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Made You Think

Feb 20, 2018

 “I had, of course, heard people say the sky was beautiful, especially those who were as far away as Fuchü and Furuichi. But it was now, for the first time, that I could picture the cloud, sharply defined against a clear blue August sky. It was at the moment of the birth of this cloud, with its ever-changing color, that Hiroshima was wiped out. It was at this moment that Hiroshima City, the culmination of many years’ work, disappeared with her good citizens into the beautiful sky.”

In this episode of Made You Think, Neil and I discuss Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, by Michihiko Hachiya. In this book, Michihiko registered his own life’s experiences following the atomic bomb’s blast, as a doctor in a Hiroshima hospital. “For acres and acres, the city was like a desert, except for scattered piles of brick and roof tile. I had to revise my meaning of the word ‘destruction’ or choose some other word to describe what I saw. ‘Devastation’ may be a better word, but really I know of no word or words to describe the view from my twisted iron bed in the fire-gutted ward of the communications hospital.” We cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • The accounts of survivors of the atomic blast.
  • The uncertainty and confusion that surrounded the mysterious illness befalling the hospital patients and their families.
  • War propaganda and its effects on soldiers.
  • Japan’s cultural attitude and perceptions surrounding WWII.
  • Where did survivors find food and water?

And much more. Please enjoy, and be sure to grab a copy of Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, by Michihiko Hachiya!   You can also listen on Google Play Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, or in any other podcasting app by searching "Made You Think." If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check out our episode on The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, for another look into death’s effect on humankind, and our episode on Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, that delves into philosophy and stoicism and how humans can adapt in the most adverse situations. Be sure to join our mailing list to find out about what books are coming up, giveaways we're running, special events, and more.

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Show Topics

1:08 — The book’s backstory: a physician’s diary from the days following the Hiroshima’s atomic bomb, and its long path into being translated into English. The US Senate’s approving of a resolution condemning the Smithsonian for failing to portray the atomic bombs as mercifully ending the war in 95.

3:44 — A view of the Japanese people as a monolith, and the diary’s portrayal of internal struggles and resentment against the Japanese military. A divide between the Emperor’s authority, which was generally loved by the people, and the military authority, seen as responsible for the war.

6:16 — The author’s background. A doctor working at Hiroshima, for the military, whose diary starts with the bomb dropping and injuring him. A work that was meant only for himself.

8:24 — They didn’t know what the bomb was when it first dropped, nor how radiation lead to all the following illness. The many effects and injuries an atomic bomb can cause.

9:11 — Hachiya’s injuries and survival following the bomb’s blast. His recovery at the hospital and awareness that he could have been dead.

10:58 — The terrifying descriptions of the bomb survivors. The survivor’s confusion and helplessness, as no one had been prepared for so much damage, and there was little information.

13:40 — Following the blast, there were no resources or time to research the causes of all the death and illness. One of Hachiya’s first assumptions were biological agents or poison gas.

16:40 — The desensitization to death that came with all the horror that Hachiya experienced. His guilt as well as his numbness to it.

17:50 — Where did Hachiya’s hospital found water and food, which isn’t addressed in the book. There had to have been water, as it was housing so many patients and their families. It was one of the few structures to survive the blast.

19:45 — “For acres and acres, the city was like a desert, except for scattered piles of brick and roof tile. I had to revise my meaning of the word ‘destruction’ or choose some other word to describe what I saw. ‘Devastation’ may be a better word, but really I know of no word or words to describe the view from my twisted iron bed in the fire-gutted ward of the communications hospital.”

20:06 — The destruction to buildings caused by the atomic blast. One building has been preserved in its destroyed estate near to the bomb’s epicenter.

21:35 — Hachiya’s use of the diary part as a tool for his medical work, in trying to decipher the effects of the bomb. His descriptions on symptoms and their progression.

22:10 — The flash of light caused by the bomb’s blast. Its physical effects, like its sound or lack of it: some people heard the boom (pika don), but other people didn’t, depending on their distance from the bomb.

24:44 — Rumors started arising on whether Hiroshima will be habitable following the blast. Are the people becoming sicker by staying in the hospital? What were the long-term consequences? Many other rumours began to appear.

26:12 — The patient’s reactions to rumors that Japan had retaliated the Hiroshima bomb. Human’s need for agency, to feel like there’s something they can do about their situation, especially in the face of such an awful event like the bomb.

28:54 — Japan’s decision to surrender was also connected to the Russian’s declaration of war, not necessarily the bombs by themselves. Japan’s culture of “surrendering is failing”.

31:35 — Tangent. Churchill and his attempts to participate in the front lines on D-Day. Leaders who declare war, but do not participate themselves in the actual fighting; “leaders” who don’t have ‘skin in the game’.

35:42 — The Japanese people’s expectations to the arrival of American troops in Japan. Differences between the military and civilian perceptions, its relation to war propaganda. Parallels to USA’s propaganda.

39:52 — The rate of participation in killing in the military, who has been going up and up. Conscription, and soldier’s unwillingness to kill other people, how propaganda and a sense of patriotic duty influences the willingness to fight.

45:20 — Other descriptions of horror following the Hiroshima bomb: citizens who tried to save themselves by taking shelter in pools and in rivers, who still didn’t survive.

48:31 — The communications were all down following the bomb: Hachiya’s reflects positively on being without modern ways of communication. Humankind’s adaptability to new circumstances, even the worst of them (hedonistic adaptation).

48:36 — “Besides, we had no radio. For me, this was something of a blessing, for being without the so-called advantages of civilization gave me a freedom of spirit and action others could not enjoy with their telephones, radios, and newspapers. Having lost everything in the fire and being now empty-handed was not entirely without advantage. I experienced a certain light-heartedness I had not known for a long time.”

54:18 — There were many incredible accounts of people who survived the blast, and of people who thought they’d lost loved ones, who had in fact survived.

56:03 — Media downplaying what happened in Hiroshima. Cigarettes becoming currency in disaster situations.

1:00:53 — What happened when Americans showed up. Reconstruction of buildings and reconstruction of minds. Japanese blind loyalty to the country.

1:09:29 — Tangent. Feeling of accomplishment reading books of the to-read list. Biographies of living public figures and… bitcoins!

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