Looking at the history war on our planet, World War II was the most deadly war. Historians have estimated that 50-70 million people around the world were killed, including 30 million civilians (World War 2 Info.com). Of those many civilian casualties, an estimated 150,000 were attributable of the atomic bomb, known as “Little Boy,” dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 (World War 2 Info.com).
Hiroshima is the backdrop of Masuji Ibuse’s novel Black Rain, a fictionalized account of a family who survived the initial blast and is now facing both physical and social complications from the fallout. Ibuse was born in Japan in 1898 and died in 1993 having written over 40 books and poetry including his most famous Black Rain (Kuroi Ame) in 1969 (http://en.wikipedia.org). Though Ibuse was not in the city of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped, he used first hand accounts and survivors diaries to write the book. He was awarded an Order of Cultural Merit, which according to his Wikipedia page is “the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a Japanese author,” (http://en.wikipedia.org).
Though Ibuse’s Black Rain deals with the bombing and the immediate aftermath of it, it is important to look into the decision why President Harry Truman made the decision to drop the bomb. During the global depression of the 1930s, the Japanese realized they were unable to be self-sustaining without oil and other valuable natural resources. To find a solution to this, they looked outwardly to China and other pacific locations to conquer and obtain these resources. After years of fighting in the pacific, the Japanese decided to declare war on America after President F.D. Roosevelt put into place an oil embargo in July 1941 when Japan would not remove their troops from French Indochina and China (History Channel). Soon, the other allied countries followed in kind. The war declaration came with the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941. This action put the United States into war with the axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan).
After the Allied powers fought off the Germans successfully with the D-Day invasions in June 1944 and other hard fought battles, Germany finally surrendered on May 8, 1945 (World War 2 Info.com). With the war in Europe over, the US and the other allied countries were then able to focus their militaries on the fight with Japan. During the Potsdam Declaration on July 27, 1945 the US asked for complete and unconditional surrender, but the Japanese who had been fighting a war since their 1937 invasion of China, would not agree to the terms (japan-guide.com).
The United States and it’s allies battled Japan and with the successful invasion of the Marshall Islands in 1944, the US was able to finally defeat the majority of the Japanese fleet by years end. The invasion of the Japan came in 1945 with battles in Okinawa, but Japan would not stop fighting. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito even gave an official imperial order telling civilians to commit suicide instead of being taken prisoner by the invading troops (Hirohito’s Wikipedia).
After the surrender refusal, the US had successfully tested the atomic weapon trinity and the decision to hit the Japanese mainland was decided. Hiroshima was seen as a great military city for the Japanese and it’s wartime population was over 200, 000 people. This bomb and the follow-up atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9 drove the Japanese to surrender on August 14, 1945.
In Ibuse’s book Black Rain, he discusses both the day of the Hiroshima bombing and its the aftermath. It is organized such that the majority of the book contains journal entries primarily from the central family characters and then various other people caught in the bombing. These stories are tied together by a basic plotline that takes place nearly five years after the bomb
The main character is named Shigematsu Shizuma, who has been copying down these journal entries, initially as a way to try to prove his niece, Yasuko Takamaru, hadn’t been in contact with the radiation of Hiroshima enough to get any sickness from it. It was important to prove this because they wanted to get Yasuko married off before she was too old, and the family hopes the journal will disprove a rumor which was spreading around the town that she had been affected by the radiation sickness. Later on, Shigematsu intends to turn his collection of journal entries into a historical work, entitled “Journal of the Bombing.”
The journal entries start out with Yasuko’s account, which takes place on the day of the bombing. Yasuko was in Hiroshima, but outside the bomb’s main heat radius, where she saw the flash of the bomb and the smoke arising from it. It was that night that she got covered in the “black rain” while on a boat, and found that the substance seemed to permanently stain anything it touches, including her skin.
Most of the rest of the story consists of Shigematsu’s account. He starts off at Yokogawa Station, which was closer to explosion center, and the bomb caught him and burned his face. After the initial shock from the blast, he regains his composure and decides to leave Hiroshima. He initially heads off to find his wife, Shigeko, and niece, Yasuko, so they could then together board a train at the Yamamoto Station, so he could return to Furuichi Works. The Furuichi Works was a textile company where he worked.
On their way out of town, the family must suffer through extensive heat and radiation-laced smoke during their journey, as well as witnessing and tripping over badly burned, dead bodies. Shigematsu presumes it is at this time when Yasuko hurts her elbow and acquires the radioactive contaminant that leads to her sickness.
Shortly after they arrive at the Furuichi Works, and Shigematsu has his rest, his first tasks were to act in place of a priest, reciting funeral hymns over bodies that were to be burned on a riverbed near by. After that, he had the task of exploring Hiroshima and trying to obtain coal for the factory, which was in short supply and not likely to be shipped in soon due to bureaucracy requiring a meeting before the decision to do so was made.
The book goes into extensive detail about the dead and injured in Hiroshima. It frequently notes dead bodies floating in streams, alongside dead fish that had inflated and been killed by their own swollen air bladders constricting their organs after the blast. It talked often about the burn injuries, where in most cases the skin had been burnt a black, grey, or white color and simply peeled off like paper. Some of the burn victims felt no pain since their nerves had been burnt by the heat of the blast, so many didn’t discover the full extent of their injuries until well after the blast.
Interlaced with Shigematsu’s account is the account his relatives, Watanabe and Takamaru, who went looking for him after the bombing, and held a short funeral service for him. It also contains the account of Mr. and Mrs. Iwatake, the former of whom was the brother of a prominent doctor, and who had been cured of a severe case of radiation sickness. Mr. Iwatake acquired his sickness when he was caught in the blast at an army base in Hiroshima (where he was being trained because he had been drafted, despite being just short of 45 years old, which is the age limit of the draft).
While the family works on their journals to prove Yasuko free of radiation sickness, they learn she is actually now showing the signs of the disease, after apparently hiding her earliest symptoms. She starts to have abscesses, sores that never heal, and her hair and teeth start falling out, at which point she seems to have given up. It was at this time Mr. Iwatake’s account was presented because it was supposed to act as a sort of pep talk for her
Mr. Shigematsu’s account ends on the day when Japan’s surrender was announced, which happened to be just a day after he and his family were relieved of their duty at the textile plant. It was after this that they went to their country home where Shigematsu was to recover and start raising carp. It was never stated whether or not Yasuko recovers.
The Science of the Bomb
When looking into the science from the book, the obvious takeaway is the nuclear bomb known as Little Boy. All the survivors knew at that time was that the bomb that fell on Hiroshima was big, but that is a vague and non-descriptive word. The idea of a nuclear device was unimaginable since the technology had never existed, and the Manhattan Project was classified. Due to the surprise attack, there were no devices were present to accurately measure the yield of the blast, but estimates done from examining the affected area have it at from 12.5 kilotons up to 20 kilotons (Rhodes 714).
The uranium fission bomb, called Little Boy, was of a innovative design. It housed, at one end, a ball of highly enriched uranium 235 (U235) and at the other another ball of U235 with a propellant behind that. Upon detonation, the propellant was lit triggering the ball of uranium in front to be shot forward in much the same way a bullet is shot from a rifle. When the two masses met at the front of Little Boy, they were squeezed together by the force of the uranium bullet to achieve a critical mass and cause a chain reaction (Malik).
A chain reaction occurs via the use of neutron bombardment. The highly enriched uranium is naturally radioactive and emits a neutron randomly as it decays to a lighter element. When a mass of U235 is squeezed to its critical mass, the probability that the extra neutron hits a neighboring uranium atom becomes high causing that atom to decay and emit energy and another neutron. These two neutrons now bounce around decaying more atoms in an exponential manner, which is the chain reaction. Energy is released from each decay in accordance to E = MC2 (Georgia State University).
It is from this massive release of energy that the iconic mushroom cloud comes from. While most bombs have some form of a fireball associated with them, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima that day was different. This initial impact caused houses to crumble on top of people, trees to fall over, and vehicles such as trains and busses to fall off of the tracks and crush people. “Because the heat in [the] flash comes in such a short time… there is no time for any cooling to take place, and the temperature of a person’s skin can be raised [120O F]… in the first millisecond at a distance of [2.3 miles],” (Rhodes 714). Japanfocus.org talks of a victim of the bomb whose kimono absorbed the heat from the blast more so in the darker regions and less in the lighter areas. The effect of this was to imprint the pattern onto her skin (Slavick).
Coinciding with the extreme heat, the blast will have the effect of creating strong wind gusts. Winds varied with distance but they were reported to be supersonic, or at least 767 mph. A vast majority of the buildings in the blast’s range were completely destroyed; the only surviving buildings were made of concrete (Glasstone). The debris from the destruction provided more fuel for the fires raging, creating a firestorm. The firestorm would suck in air from the surrounding area and create a powerful updraft in roughly the same area as the initial blast. This column of hot air would carry dirt, debris, and smoke into the upper atmosphere and trigger the final and more lasting effect of the attack, the black rain.
Black rain, which where Ibuse get’s the book title, is a very particular form of fallout. When most people think of fallout, they think of radioactive ash or dust that gets blown around the surrounding country side. However, in Hiroshima it came down as rain. The heat from the firestorm and initial attack sent a large amount of debris into the air. There, it would mix with water vapor and any radioactive particles in the air and fall as rain. This is what is referenced by Yasuko in the book as the tar like substance which rained down upon parts of the city and stained their skin.
Medical Science from the Bomb
In Black Rain, Ibuse uses the victim’s perspective to describe the horrific medical effects which came along with the dropping of the bomb. The atomic bomb caused a mass destruction on the surrounding areas, and was the cause of over 150,00 deaths and numerous injuries to the population of Hiroshima. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 deaths were from the initial blast because of its large amount of force on impact (The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The force was estimated to feel like 20,000 Ton of TNT exploding (The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
Regarding the black rain, the radioactive waste that fell from the sky, it affected the soil, food, water supply, animals, and humans of Hiroshima and areas within a few mile radius of the initial blast. As the black rain fell, it would stick to people, and this allowed more radiation to enter the body. When the victims would try to wash off the black rain, it would just smear and not come off (Ibuse). As a result, the radioactive elements contained in the black rain caused sickness and eventually death. This, along with other radiation exposure, caused an increase in the total death count by an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 (The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
Radiation sickness is classified as a disease caused by radiation poisoning, particularly when a person is exposed to a high amount of radioactive material in a short amount of time. The disease causing radiation is often classified as a form of ionizing radiation, which is defined as “radiation that can form ions when it interacts with matter. Examples of ionizing radiations are x-ray, gamma ray, alpha and beta particles,” (Department of health). Each of these forms if given in large amounts has the ability to effect health.
There are two different types of radiation effects, threshold and non-threshold. Threshold effects are a result of high dose radiation experienced in a short amount of time, (Department of health) and the symptoms would be noticed right away. Hair loss, burns, and several others, including death are experienced with threshold radiation sickness (Department of health). The majority of the population of Hiroshima experienced this form including Shigematsu. The latent effects, known as non-threshold are not usually noticed until years after the initial exposure, as was the case of Yasuko. The symptoms of non-threshold effects are the same as the threshold effect, but delayed. These cause an increase in rate of cancer development, and an increase in rate of fetal deformities (Department of health).
In the book Yasuko, Shigematsu, and his wife Shigeko keep daily accounts of the events they see in regards to the bombing. The journal entries gave details on the injuries, deaths, and the earlier and later onset of symptoms of radiation exposure sickness the population experienced. The characters in the book suffered from several different symptoms. An example would be Shigematsu, who suffered from was a continuous amount of diarrhea and vomiting for years. His gastrointestinal problems were documented as frequent as every 30 minutes (Ibuse). Other symptoms experienced were physical weakness and fatigue, fever, skin lesions and boils, hair loss, teeth lose, and eventually death.
During this time, the medical community of Hiroshima did not have an established knowledge of this sickness, so they did not know how to effectively treat the growing population of sick people. The physician would prescribe home remedies, such as consuming specific roots of plants for gastrointestinal issues, and bathing in 50% salt water and 50% fresh water to treat burns (Ibuse). These obviously did not prove to be 100% effective, but it was worth the shot. Eventually a physician with knowledge of radiation exposure came along to diagnose people, and give advice on how to treat the symptoms. Some of the population got better, but others were already too far gone and eventually died.
Eventually the radiation exposure sickness was studied, new and improved treatments were found, and new medical technology was established with the primary purpose of giving off radiation. The bombing of Hiroshima from a medical stand point was a good thing because it allowed new medical information to be found.
Today Radiation studies have been performed to gain accurate information on, how much radiation can be given before a person experiences radiation poisoning, and when a person is diagnosed with radiation poisoning an effective treatment plan to cure the person. Studies have also been performed to show a relation between radiation exposure and the development of cancer. These studies have basically proved radiation is a factor in cancer development. Radiation is also helpful in treatment of cancer. Radiation is also useful in medical devices, such as X-ray machines and MRI machines.
Ethics of the Bomb Dropping
Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain explores two major ethical themes using two different stories. The outer story of Shigematsu arranging his niece Yasuko’s marriage illustrates the class issues and discrimination faced by survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima. This story also functions as a framing device for the larger story about the horrors left in wake of the bomb, and the hardships of those living with and dying of radiation sickness. The tale of the bomb’s destruction, the scale of the calamity, and the degree of pain it inflicted on the population of Hiroshima serves as an indictment of its use. Without need of explicit statement, the description of what Shigematsu observes provides the thesis that inflicting such suffering is unjustifiable — which Shigematsu’s commentary helps to solidify.
In the outer story, there are two main forces at work in discrimination against bomb victims. The first is resentment; many feel that the bomb victims are trying to gain the system: using their illness as an excuse for laziness. In the book, this is illustrated when an old woman accosts Shigematsu and his friends for fishing during the day rather than working (Ibuse 28). She mocks them by expressing envy for their lifestyle (Ibuse 28). But Shigematsu and his friends are afflicted with radiation sickness and will die a horrible death if they perform labor. Nonetheless, the culture shames them for not contributing. They do not even feel comfortable taking walks — even though the doctor prescribes them (Ibuse 26).
The second is faced specifically by the “Hiroshima Maidens,” women of marriage age affected by radiation sickness. The focus of the outer story is about Shigematsu trying to marry off Yasuko, and to prove her unaffected by the black rain that fell on her. The book does explain how this marriage discrimination takes place out of fear that the “Hiroshima Maidens” will be barren, sickly, and eventually die. By following Yasuko and Shigematsu so closely, and by showing the stigma of those with radiation sickness, it further emphasizes the class rift bringing disadvantage and shame to survivors of the bomb. The character Shokichi claims that everyone has forgotten what the survivors went through (Ibuse 28).
The embedded story that directly follows Shigematsu during and after the bombing focuses on the horrors of war. The book implicitly condemns war through Shigematsu’s commentary, but the truly convincing evidence is in the macabre sights he witnesses and the ghastly accounts of the people he meets. Hiroshima after the bomb is frequently compared to hell and the comparison holds. Shigematsu witnesses people burnt and even flayed by flames and radiation.
The picture Ibuse paints of Hiroshima after the bomb is one that he implies can scarcely be justified. Whatever school of ethical philosophy be applied to it, reading what Shigematsu saw in Hiroshima will, to most, produce a sense of moral revulsion.
How Nuclear Technology Changed Science Fiction Writing
In the post atomic world, the usage and aftermath of nuclear weapons have been very prevalent in fictional works including comics, novels, films and more recently even video games. One of the earlier examples in comics involves Superman and his nemesis Lex Luthor, who is planning to use an atomic bomb against him. This story was originally intended to be released in 1944 but it was put on hold by the US Department of Defense until 1946, after the bombs had been dropped.
Around this time the first pictures of a nuclear explosion were released and subsequent mushroom clouds became the signature depiction of nuclear weapons in fiction. The pictures of the actual bombs themselves weren’t released until 15 years post-detonation and by that time the more powerful hydrogen bombs had been developed. By the 1950s, the idea of a survivable nuclear war was being replaced by the idea that a nuclear war would lead to the end of civilization, properly dubbed “Mutual Assured Destruction”(MAD). Nuclear weapons became another name for the apocalypse and grew in popularity in fictional works.
The novel Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank tells the story of nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union from the perspective of a rural town in Florida. It shows the initial chaos and struggle for survival that followed the bombings like finding food, water, shelter and protecting themselves from bandits. Another novel, On the Beach by Nevil Shute deals with the psychological trauma that nuclear war can bring. The novel takes place in Australia in a world where most of the world was wiped out from nuclear bombs and the spread of radiation. The radiation will eventually reach Australia, meaning that its residents have to deal with their impending doom in various ways, such as assisted suicide from the government.
Along with books, films began to involve the use of nuclear weapons and apocalyptic futures in a creative way. The 1955 film Day the World Ended is a about a mutant creature that was born from radioactive fallout and terrorizes nearby residents. The 1962 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a satire depicting the deployment of a nuclear bomb. An important part of the comedy is the thought process of people and the events that can trigger a nuclear war. While the use of nuclear weapons in fiction is typically between humans, some films depict of machines targeting humans. The Terminator movies combine nuclear war with the dawn of artificial intelligence where an AI sees humanity as a threat and targets them with nuclear bombs leading to a machine dominated post-apocalyptic future.
The video game series Fallout, initially released in 1997 deals with a post-apocalyptic world with a heavy emphasis on survival. Although the series begins in the 22nd century, it has a retro futuristic setting and artwork influenced by the culture of 1950s America, combining the dread of nuclear war with optimism of promising new technology. The post war conditions are abysmal as buildings are decaying from neglect, and most food and water are contaminated with radiation. Many dangerous mutant animals have arisen due to the radiation and society is at a low with discrimination and even slavery.
These are just a few of the examples science fiction writers have used as plot devices in the post atomic world. The dropping of the atomic bomb forever changed the landscape of apocalyptic fiction.
The science of the bomb and the advancements, through necessity, of medical research contained in the book are just a small portion of the nuclear technologies derived from the Manhattan Project. Despite the ethical dilemma of American usage of the atomic bomb, many of the resultant technological advances have benefitted society. That’s not to say that it should have been used. The dropping of the atomic bomb changed the world as we know it.
The negative effects of the bomb are clear in the aftermath of Hiroshima, and in the imaginations of the science fiction writers who show what a post-nuclear world war could be. An entire industry has been built on the fear of anther bomb exploding somewhere in the world.
However, the technology the nuclear age has brought is not just energy from nuclear power plants. In the medical field, X-Rays, CT scans, nuclear stress tests, cancer treatments, and other technologies have been developed. The average smoke detector in most homes and businesses have radioactive components, as well as do the sights on many guns. The food industry uses high levels gamma rays to kill microbes in order to preserve food and make it safer. There is a use for it in the detection of environmental pollutants as well as the oil industry for tracing oil wells. There is also nuclear technology with the use of plutonium in the batteries powering the Mars Rover and other space probes being sent out to collect data (World Nuclear Association).
Whether nuclear technology will end up being a net plus or the destruction of our world, only time can tell.
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