a contemporary attempt at revisionism by people who refuse to "recognize the frailties of the decision-makers". The second-guessing on this one began immediately after the war, and involved people who knew those mortal men personally.

I see a lot of cake-and-eat-it-tooism in articles like Hastings' -- he himself admits that there is ample cause to see this as a war crime, yet he goes on to suggest that some "cruel judgments" are morally justifiable in the course of war, and others are "brutal" and "hideous". If "it seemed right to most of his contemporaries" justifies the atomic bombs, then it also justifies things like Pearl Harbor, Unit 731, and the Rape of Nanking; likewise, if Japanese leaders could be held responsible for their choices, then our own leaders can be held responsible for theirs. We cannot have the war in the Pacific both ways.
posted by vorfeed at 7:51 PM on January 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


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posted by fatbird at 8:14 PM on January 6, 2010


The one sticking point was that Japan wanted to keep the Emperor, and thus the US didn't consider it an 'unconditional' surrender.

And then they surrendered and kept the emperor. Seems like we could've cut a deal.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:26 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


And then they surrendered and kept the emperor. Seems like we could've cut a deal.

I can't find a detailed source, but I think the US didn't want the Emperor dead or stripped of position (which would not go over well with the Japanese rank and file), more they wanted him isolated and removed from any strings of actual military or political power.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:40 PM on January 6, 2010


"Those who today find it easy to condemn the architects of Hiroshima sometimes seem to lack humility in recognising the frailties of the decision-makers, mortal men grappling with dilemmas of a magnitude our own generation has been spared."

You can do all of this and still recognize their decision as being wrong. :-) You know, to make the moral compass a bit clearer for future leaders who are faced with such a choice. That's what history is all about, isn't it?
posted by the cydonian at 12:02 AM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the parameters of the Nagasaki bombing was that there were Allied (UK & US) POWs being used as slave labourers in the shipyards there. This must have been known by the planners.
Around 1960-65 I had frequent contact with one ex-POW, who somehow survived. He told me that many of his mates didn't survive the bomb. He himself died of leukemia some 10 years later.
posted by Crustybob at 1:58 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo at 7:07 AM on January 7, 2010


A189Nut: "apparently one of the last people Mr Yamaguchi met was James Cameron, the movie director. Odd meeting."

...and today I come across this article: Director interested in atomic bombings of Japan
posted by brundlefly at 8:42 AM on January 8, 2010


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