Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear Humanities in the Post-Cold War

  • Published

Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear Humanities in the Post-Cold War edited by N. A. J. Taylor and Robert Jacobs. Routledge, 2018, 183 pp.


Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear Humanities in the Post-Cold War is an anthology of essays primarily from disciplines within the humanities, collected and edited by N. A. J. Taylor and Robert Jacobs. The 13 essays utilize the humanities’ analytical skills to deconstruct perceptions of and reactions to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki over time. It’s a momentous, perhaps impossible, task to consider every consequent perspective of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945. However, Taylor and Jacobs’s thoughtful call for essays resulted in enough research to illuminate a myriad of lesser-known avenues, from critical analysis of Ishiuchi Mayako’s photography exhibit, Hiroshima, to the 25 Hiroshima Maidens sent to the United States for reconstructive surgery in 1955. Thus, these relatively unexplored crevasses inject more authenticity into our understanding of nuclear weapons and of 6 and 9 August 1945. Taylor and Jacobs’s collection is valuable, as most literature concerning nuclear weapons or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rests within the harder disciplines of political science or international relations. Most of this literature uses theoretical, statistical, or comparative systems to understand nuclear or nonproliferation studies in terms of international or domestic policy. Therefore, Taylor and Jacobs’s anthology reimagines the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by curating research from the humanities and even the fine arts, in some cases.

When we think about the atomic bombings of August 1945, what do we remember? Are those memories and understandings truly representative? Can they be claimed as a global experience? These are the primary questions posed within Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki to help readers understand the effects of nuclear weapons use today. Taylor and Jacobs’s collection of essays argues it is imperative we question and appropriately reconstruct our memory of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for several reasons. For example, some essays argue that our understanding of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and nuclear weapons in general, is muddled by Cold War logic. Other essays assert that the horrific nature of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been downplayed in the US as well as in Japan. Ultimately, these essays demonstrate our understanding of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and nuclear weapons has been far too monolithic.

It’s difficult to properly praise and critique each of Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s 13 essays in a single book review. However, some prominent points materialize over how the book covers many disciplines within the humanities. The first outstanding point is history. Japan has had relations with China, and South Korea in particular, strained by different understandings of World War II history. The Japanese government’s tendency to dismiss portions of its history is discussed by Erik Ropers, Stuart Bender, and Mick Broderick in their essays about the ignored and discriminated-against Korean hibakusha—a Japanese term for survivors of the atomic bombs—and nearly nonexistent Australian POW hibakusha. Discrimination is also a topic examined in several essays. The dehumanizing treatment of Korea hibakusha by the Japanese government post-WWII is discussed by Erik Ropers. Ran Zwigenberg discusses the discrimination Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi faced in his candidacy to design a memorial in post-WWII Hiroshima. Additionally, numerous essays note the discrimination of Japanese hibakusha that occurred shortly after the close of WWII. Finally, the book also draws significant attention to the role of the fine arts in reimagining the atomic attacks and aftermath. Even in the fine arts, we must rethink perception and carefully examine our intention before portraying the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki invites readers to many different corners of nuclear issues, but not all disciplines within the humanities are reached. Surprisingly, it leaves the field of literature untouched. Many essays within Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki note that the realities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are poorly portrayed by the US and perhaps can only be truly conveyed by hibakusha. Thus, comparisons of narratives composed by hibakusha and non-hibakusha may reveal how these tragic events are being characterized incorrectly. Film is also not discussed despite several essays being devoted to photography, installation art, and performance art. An essay critically examining the short film “Mount Fuji in Red” within Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams or his 1991 film, Rhapsody in August would have made excellent additions to Taylor and Jacobs’s humanities-based anthology.

Taylor and Jacobs’s work is the genesis of reimagining the only two existing atomic attacks in history. Consequently, there is plenty of real estate for scholars to reimagine Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it is necessary to continue drawing nuclear studies away from Cold War thinking and unrepresentative depictions of 6 and 9 August 1945, for the greater good of the world. Thomas E. Doyle II’s essay particularly illustrates how pressing it is to reconstruct perspectives of nuclear weapons. Doyle writes that without recognizing that nuclear weapons contribute little to the security of humankind, nonproliferation is doomed to fail. The example Doyle uses is President Obama’s significant visit to Hiroshima on the anniversary of the bombing but lack of any policy change afterwards in Japan and the US. Doyle’s assertion is perhaps the most profound supporter of Taylor and Jacobs’s call to reimagine Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Students and academics are not the only demographics that should consider Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki. US military and civilian personnel heading to serve in the Asia Pacific, Japan especially, should add this book to their reading list. Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a helpful tool for understanding elements of Japanese culture such as the Japanese “nuclear allergy” and the legacy of the hibakusha. Furthermore, the book illuminates why different understandings of post-WWII history between South Korea and Japan have made intelligence sharing, military exercises, diplomacy, and other defense operations difficult to coordinate. Certainly, reading Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki will allow military and civilian personnel to better understand our Japanese and Korean partners and, therefore, foster better relationships.


Julie Tollefson, MA

Defense Security Cooperation Agency: Defense Institute of Security Cooperation Studies

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."