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date: 24 November 2017

American Nuclear Literature on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Summary and Keywords

Literature on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be limited to works on the atomic bomb or fiction referring specifically to these locations. Rather, in the nuclear age, it must include a variety of literary works that are conscious of the destiny of the earth, given the danger of nuclear pollution, and engage with the terrible fantasy of the end of the world. As John W. Treat states in his influential critical work, Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb, “The concept of hibakusha now has to extend to everyone alive today in any region of the planet” (x–xi).

The range of nuclear-themed works that symbolically invoke Hiroshima or Nagasaki is enormous. Nuclear literature as a creation of survivors, or spiritual survivors, focuses on an awareness of the planetary catastrophe concerning Los Alamos, Trinity Site, the ground zeroes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other global nuclear zones. The two nuclear sites in Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and in the United States (Los Alamos and Trinity Site) are historically connected. The authors and protagonists of nuclear literature have literal and affective transpacific and cross-cultural experiences that when considered together seek to overcome the tragic experience of the first nuclear bomb and bombing, including the Japanese acceptance of American nuclear fictions during the Cold War.

Keywords: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, atomic-bomb literature, nuclear literature, survivors, atomic ghost, Trinity Site, Los Alamos, Cold War, hibakusha

American literature on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its reception in Japan, is linked to nuclear criticism, as both influenced the formation of a nuclear consciousness in American culture, evident in Japan and around the world.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the 1960s and Recent Nuclear Criticism

Robert Lifton, John W. Treat, and Paul Brians

In 1971 Robert Lifton’s lauded book, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1968), was carefully translated into Japanese with notes by a team of British and American literary scholars from Hiroshima University led by Michio Masui and his three acolytes. The translation was revised and enlarged in 2009, as part of an academically definitive modern libraries series published by Iwanami Shoten.1 Lifton’s work consists of research based on the testimonies of sixty-four atomic bomb victims from various classes, ages, jobs, and situations, including “a university professor, a maid, a female factory worker, a young female clerk, a senior high school boy, a Korean victim, and an engineer,” among various others, who represent the civilian victims of the bombing. Lifton uses the word “survivors” 612 times, and “hibakusha” 342 times. The latter term is a Japanese word associated with poverty, injured bodies, and atomic-bomb illness that contains a nuance of the misery and hardship endured by survivors. “Hibakusha” entered the English lexicon when President Barack Obama used it on May 27, 2016, in his historic speech at Hiroshima. Lifton’s “long-standing interest in the interplay between individual psychology and historical change, or in psychohistorical process,” leads him to consider the heroic behavior of survivors in coming to the aid, one after the other, of those who were burning to death and suffering from atomic-bomb illness.2 One of his great achievements is that he quotes many lines from literary figures—Yoko Ota, Sankichi Toge, and Sadako Kurihara from Hiroshima; and Ineko Sata and Takashi Nagai from Nagasaki, among others—who wrote immediately after the experience of the bomb, before the GHQ issued a Press Code (SCAPIN-33) in September 1945. The works of these writers were recovered after the code was lifted in 1951. Lifton’s other work, coauthored with Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, explores the psychohistorical effect of the bombing on the American people and analyzes President Truman’s declaration on August 6, 1945—available to the public through the Truman Library—which presented an official story of the bombing as an act of military necessity.3

Another critical contribution to the field is John W. Treat’s masterpiece, Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb. This work has been widely read and quoted as one of the great and comprehensive resources for the study of this genre by Japanese critics Kazuo Kuroko and Sadako Kurihara, among others. In 2010 it was translated by a group from the Society of Studies in Atomic-Bomb Literature, based in Fukuoka, Kyushu, into a 654-page book published by Hosei University Press.4 In the introductory chapter to Writing Ground Zero, Treat establishes a critical standard for the creation of a canon of rich atomic-bomb literature from Tamiki Hara to Makoto Oda and also includes many noncanonical narratives in the form of testimonies from other genres.

Another work popular in Japan is Paul Brians’s Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895–1984, which provides a comprehensive survey of nuclear literature in English.5 A revised edition expands the bibliography, with the addition of over 450 entries. This comprehensive sourcebook for atomic-bomb or nuclear literature gathers together almost every work of literature on the Japanese atomic bombs, along with English translations of their titles. These tools for evaluation of Japanese atomic-bomb literature open our discussion to provide a global and cosmic perspective from which to imagine the earth’s future.

Differing from other English language documentary reports or critical books written from the official American perspective, these three books describe the “hell” of the nuclear nightmare from the viewpoint of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims’ real experiences and evaluate the atomic-bomb catastrophe as a “nuclear holocaust.” They introduce Japanese atomic-bomb literature through analysis, interpretation, and partial translation into English, using the same critical methods that are used in other traditional literary genres. Lifton begins his first chapter, “Hiroshima,” with the words, “One has heard both too much and not enough about Hiroshima. For the city evokes our entire nuclear nightmare, and any study of it must begin with this symbolic evocation.”6 He writes that he “had lived and worked in Japan for a total of more than four years, over a ten-year period, before I finally visited the city in early April of 1962.”7 As such, his work is a far cry from the theoretical critical understanding of the atomic bomb written from an outsider’s perspective, such as Jacques Derrida’s influential 1984 essay, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives).”8 In this work, Derrida does not even name the bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his discourse is both abstract and deconstructive. The American discourse on Hiroshima was initiated by President Harry Truman’s announcement, which was issued immediately after the U.S. forces had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.9 This national discourse was also framed by the first New York Times article about the bombing on August 7, which is known to have been drafted by William L. Laurence. Laurence also authored the book Dawn over Zero, which constitutes a quasi-religious sermon on detonation as a new god and is dedicated ultimately to the political agenda of the American government.10 Patrick Sharp criticized Laurence’s New York Times article: “Throughout his articles, as well as in his best-selling book Dawn Over Zero, Laurence continued to represent the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as justified revenge against the Japanese.”11 Dawn over Zero and Laurence’s second book, The Hell Bomb (1951), were translated into Japanese in 1950 and 1951, respectively.12 In “Literature of Nuclear Places” by Shoko Itoh, Laurence’s work is referred to as forming the background to American apocalyptic discourse on nuclear weapons, related to the many words of Robert Oppenheimer.13

Allan Winkler, Robert Jacobs, and 21st-Century Studies

Among many critical works in American literature and American studies of Cold War culture that also draw from the ecocritical viewpoint following the environmental movement of the 1990s, Allan Winkler’s Life under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Atom and Robert Jacobs’s The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age have been most popular as analyses of the cultural background of the formation and alteration of the average American’s nuclear consciousness over the long postwar years.14 As literary criticism, States of Suspense: The Nuclear Age, Postmodernism, and United States Fiction and Prose, edited by Daniel Cordle, offers a diverse perspective of Cold War history and nuclear literature, discussing nuclear anxiety in all these works and more after 1945.15 Another noteworthy anthology is The Silence of Fallout: Nuclear Criticism in a Post–Cold War World, based on the 1984 symposium at Cornell University and edited by Michael Blouin, Morgan Shipley, and Jack Taylor, together with nine other famous theorists, including Daniel Cordle, Peter Schwenger, and John Canaday.16 Its editorial introduction begins with a TV image of the tsunami catastrophe in Tohoku, a reminder of the Hiroshima nightmare sixty-five years ago, in an English class that just “happens to be reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) when a 9.0 earthquake strikes the coast of Japan.”17 The first article in the anthology, “Nuclear Criticism: A Brief Overview,” notes that many of the theorists in the collection are from “a Derridean model” and aim for a kind of ethical agenda of the discussion, as follows: “As political paradigms shift, and awareness of nuclear issues concomitantly manifests in alternative forms, the collection establishes groundwork for the next generation of individuals that will struggle to come to terms with the innumerable legacies of the nuclear.”18

Great Nonfiction Writing on Hiroshima

John Hersey’s Hiroshima, The Aftermath

In The Atomic Bomb Suppressed: American Censorship in Occupied Japan, Monica Braw observes that by 1949, Japanese people already had access to John Hersey’s Hiroshima and that it was widely read internationally in many languages.19 The Japanese edition of this masterpiece was translated in 1949 by Kinnichi Ishikawa, a journalist for the newspaper Mainichi, and Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the priest of a church near Ground Zero who became a peace activist and is also a dominant character in Hiroshima.20 Hersey revisited Hiroshima in 1985 and revised his book, largely by adding a final chapter, which was republished by Knopf in 1985 as Hiroshima: The Aftermath. It was again republished in 2004 in an “enlarged edition” and reissued in 2014 with a new cover and photo from Hersey’s revised edition, along with a new translator and Tanimoto’s postscript. Beginning in 1988 the English textbook version for university students, edited by Shigeo Tobita, professor of American literature from Eihosha, was used in many English classes at Japanese universities. Thus, Hiroshima became popular, particularly after 2004, as an essential work that described the chaotic and hellish events of August 6 through the actual experiences of six survivors. Those survivors included a German priest, Father Kleinsorge, who was caught in the blast at “1,400 yards” from Ground Zero and suffered from atomic-bomb illness until his death in 1977 during missionary service. Hiroshima became an internationally standard work through its objective, family-framed stories of six characters. Although many other atomic-bomb works have been written by Japanese victims, such as Yoko Ota, Sadako Kurihara, Sankichi Toge, and Tamiki Hara, among others, their texts were largely censored and could not be read in complete form in Japanese until the 1950s.

In “John Hersey and the American Conscience: The Reception of Hiroshima,” Michael J. Yavenditti argues for the important role of this work in evoking a feeling of national consciousness or a kind of compassion toward hibakushas among average Americans. The importance of this book is that Hersey “recreated the entire experience of atomic bombing from the victims’ point of view.”21 When compared to the rich studies on Hiroshima worldwide, those conducted in Japan do not do justice to the importance of this work. Among the many reviews and criticisms of Hiroshima, Sharp points out that “Hersey criticized the widely held view that the atomic bomb was a justified, science fiction–style attack against an evil and militaristic Yellow Peril.”22 However, in her dissertation for Cornell University, “Transnational Images of HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI: Knowledge Production and the politics of Representation,” Yuko Shibata illustrates how Hersey’s atomic-bomb discourse, together with President Truman’s declaration on August 6, tilted the “Hiroshima discourse” in favor of a pro-American canon. Shibata claims that Hersey’s method of interviewing six people, one year after the bombing, was limited in its ability to narrate the real story of Hiroshima victims.23 This may be further illustrated when we compare Hersey with the other great critical documents by Lifton, Treat, and Brians.

Atsuko Shigesawa’s paper, “John Heresy’s Hiroshima Revisited: From the Vantage Point of Sixty-Six Years Later,” could be cited in defense of Hersey.24 Shigesawa clarifies that “Hersey might not have been entirely free in expression or in disseminating information, considering the popular sentiment and the issue of national security at a time when censorship was still common among publishers.”25 In her research, Shigesawa used materials from the John Hersey Papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale University to examine to what extent and for what purpose Hersey might have used those materials. She discusses both sides of this text in detail (e.g., his great success and the editorial limitations) and concludes that the sources of Hersey’s information vary from the USSBS Chairman’s Office to other formal documents describing how radioactivity killed so many victims. She says, “It is true that Hiroshima is a work of cooperation woven by Hersey and six characters for 40 years.”26 The historical and literary importance of Hiroshima cannot be overemphasized, considering the context in which the Press Code forced the Japanese to censor the publishing industry. Some documentary studies and dissertations provide historical insight on Hiroshima in Japan.27

Another writer from the New York Times, Jonathan Schell, published a global best-seller, The Fate of the Earth, in 1982. Schell’s work is just one example among hundreds of books on nuclear issues, but its popularity stems from its strong focus on the bombing victims of Hiroshima through the words of Lifton and Hersey. Schell visualized the earth as a future wasteland based on the development of nuclear weapons and promoted an antinuclear movement against the horrible prospect of human extinction. A mature literary reflection of that doomed last day can be found in the post-apocalyptic novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which follows the traditional American romance of a father-son narrative offering some hope of survival.28

Hiroshima in Carson: DDT and Plutonium

We must consider Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) as a hidden but dominant source of nuclear toxic discourse coming out of the formation period of the environmental literature genre.29 The idea that “hidden nuclear wars” have continued in the American West is an important theme in the literature of nuclear landscapes and environmental justice literature; this is also seen in Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place and Rebecca Solnit’s Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West.30 Solnit’s work focuses on the landscapes of Yosemite and the Nevada Test Site as the “National Eden and Nuclear Armageddon.” Thus, nuclear literature is a kind of creation by physical or spiritual survivors that focuses on the awareness of the planetary catastrophe concerning Los Alamos, Trinity Site, or other global nuclear zones, as well as the Ground Zeros of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The success of Silent Spring stems from Carson’s special narrative power and structure, in which she connects scientific analysis with Cold War rhetoric and the environmental apocalypse. Her narrative was partly developed from a literary tradition inherited from the natural millennium structure of Henry Thoreau’s Walden (1854). Carson’s historical insight, garnered from her experience of the war and the Cuban Missile Crisis, could be compared with that of Thoreau’s opposition to the Mexican War. Walden represented cultural independence from Europe, as reflected in the epigraph: “I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as a chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.”

On the other hand, Carson restored the link with the British Romantics that Thoreau had once severed. The title Silent Spring, which replaced the original Man against Nature, was inspired by the line “no birds sing” in John Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (1819). “No birds sing,” a cyclic dirge within the ballad, had significance as a kind of refrain to Silent Spring; the line is repeated in the epigraph and as the title of chapter 8. Chapter 8 is almost the center point of the seventeen-chapter book and marks a turning point between the first half, which analyzes the history and present state of synthetic agricultural chemicals, and the latter half, which unravels the specific results of the spreading soil and water contamination. Carson tracks a prolonged line of poisonous descent that can be traced far back into human history. She insists on the continuity of that poisonous history in Europe and the United States and raises the alarm that the world will be destroyed by the use of DDT or other poisonous materials.

Carson’s fear was also expressed in the preface that was added to the 1962 revised edition of The Sea around Us: “To the packaged waste so deposited, there is now added the contaminated run-off from rivers and the fallout from the testing of bombs, the greater part of which comes to rest on the vast surface of the sea.”31 This was her final work.

Carson’s discourse on contamination views the world as a deadly network, reminding us that the Cold War is now actual warfare waged by spray guns of DDT against the environment. Despite the U.S. government’s statement that the atomic bomb, produced by science, was welcomed by the general public, Carson recognized the definitive damage done to the environment by atomic bomb testing. In her feminist study of Silent Spring, H. Patricia Hynes notes that “the atomic bomb was the mid-century touchstone of male dominance, with nature as the instrument of destruction.”32 In July 1962 Carson herself remarked the following:

I clearly remember that in the days before Hiroshima I used to wonder whether nature … actually needed protection from man … But I was wrong … We now wage war on other organisms, turning against them all the terrible armaments of modern chemistry, and we assume a right to push whole species over the brink of extinction.33

Silent Spring is replete with descriptions that can be metaphorically associated with the unprecedented magnitude of destruction by the atomic bombs and high-level radioactive fallout that had killed an estimated 214,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the end of 1945.34

Therefore, it is reasonable for Linda Lear to point out that “the crisis over the misuse of pesticides was, for [Carson], perfectly analogous to the threat from radioactive fallout.” Lear also states that “Carson drew similar parallels between the effects of atomic radiation and those of synthetic chemical pesticides.”35 Silent Spring is based on Carson’s fear of Strontium 90, to which she refers at the beginning of the text: “Strontium 90, released through nuclear explosions into the air, comes to earth in rain or drifts down as fallout, lodges in soil … in the bones of a human being, there to remain until his death.”36 The distribution of agricultural chemicals through a contamination cycle linked to the food chain was Carson’s figurative expression for the lead-up to total destruction, or the death of the earth, by nuclear attack. Carson asserts that the Cold War structure originated from the same source as scientific capitalism, which supported agricultural innovation. In Silent Spring, Carson drew a clear connection between DDT and the atomic bomb, referring to DDT as “aero-spraying” or an “air strike” on the land.

In chapter 6, “Earth’s Green Mantle,” destruction by a large-scale air attack with pesticide spray is described through the rhetoric of the Cold War era. In addition to the killing and wounding effect on innocent creatures, over-defensiveness against pests was also a target of her criticism. Chapter 7, “Needless Havoc,” describes the death of 80 percent of a population of birds, links it to illnesses in other creatures in the food chain (such as chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, cats, sheep, and cows), and attributes it to two different causes. The first is the use of the deadly poison Aldrin, which was permitted by a Federal Aviation Agency officer for “large-scale attacks” on the Japanese beetle (an insect accidentally imported into the United States from Japan) in Michigan in 1955. The second was described as “pellets of insecticides” from low-lying planes.37 Carson’s strong sympathy goes to the victims: the earth, and the robin (the symbol of spring), whose carcasses covered its surface. The robin is effectively depicted as a persona of the author in eleven paragraphs out of the total sixty-two in chapter 8. And No Birds Sing, Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is a work that makes full use of the visual rhetoric of fear of the “Ash of Death.”38 The general public held this fear in the 1950s, in part due to the influence of science-fiction novels and films with nuclear plots, such as On the Beach (1959) and The Beast from 20 Thousand Miles (1953).

Carson’s reference to the disaster of the Lucky Dragon and the death of Kuboyama in 1954 is important, situated as it is in chapter 14, well into the hellish vision of the work, before the catastrophic final three chapters:

And then there is the case of a Swedish farmer, strangely reminiscent of that of the Japanese fisherman Kuboyama of the tuna vessel the Lucky Dragon. Like Kuboyama, the farmer had been a healthy man, gleaning his living from the land as Kuboyama had taken his from the sea. For each man a poison drifting out of the sky carried a death sentence.39

Her repeated naming of Kuboyama reminds the reader of his tragic death months after radiation exposure from the bombing of Castle Bravo on March 1, 1954. Thus, in her protest, Carson always compares the two types of poison from the sky as coming from one political source of power, leaving a legacy of environmental justice literature based on Thoreau’s principles in “Civil Disobedience” (1849).

The Forerunner of the Power of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony is now widely read and discussed in Japan as a representative work of American literature. Translated by Konomi Ara under the Japanese title GISHIKI in 1998, it is popular enough to have become a common theme of bachelor’s and master’s theses as the most important work of American or multicultural literature.40 Ceremony is a foundational work of literature that foregrounds the history of Trinity Site and Los Alamos through its story, set only 100 miles away from these spots, and the transnational characteristics of life in a nuclear zone. According to Karen Piper, Ceremony was published the same year that the “Laguna tribe received a warning that the Rio Paguate, the main river that runs through the reservation, was contaminated with radium-226.” Not only had nuclear pollution spread through “all of the Laguna’s wells,” but “the tribal council building, community center, and reservation road system had been constructed with radioactive mining waste as well.”41 The governmental designation of a “National Sacrifice Area” allowed it to continue with further dumping. The Laguna community is at the “center of universal tragedy,”42 just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki became after the bombing that caused the government to seek an end to the war.

In Ceremony, the protagonist Tayo crosses from an area of a nuclear destruction and the battlefield of the Pacific Ocean back to the Laguna community. He is a returned soldier who has battled against Japanese soldiers in the Philippine jungle and suffers from what is now called PTSD. There are a variety of possible analytical approaches to this story. A passage from Ceremony, quoted by Lawrence Buell, highlights the wisdom obtained from a traditional native ceremony placed in opposition to the powerful, destructive nuclear force that is embedded in Silko’s work. In this passage, Tayo has a moment of environmental revelation:

As Tayo staggers irresolutely toward the mine, he moves through a no-man’s-land of barbed wire, another antiweb, the sandstone and dirt extracted by the laborers “piled in mounds, in long rows, like fresh graves” (Silko 245). As a sudden sense of convergence hits him, he becomes aware of “the delicate colors of the rocks” and utterly antithetical master images collide: … In rapid succession, Tayo sees the world as pristine eco-design and as “monstrous design.” A few pages later, the victory of the former gets written in the pattern of sunrise that ushers him home.43

Among many critical works that quote this scene as Tayo’s “ecological revelation,” as coined by Buell, Kyoko Matsunaga claims to have an interpretation that goes beyond Buell’s, which is that “Silko transposed a narrative of ‘absolute’ end into a cyclical nature system by incorporating a nuclear narrative in an orally succeeded tradition of a tribe.”44 Matsunaga points out that there is another discourse opposed to Buell’s Christian style of apocalypse, which Matsunaga calls “the power of ceremony.”45 Although outsiders cannot access the concrete context of the mythical power of Native American ceremonies, we can assume that this “eco-design” stems from ecological insight into the cosmic or essential view of material, as perceived in the uranium ore when Tayo knelt. It connects with the idea of “the mesh,” referred to by Timothy Morton, which has become the focus of recent ecocriticism. The term “mesh” refers to an aspect of the three-dimensional vast continuity of substance, life, and non-life connected beyond time and space, which has no center or periphery and could be made visible in the form of a crystalline body from the eternal earth, such as a uranium ore buried underground. The narrator in Ceremony states, “He had only seen and heard the world as it always was: no boundaries, only transitions through all distances and time.”46 As Morton explains in “The Mesh” in Environmental Criticism for the Twenty-First Century (2011), the mesh is a further three-dimensional development of the “web of life” concept that appeared in the bank scene in the final chapter of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.47 Morton says that “life forms constitute a mesh that is infinite and beyond concept—unthinkable as such.”48 Tayo’s “eco-design,” as opposed to a “monstrous design,” thus seems to reach for this secret of the earth.

Atomic Ghost and Learning to Glow: A Nuclear Reader

Atomic Ghost: Poets Responding to the Nuclear Age and Learning to Glow: A Nuclear Reader were both edited by John Bradley, while Terry Tempest Williams provided the introduction to Atomic Ghost.49 Both books can be called “ecocriticism readers” of the nuclear age, comparable to the Ecocriticism Reader and 2002’s The Environmental Justice Reader, although they have not drawn the general attention of ecocritics.50 Atomic Ghost is a global antiwar anthology comprising 140 pieces involving the atomic bomb blast at Trinity Site and the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It includes not only representative American poets such as Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder, Richard Wilbur, and Allen Ginsberg, but also English translations of Sankichi Touge, Sadako Kurihara, and Nanao Sakaki, as well as other contributors from Canada, Germany, China, and Scandinavia. Particularly impressive are the many Hiroshima poems by American poets: “Return To Hiroshima” by Lucien Stryk, “Welcome To Hiroshima” by Mary Jo Salter, “Why I Think about Hiroshima And Nagasaki” by Edward A. Dougherty, “High Altitude Photo of Hiroshima” and the famous “When We Say ‘Hiroshima’” by Kurihara Sadako, in which the poet makes Hiroshima a universal symbol of the violence of war.

Bradley begins the preface to Atomic Ghost by mentioning a “ghost.” “‘If there are such things as ghosts,’ says a Japanese woman in Andrew Leighton’s essay, ‘that day is Hiroshima, why don’t they haunt Americans?’ Judging by the poems in this anthology, they do. They haunt us in many ways, including as fear for the survival of the planet. The poems speak eloquently on all these topics and more, exposing how nuclear fear settled in to the very marrow of our bones.”51 Bradley mentions the development of leukemia and other unnatural deaths related to radioactive exposure. Thus, the concept of the “ghost” here becomes a key to understanding nuclear literature; the book describes Americans who are haunted or possessed by the ghosts of atomic bomb victims; the “ghost” also appears in the form of the nuclear bomb test fallout that has caused the American people their own suffering. Invisible substances can attain the power to resist war by transforming creatures into ghosts, which have a special kind of spiritual power in the nuclear literature.

The introduction, “Throwing Flowers at Evil” by Williams, refers to this anthology as a “collective ritual” and describes in detail a memorial act for those who lost their lives in the atomic bombing: “The Yaqui passion play and how the community threw flowers at evil.”52 This attempt to entrust the structure of discourse is, as in Silko’s Ceremony, indicative of a tribe that, in the anthology, opposes plutonium by comparing every poem to a flower. As many as 140 of these flowers/poems unite to form a “ghost” in opposition to plutonium—a powerful, non-natural substance that destroys nature—and carry further significance as prayers, in the form of spiritually powerful poetry, acting in the place of a traditional ceremony.

The title of the second anthology, Learning to Glow, comes from the chapter “Principle of Coyote.” It aims to present a principle of the earth by way of the trickster coyote, who acts in opposition to the nuclearization of the American West. This anthology also reflects a type of cross-Pacific consciousness through its inclusion of Kenneth Robbins’s “The Cenotaph” and Randy Morris’s “An Imaginal Odyssey into the Soul of Hiroshima,” both of which not only extend to the nuclear zones of the United States but also make the pilgrimage to Hiroshima. These two books present the most direct mentions of Hiroshima in American Cold War–era literature. It could be said that a global, circular viewpoint connecting Trinity Site with Hiroshima has been submitted explicitly here.

Atomic Ghost also includes several pieces on Oppenheimer. Asian American poet Ai’s “The Testimony of J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Fiction”53 successfully depicts Oppenheimer as an icon of the scientist’s struggle by interweaving his now-legendary actions with lines of poetry, while exploring both his death by pharyngeal cancer and the afterglow of his final years. The “testimony” of the title indicates that the poem testifies to the poet’s understanding of the collapse of the soul experienced by Oppenheimer, not only in his failure to testify before the Nuclear Energy Council but in his consciousness of his role as the prime mover in the destruction of the world. The final stanza declares: “We tear ourselves down atom by atom,/ till electron and positron,/ we become our own transcendent annihilation.”54 This reminds readers of Oppenheimer’s quotation from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”55

On the other hand, Allen Ginsberg’s angry “Plutonian Ode,” written on July 16, 1978, rails against an act of scientific folly and evokes the atomic element as follows:

  • O heavy heavy Element awakened I vocalize your consciousness to six worlds
  • I chant your absolute Vanity. Yeah monster of Anger birthed in fear
  • O most Ignorant matter ever created unnatural to Earth! Delusion of metal empires!
  • Destroyer of lying Scientists! Devourer of covetous.56

Walt Whitman is summoned at the outset and acts as a persona for the poet in the final stanza, as he attempts to produce an intensive poetics that can counteract the strength of plutonium with the aid of the poet’s recitation. As plutonium has its origin in the Hades of Pluto, the god of death, and uranium in Uranus, the king of the underworld, Ginsberg tries, by evoking these elements in his epic, to cast them in the role of Gnostic Demiurges—in other words, as evil gods—so that the explosive power of language may therefore evoke the original god of Gnosis.

In the middle of the poem, nuclear zones across America are invoked: “Hanford, Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Pantex, Burlington, Albuquerque, thru Washington, South Carolina, Colorado, Texas, Iowa, New Mexico … where Manzano Mountain boasts to store/its dreadful decay through two hundred forty millennia while our Galaxy spirals around its nebulous core.”57 Joshua Pederson calls this poem a “gnostic mantra” and analyzes its religious syncretism of Gnosticism and Eastern mantras. Pederson, in “Ginsberg in the ‘Plutonium Ode,’” suggests that plutonium is merely a varying imago of the original god, referred to as “the ghost of black magic,” and that “plutonium thus becomes synecdoche not only for nuclear power but for totalitarianism.”58 Ginsberg tries to evoke plutonium as representing the enemy of America. This poem has been strangely ignored by Japanese readers and scholars and has not been translated into Japanese, but it was important in shaping anti-nuclear sentiment among American poets.

Literature of Trinity Site and Los Alamos

Los Alamos Experience (1985), by Philip K. Fisher; Kyoko Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity (1999), which was translated into English by Eiko Otake; and HIROSHIMA by Makoto Oda (1981), translated as H: A Hiroshima Novel by D. H. Whittaker in 1990, present two common problems: the significance of the protagonists’ trans-Pacific experiences and relatedly a kind of revelation that occurs as the protagonists’ transnational consciousness overcomes their past selves.59 Here again the “atomic ghost,” or simply “ghost,” are keywords of nuclear literature.

Los Alamos Experience and From Trinity to Trinity

Los Alamos Experience is an invaluable documentary work on the top-secret Project Y, written by the fourth-generation German Jew Phyllis Fisher. Fisher was the “atomic wife” of the physicist Leon Fisher, who was born in Canada of Jewish parents who had emigrated from Romania. In October 1944 Phyllis and Leon Fisher moved with their one-year-old son Bob to a desolate desert area in Los Alamos, lined with rows of mesas. They were among the approximately 600,000 Manhattan Project scientists, engineers, staff, and their families, and were involved in the secret production of an atomic bomb by a group of atomic physicists that included twenty Nobel Prize–winning scientists under Oppenheimer. Fisher’s work focuses on family life, descriptions of the New Mexico landscape, and daily life in an area of Los Alamos that resembled a pioneer village, which sprang up on a mesa called the Hill. In their makeshift military residences, the scientists and their families struggled with the top-secret nature of their mission, lack of communication with the outside world, the hardships of daily life in an area of poorly drained and sandy soil, the sandstorms that plagued the region, and more. Fisher suffered from a neurosis imbalance when pregnant with her second baby. The records she kept are indispensable, not only as documentary evidence where no other records exist but also as literature that describes the experiences of people who lived their lives at a critical historical moment. The story proceeds in the style of a battlefield or pioneer novel. Her writing emphasizes that everything was kept absolutely confidential, that the scientists were mobilized as a certain type of soldier in this battlefield, and that this strict confidentiality was painful and paradoxical for them because they could not be responsible for the atomic bomb. Therefore, as with the atomic bomb victims in Japan, “Dawn over Zero on July 16” occurred suddenly, even for those families who had previously been ordered to take shelter far from Trinity Site. This strict confidentiality is also symbolized by the barbed wire over the tall fence encircling the area.

Barbed wire is a nearly universal icon of the literature of nuclear zones such as Hanford, Nevada Test Site, and Trinity Site. Living in Los Alamos signified exactly such a loss of place, and propelled Fisher into crisis. The only way to regain herself was to write more than 100 letters to her parents in California, although they were written under strict censorship. Fisher called this hidden place Shangri-la or Lost Alamos, after the monastery deep in the mountains of James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon.

It was not until 1979, when Fisher went to Japan and visited Hiroshima, that she was prompted to publish a collection of her notes in the form of a memoir. As a result of reordering her notes, “The Cenotaph and the Mesa” became the first chapter.60 It describes how during her worship at Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, two mysterious events occurred. When she encountered an old woman in front of the Memorial Cenotaph, Fisher recognized herself not as a person on the side that had produced the atomic bomb but rather as a victim. She wrote, “I wanted to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and to add, ‘I, too, am a survivor.’”61 Why does she count herself among the victims? It could be said that she a survivor who made her way from “the age before nuclear power” through the extreme hardship of her time in Los Alamos and the subsequent nuclear age, and she also became aware of the link between victimizer and victim as she stood behind the old woman.

Another noteworthy point is Fisher’s revelation of the Memorial Cenotaph as being the same as the Los Alamos mesa. She says:

I found myself recalling a barren, forbidding land mass of quite similar shape, flat on top and surrounded by very high cliffs that descend sharply to the valley below. I was picturing the view of Los Alamos, New Mexico, from the desert beneath it, as I had first seen it.62

Fisher says that the similarity between the two places was a “mysterious chance,” but she uses the word “mesa” 100 times in this text to depict the essential form of her experience in Los Alamos, and it appears here in its most important form to console the spirits of the deceased.

The Memorial Cenotaph to which Fisher refers was designed by Kenzo Tange, a professor at Tokyo University, who graduated from Hiroshima High School and went on to plan the main features of Japan’s administrative policies during the postwar reconstruction.63 Tange modeled a clay figure in the shape of a tomb with a circular rear, life-sized examples of which had traditionally been employed in Japan since the Middle Ages, under which lists of the victims’ names could be stored; thus, he presented a traditional Japanese design. The Memorial Cenotaph was architecturally designed to connect the Atomic Bomb Dome (the former Industrial Museum, a symbol of Japanese industrialization since the Meiji Era) and the Peace Memorial Museum in a straight line. Therefore, although the design connects paradoxical elements, it has no connection with the mesas of the American West. However, the meaning of a landscape is specific to each individual, and Fisher’s memory of the globally unique topographic feature of the mesa, which was surrounded in all directions by a forbidding cliff that descended from the plateau on which Los Alamos rested, was then merged with her memory of the atomic-bomb victims. Her encounter with an old woman, a survivor, allows her to recall the shape of the mesa in this Memorial Cenotaph, thus prompting her intense sympathy with the spirits of the dead and driving her memory to project an image of the Los Alamos mesa onto the Memorial Cenotaph. The overwhelming mesa landscape was, to her, an existential, fateful, and internal image of a shape to govern all things.

Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity also describes a kind of revelation inspired by the landscape of Trinity Site’s own Ground Zero. Shoko Itoh discusses how Hayashi’s experience of bombing in Nagasaki was historicized during her tour of Trinity Site, when she was overwhelmed by an awakening to the truth of the atomic bombing.64 In her journey to Trinity Site, traveling across the Pacific Ocean and crossing the strange landscape of the mesas from Santa Fe to Trinity Site, she enters a new region—one where, as in the painting Cross by Georgia O’Keeffe, Hayashi’s love emerges against the sky of the red desert.

The significance of the landscape for Hayashi emerges through the movement of walking, as is also the case for Fisher. When standing at Ground Zero, Hayashi is struck by the new and awesome recognition that the nuclear detonation here had brought a wilderness of silent death to an entire region of the earth and the lives thereon. She writes, “I walked toward Ground Zero,” and in inscrutable and unnatural silence, she saw the landscape emerging at last after walking toward the internal landscape of Trinity, which had been conceived in her mind for more than a half a century.65 While walking, the plural form “we” is replaced by the singular “I,” reflecting the individual’s solitary journey to Ground Zero.

In addition, when leaving Trinity Site, Hayashi’s eyes fixate on the back of an old man, apparently a veteran, and trace his walk from the zero point. “Isolating from a group, the old man was walking with a stick … I was attracted to the sight of the man in melancholy.”66 She no longer sees the American as “other,” such as those who had glanced sharply at her in the Atomic Museum and viewed her as a Japanese person—and thus, the enemy—but rather sees an old man who walks with her toward Ground Zero. Here, the word “I” is once more replaced by “we.” It could be said that her secret consciousness of solidarity with this retired soldier is almost identical to the consciousness of solidarity that struck Fisher at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. Hayashi crossed strange landscapes from Santa Fe to Trinity Site, symbolized by Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1946 painting New Mexico, which depicts a cross against a burning sky. In this painting, the cross evokes the martyrdom of the land itself and reminds Hayashi of the Nagasaki bomb burning against the sky, by which people were killed in so-called “nansi” (in Japanese, “death without purpose, wasteful sacrifice of life”).67

VI-ii Atomic Ghost in Makoto Oda’s HIROSHIMA

Oda’s HIROSHIMA begins in White Sands, New Mexico, before the Trinity Site was so named. The story seems to take place just after Pearl Harbor, as suggested by the sentence “Jap has likely attacked Pearl Harbor.”68 Regarding the novel’s title, it could be said that Oda differentiates it from “Hiroshima,” the English expression denoting the bombed city Hi-Ro-Shi-Ma (ヒロシマ‎), which has increasingly been written in Katakana style in Japan since the war. This is in contrast to Hiro-Shima (広島‎) in Chinese characters, which was already a military city with a long history when the first Sino-Japanese War Imperial Headquarters was moved temporarily to Hiroshima Castle in 1894. Oda’s HIROSHIMA differs from both the bomb site and the military city, and he aims to universalize the name of Hiroshima as a bombed city that represents the whole world.

In Part I, Joe Clancy, who appears in the opening scene, is drafted and dispatched with troops aboard a bomber aircraft to attack Japan. He flies from some “Pacific islands” over to Kure City, the main military port, where he is injured and then taken as a prisoner of war, apparently in the Fifth Division of Hiroshima, now called Fukuromachi, directly below the target of the atomic bomb explosion. This story is faithful to history. In a corner of Fukuromachi, a memorial monument is dedicated to seven American soldiers who died in the atomic bomb blast, a group the protagonist could presumably be a member of. Part II describes August 6, the day that Joe died in the atomic bomb attack by his native country. Part III is full of the ghosts of characters from Part I who reappear as phantoms in a scene that takes place in a hospital after the Vietnam War, where patients—including a radiation-exposed old man, a native Hopi boy (blinded by a drain infected from a uranium mine), and soldiers home from Vietnam—converse with a black doctor from the Congo, where America bought uranium ore for the bomb. The story ends when an airplane flies from Japan to Trinity and everyone dies. This reflects the Trinity literature in that the victimizers and victims occasionally are reversed. In chapter 10 of his long, analytical volume, Treat specifically argues that an advancing multicultural structure and Oda aims at the style of Total Novel named by Jean-Paul Sartre. Treat concludes that “nuclear war and the nuclear age it ushered in already and always comprises the absolute totality under which we live today, regardless of nationality or race.”69

Many scholars have built on Treat’s analysis. “Cross-linking of victimizing and being victimized: Imagination of Makoto Oda’s HIROSHIMA” by Takayuki Kawaguchi and “Chain of ‘Nuclear Power’ Chain of “Nanshi”—Reading Makoto Oda’s HIROSHIMA” by Chikanobu Michiba provide comprehensive analyses of the tangle of this theme: the relationship between victimizing and being victimized. Moreover, the idea of “Nanshi” is derived from Oda’s ideological book Nanshi no shiso, which challenges the issue of how to cut the link between victim and victimizer.70

White Sands, the site of the Trinity detonation in 1945, was originally in the middle of nowhere, where rancher Joe Clancy was running around at the beginning of Oda’s HIROSHIMA. This book is possibly the only English-titled novel to depict this land before it became known as the site of Trinity and as a place humans still lived. It is also the only atomic bomb novel to describe a place other than Hiroshima or Nagasaki from the perspective of an American. The following opening of the novel is cited in English and includes such key phrases as “runner” and “the desert was God,” while depicting the prominence of the landscape’s power.

The desert was an ideal place for running. Joe frequently ran there, earning himself the nickname ‘the Runner’ from the locals. His work sometimes took him over the road that cut through the desert … White Sands, as it was known, was a brown wasteland stretching as far as the eye could see. A few scattered patches of dry grass struggled through the hard, crusty earth … It looked as though some gigantic force had thrown an ocean of rocks over a concrete surface. What strength! And who had scattered those rocks? he wondered. He could feel God when he ran. For Joe the desert was God.71

This novel consists of universal representations of nature in the Western desert and the humans who live there. In contrast to the “walking” motif presented by Hayashi and Fisher, its inhabitants are living and running in wide open spaces. In addition, the ability to run inherent in the protagonists, as well as the mentality with which they compare the desert to God, is not only unique to this land but also connects to the frontier mentality that dreams of God’s power. Joe is a rancher who is also known as “the Runner,” even among other runners, including Chuck, a Hopi master and Olympic medalist, and Ron, who is being trained by Chuck, thus indicating that the act of running is inherited in this barren land and used by its people to achieve a uniquely American glory. The flash of God described in the opening is the supernatural appearance of the wild, indicating that this desert is a place where a supernatural and eccentric force resides. The runner moves through this space and dreams of the force of God.

Ironically, it was this place from which the atomic bomb, “the radiance of a thousand suns” in Oppenheimer’s fantasy, burst forth. The instinctive act of running resembles the act of a flash of the land, in contrast to the act of walking of Fisher and Hayashi. Walking is a form of meditation to them, an action to erase the self to join with others transnationally.

White Sands is also a holy and mythological place for the Hopi Indians, with its huge underground cavity that sheltered people of good spirit in times of crisis. The Hopi Indian Ron is preparing to seek shelter, as he senses something unusual while the Trinity explosion test is set to occur: “Something more striking thunderstorm told him that the desert was God.”72 The spiritual power of the land that Joe felt there, however, transforms into Trinity Site, the nuclear zone, and is militarized and historicized forever. The land that was supposed to protect the Hopi is not simply to be mythologized or to slip into obscurity. Instead, Oda binds together American history with the native tribal story of the first Americans. He discovers that the natives are not simply to be sacrificed for the nation but implicitly indicates that the nuclear disaster in Japan was prophesied in Hopi mythology, creating a setting in which Ron, the first victim of the explosion, was both a native and the first American.

Fisher has provided evidence that Los Alamos employed many local natives as workers who came in and out of the Los Alamos Institution. In Los Alamos, the scientists and local New Mexican people are working together and subsumed in a part of America that has created an atomic bomb. Dedicating himself to service as a Marine due to his idea of the “Japanese to be hateful,” Joe is simply an average American. In this way, the novel HIROSHIMA and its tripartite structure develops an intercrossing matrix of victimizer and victim. In only eight pages, Part II contains descriptions of the hell of August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, where Joe and thousands of the dead burst into the river under the cruciform Aioi Bridge targeted by the Enola Gay. Oda’s depiction of August 6 is distinctive in comparison with numerous other atomic bomb novels; he draws a vivid picture over these eight pages, wherein Joe, as he goes to his death, gains awareness of himself as an American while concurrently realizing the homogeneity between the many dead Japanese and himself as ghosts. Joe’s memories of his life as “the Runner” bring his consciousness during his terminal moments back to his desert home of White Sands:

The line of ghosts turned. “America,” they groaned from their tattered mouths. Their groans merged into one huge cry that rose into the dark sky like the raging flames, and they surged at him like a collapsing castle wall. “Run!” a voice cried. He could not tell if it was Will’s voice or a voice from heaven. “Run, son! This is your desert.” For an instant he thought he saw the silver streak of a coyote leading the way across White Sands … “Why …?” His consciousness was fading. “Why am I here? Why are we …? His thoughts stopped at the plural pronoun. Rain began to fall on the pile of waste. It was a black grimy rain.73

The use of a non-Japanese protagonist as a victim of Hiroshima casts the bombing as a global event rather than an incident localized in Japan. The character of Joe is an identity of Oda’s recognition of a worldwide crisis in the atomic age, where victim and victimization include a series of human ordeals. It seems to be exactly this sense of mankind as a survivor species that is held by Fisher at the Cenotaph as well as Hayashi at the Trinity tour.

The final sentence in Part II describes the dying man meeting his end in fetters; whether he is American, Hopi Indian, or Japanese is beside the point, even at the moment when the bounds of his individual body are breaking out. The reason why the Japanese man must die is because he is Japanese; the reason why Joe must die is because he came under orders from America, and the dying people would hope to end their lives at least with that sense of coherence. However, the ghosts are now losing their individuality to form a mass of bombed spirits that accomplish the so-called Nanshi of Oda’s Nanshi no shiso. According to Oda, “Nanshi” means a sordid death in the war or an insignificant death in the massacre, which is in contrast to a significant death for the sake of a national mission or self-immolation for the sake of an emperor. It is in contrast to the aesthetic and public death of “Sange,” meaning dying a glorious death as flowers do, to support Imperial Japan. According to Oda, Nanshi is the death of worms burnt in an atomic bombing and turned black like charcoal, a death not as an individual but in a flow of dead people. However, in postwar Japan, public occasions for martyrdom were totally denied, driving Japan in the direction of prioritizing democracy over private occasions, and thereby redeeming the dead in Nanshi as individual deaths to be saved.74

In such circumstances, Joe, one of the atomic ghosts, hears at the moment of death a voice from the heavens saying “Run, son,” and sees the White Sands Desert as a phantom, where “the silver back of a coyote has glowed.”75 Bradley invoked the principle of the coyote in opposition to plutonium. Before it became the Trinity Site, the desert was a world where the coyote principle worked, and on this point, the pacifists Oda and Bradley overlap. At this time, black rain falls over a mound of dead people who are piled up high, and at the last moment the “we” emerges. Oda writes that Joe’s “thoughts stopped at the plural pronoun.” Importance is placed on the transition from first-person singular to plural to express that collective subjectivity. As with Fisher and Hayashi, the relationship between victimizer and victim is merged in the “we.” They have taken the form of a collection of ghosts, where all past individual selves have vanished—but it is exactly for this reason that they could also live forever as “spirit,” or “Atomic Ghosts.”

Discussion of the Literature

In the 21st century, with the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster, Japanese scholars of American literature have vigorously interrogated nuclear-related works of American literature, in such novels as Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace (1982), and Tim O’Brien’s The Nuclear Age (1996).76 These works have evoked wide discussion in the Japanese academic world as reconsiderations of Cold War literature expressing the fear of nuclear war, the special state of “suspension” of containment culture, or as a form of Jewish-American literature about creation on a nuclear earth. Among many critical works, States of Suspense: The Nuclear Age, Postmodernism, and United States Fiction and Prose, edited by Daniel Cordle, offers a diverse perspective of Cold War history and nuclear literature and discusses nuclear anxiety in all these works and more after 1945.77 In particular, The Nuclear Age by O’Brien has become popular among the younger generation born in postwar Japan, due to its translation by Haruki Murakami: it is a representative novel that directly addresses the fear of nuclear war in the Cold War era, and in which obsession about nuclear capsules brews as a kind of tragicomedy. Fear of imminent nuclear holocaust was definitive in creating the suspensive atmosphere of the Cold War era. O’Brien focuses on home as a narrative space of the nuclear age.

There are three critical anthologies published in Japanese addressing Cold War literature. Literature in the Cold War, edited by Noboru Yamashita, was published in 2001 and includes “Nuclear Holocaust and American Narrative: God’s Grace by Bernard Malamud” by Reiko Sugisawa.78 Sugisawa insists that, in God’s Grace, Malamud tries to redefine America through the fear of nuclear holocaust by tracing its beginnings within the new frame of Genesis. Malamud focuses on the earth’s non-human creatures. The second anthology, Cold War and America: Supreme Power and Cultural Installation, was edited by Akira Murakami in 2014 in the Tohoku district, where the Fukushima Daiichi disaster occurred in 2011.79 This anthology includes “Lukewarm Ending: Kurt Vonnegut as a Cold War Writer” by Satomi Nakayama, which describes how Vonnegut creates his world against the backdrop of a developing global nuclear arms race.80 Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, with its description of home and city, may be one of the most popular American nuclear novels in Japan, owing to its clear reference to the atomic bomb in the line, “After the thing went off, after it was a sure thing that America could wipe out a city with just one bomb, a scientist turned to Father and said, ‘Science has now known sin.’”81 Nakayama analyzes Vonnegut’s cynical use of the metaphor “ICE-NINE” for the atomic bomb as a parallel relation between nuclear war and nuclear winter, and concludes with “the lukewarm catastrophe” of the earth as a world structure in suspense over nuclear war. On the Pacific Waterfront: Geopolitics in Cultural Formations of Japan, edited by Fuhito Endo, is another cultural studies anthology that deals with the Pacific Ocean, the atomic bomb, and the Cold War, as well as foregrounding the pop-cultural characteristics of Japanese animation works as a place in which a multicultural Creole fuses and merges everything into a single harmony.82

Other important works by American writers Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon J. Ortiz, and Gerald Vizenor merit attention. From a transpacific point of view, Vizenor’s postmodern trickster novel Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57 is especially notable.83 Set in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the plot develops as a kind of deconstruction of Hiroshima in the sentimental antiwar movement in a postmodern and magical style. The words “Bugi” and “Atomu” in the title express Vizenor’s deep sympathy for Japanese creole culture and the victims in Hiroshima. He views 1945 as the starting point of his atomic calendar, narrating in the 57th year from the atomic bomb year of 1945, when the new world began.

The study of American nuclear literature is now flourishing in Japan, via scholars in MESA (Multicultural Ethnic Study Association in Japan). Their focus is on both ethnicity and ecological justice, as in the papers of Shinya Yoden and Kyoko Matsunaga. Matsunaga’s 21st-century work on the Special Number of the Society of Studies in Atomic Bomb Literature, “The Trace of Atomic-Bomb Narrative in Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57,” challenges comparative study in “survivance” with Yoko Ota’s representative atomic bomb novel, Shikabane no Machi [City of the Corpses], and searches for the transpacific sophistication of the survival narrative.84

Finally, there are two mother-daughter stories: Japanese-American and Canadian author Joy Kogawa narrates her mother’s experience at Nagasaki through epistolary form in 1981’s Obasan.85 She illustrates the essential difficulty of expressing the unspeakable grief of her mother’s atomic bomb experience, especially her injured body, in her letter. In 2010 Hawaiian/Japanese-American writer Juliet Kono published Anshu: Dark Sorrow, a novel based on a story passed down from her mother.86 The protagonist searches for survival while living with her injured, keloid-scarred body and finally accepts her disfigurement. The same theme is addressed by Yoko Ota in her famous 1953 short story “Fireflies” [Hotaru], which offers bitter and tragic insight into a female body’s injuries.87

Further Reading

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.Find this resource:

Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.Find this resource:

Findlay, John, and Bruce Hevly, eds. Atomic Frontier Days: Hanford and the American West. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Gallagher, Carole. American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Hein, Teri. Atomic Farmgirl: Growing Up in the Wrong Place. New York: Mariner, 2003.Find this resource:

Horupu, Shuppan Henshubu, ed. Nihon no Genbaku Bungaku. Vols. 1–15. Tokyo: Horupu Shuppan, 1984.Find this resource:

Itoh, Shoko. Kaku Bungakuni okeru Gensino Yurei. Asian American Literature Association in Japan Journal 21 (2015): 33–48.Find this resource:

Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. New York: Anchor Books, 1981.Find this resource:

Kono, Juliet. Anshu: Dark Sorrow, A Novel. New York: Anchor, 2010.Find this resource:

Kuletz, Valerie. The Tainted Desert: Environmental and Social Ruin in the American West. New York: Routledge, 1998.Find this resource:

Kuroko, Kazuo. Genbaku Bungaku ron: Kaku-jidai to Sozoryoku. Tokyo: Sairyusha, 1993.Find this resource:

Matsunaga, Kyoko. “Post-Apocalyptic Vision and Survivance: Nuclear Writings in Native America and Japan.” PhD diss., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006.Find this resource:

Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.Find this resource:

O’Brien, Tim. The Nuclear Age. New York: Penguin, 1996.Find this resource:

Oda, Makoto. Amerika. Tokyo: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1962.Find this resource:

Oe, Kenzaburo. Hiroshima Noto. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1965.Find this resource:

Vizenor, G. Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Cat’s Cradle. New York: Random House, 1963.Find this resource:

Yoneyama, Lisa. Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.Find this resource:


(1.) Robert Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (New York: Random House, 1968). In this article, Japanese names are written in Western word order.

(2.) Lifton, Death in Life, 3–4.

(3.) Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (New York: Putnam, 1995).

(4.) John. W. Treat, Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984).

(5.) Paul Brians, Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895–1984 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1987).

(6.) Lifton, Death in Life, 13.

(7.) Lifton, Death in Life, 3.

(8.) Jacques Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives),” trans. Catherine Porter and Philip Lewis, Diacritics 14.2 (Summer 1984): 20–31.

(9.) President Truman, “Primary Resources: Announcing the Bombing of Hiroshima August 6, 1945,” PBS Learning Media, Dec.1, 2015. Available online. Including the following sentences: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British ‘Grand Slam’ which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of Warfare.”

(10.) William L. Laurence, Dawn over Zero: The Story of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Knopf, 1946).

(11.) Patrick Sharp, “Yellow Peril to Japanese Wasteland: John Hersey’s Hiroshima,’” Twentieth Century Literature 46.4 (Winter 2000): 434.

(12.) William L. Laurence, The Hell Bomb (New York: Knopf, 1951).

(13.) Shoko Itoh, “Kaku no Basho no Bungaku,” in Kaku to Saigai no Hyosho, ed. Sanae Kumamoto and Asako Nobuoka (Tokyo: Eihosha, 2015), 74–109.

(14.) Allan K. Winkler, Life under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Atom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Robert Jacobs, The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010).

(15.) Daniel Cordle, ed., States of Suspense: The Nuclear Age, Postmodernism, and United Fiction and Prose (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2008).

(16.) Michael Blouin, Morgan Shipley, and Jack Taylor, eds., The Silence of Fallout: Nuclear Criticism in a Post–Cold War World (Tyne, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars, 2013).

(17.) Blouin, et al., The Silence of Fallout, 1.

(18.) Blouin, et al., The Silence of Fallout, 12.

(19.) Monica Braw, The Atomic Bomb Suppressed: American Censorship in Occupied Japan (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1991), 136.

(20.) John Hersey, Hiroshima, The Aftermath (New York: Knopf, 1985).

(21.) Michael J. Yavenditti, “John Hersey and the American Conscience: The Reception of Hiroshima,” Pacific Historical Review 43.1 (February 1974): 24–49.

(22.) Sharp, “Yellow Peril,” 434.

(23.) Yuko Shibata, Hiroshima Nagasaki Hibakusinnwa wo Kaitaisuru (Tokyo: Sakuhinnsha, 2015), 65–71.

(24.) Atsuko Shigesawa, “John Hersey’s Hiroshima Revisited: From the Vantage Point of Sixty-Six Years Later,” Hiroshima Journal of International Studies 18 (2012): 19–37.

(25.) Shigesawa, “John Hersey’s Hiroshima Revisited,” 37.

(26.) Shigesawa, “John Hersey’s Hiroshima Revisited,” 20.

(27.) As for other studies on Hiroshima, see Reisi Fujita’s 2013 dissertation, “Historical Recognition in the United States of the Atomic Bombings: U.S. History Textbooks and the Enola Gay Controversy,” Meiji University; Yuko Kawaguchi’s 2013 dissertation, “Hiroshima no Ekkyo: senryouki no Nichibei ni okeru Hiroshima Heiwa Sentaa no Seturituundo ni tuite,” Tokyo University; and Machiko Onishi, “Jinrui no Kioku, Hiroshima” (Yokohama, Kanagawa: Ronbunshu of CEO Project of Kanagawa University, 2008), 2–51, among others.

(28.) Cormac McCarthy, The Road (New York: Knopf, 2006).

(29.) Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).

(30.) Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (New York: Bantam, 1991); and Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dream: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

(31.) Rachel Carson, The Sea around Us (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951, Rep. 1962), xii.

(32.) H. Patricia Hynes, Recurring Silent Spring (New York: Pergamon, 1989), 181.

(33.) Hynes, Recurring Silent Spring, 181.

(34.) As for the number of those killed by the bombing, Hiroshima City Public Information says that “the number cannot be grasped accurately even now, but by December 1945, the hospital data showed us the death of 140,000 people in Hiroshima, and 74,000 people in Nagasaki can be estimated.”

(35.) Linda Lear, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. (New York: Awl, 1997), 122, 317.

(36.) Carson, Silent Spring, 6.

(37.) Carson, Silent Spring, 88–89.

(38.) Craig Waddell, ed., And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (DeKalb: Southern Illinois University Press), 19–20.

(39.) Carson, Silent Spring, p. 229.

(40.) Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (New York: Viking, 1977).

(41.) Karen Piper, “Police Zones: Territory and Identity in Leslie Marmon Silko’s ‘Ceremony,’” American Indian Quarterly 21.3 (Summer 1997): 483–497.

(42.) This is the title of chapter 1 of Kuletz’s critical book. See Valerie Kuletz, The Tainted Desert: Environmental and Social Ruin in the American West (New York: Routledge, 1998).

(43.) Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2001), 44, 289.

(44.) Kyoko Matsunaga, “Apokariptikku Narathivu no Yukue: Senjyuumin Sakka to Kakubungaku.” Atarasii Fukei no Amerika (Tokyo: Nanundo, 2003), 358–382.

(45.) Matsunaga, “Apokariptikku Narathivu no Yukue,” p. 368.

(46.) Silko, Ceremony, p. 246.

(47.) Timothy Morton, “The Mesh,” in Environmental Criticism for the Twenty-first Century, ed. Stephanie LeMenager, Teresa Shewry, and Ken Hiltner (New York: Routledge, 2011), 19–30.

(48.) Morton, “The Mesh,” 24.

(49.) Bradley, John, ed., Atomic Ghost: Poets Responding to the Nuclear Age (Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House, 1995); and Bradley, ed., Learning to Glow: A Nuclear Reader (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000).

(50.) Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein, eds., The Environmental Justice Reader. (Tempe: University of Arizona Press, 2010).

(51.) Bradley, Atomic Ghost, i.

(52.) Bradley, Atomic Ghost, iii, vi.

(53.) Bradley, Atomic Ghost, 64–69.

(54.) Bradley, Atomic Ghost, 63.

(55.) Charles Thorpe, Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 161.

(56.) Bradley, Atomic Ghost, 246–247.

(57.) Bradley, Atomic Ghost, 247.

(58.) Joshua Pederson, “Gnostic Mantra: Reading Religious Syncretism in Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Plutonian Ode,’” Religion & Literature 41.3 (Autumn 1993): 27–42.

(59.) Philip K. Fisher, Los Alamos Experience (New York: Japan Publications, 1985); Kyoko Hayashi, From Trinity to Trinity (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2000), trans., Eiko Otake (New York: Barrytown, 2000); and Makoto Oda, HIROSHIMA (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1981).

(60.) Fisher, Los Alamos Experience, 1.

(61.) Fisher, Los Alamos Experience, 16.

(62.) Fisher, Los Alamos Experience, 19–20.

(63.) On the design of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Cenotaph, see “Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park,” Wikipedia.

(64.) See Shoko Itoh, “Literature of Nuclear Places,” 100–106.

(65.) Hayashi, From Trinity to Trinity, 170.

(66.) Hayashi, From Trinity to Trinity, 173.

(67.) Makoto Oda, Nanshi no Shiso (Tokyo: Bungeishunjyu, 1979).

(68.) Oda, HIROSHIMA, 23.

(69.) Treat, Writing Ground Zero, 389.

(70.) See Takayuki Kawaguchi, “Higai to Kagai wo Kakyousuru,” Shakai Bungaku 37 (2013): 121–128; and Chikanobu Michiba, “Chain of ‘Nuclear Power’ and Chain of “Nanshi”-Reading Makoto Oda’s Hiroshima,” Genbaku Bungaku Kenkyu 13 (2014): 229–253.

(71.) Oda, HIROSHIMA, 11.

(72.) Oda, HIROSHIMA, 12.

(73.) Oda, HIROSHIMA, 175–176.

(74.) Oda, Nanshi no Shiso, 9–30.

(75.) Oda, HIROSHIMA, 176.

(76.) Tim O’Brien, The Nuclear Age (New York: Penguin, 1996).

(77.) Daniel Cordle, ed., States of Suspense: The Nuclear Age, Postmodernism, and United States Fiction and Prose (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2008).

(78.) Reiko Sugisawa, “Nuclear Holocaust and American Narrative: God’s Grace by Bernard Malamud,” in Literature in the Cold War, ed. Noboru Yamashita (Kyoto: Shakaisisousha, 2001), 152–173.

(79.) Akira Murakami, ed., Cold War and America: Supreme Power and Cultural Installation (Tokyo: Rinsenshoten, 2014).

(80.) Satomi Nakayama, “Lukewarm Ending: Kurt Vonnegut as a Cold War Writer,” in Cold War and America: Supreme Power and Cultural Installation (2014), 147–170.

(81.) Nakayama, “Lukewarm Ending,” 170.

(82.) Fuhito Endo, ed., On the Pacific Waterfront: Geopolitics in Cultural Formations of Japan (Tokyo: Sairyuusha, 2010).

(83.) Gerald Vizenor, Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2003).

(84.) Kyoko Matsunaga, “The Trace of Atomic-Bomb Narrative in Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57,” Journal of Atomic Bomb Literature 15 (2016): 61–76.

(85.) Joy Kogawa, Obasan (New York: Doubleday, 1981).

(86.) Juliet Kono, Anshu: Dark Sorrow a Novel (New York: Anchor, 2010).

(87.) Yoko Ota, “Hotaru,” in Collected Works of Yoko Oota, ed. Yoshihiro Nagaoka et al. (Tokyo: Holp, 1983), 175–195.