Research Project: Memorialising the Atomic Bomb

In 2017, Dr Cassandra Atherton, Professor David Lowe and Dr Alyson Miller‘s book of essays, titled Memorialising the Atomic Bomb was published by Rowman and Littlefield. 

The purpose of this book is to explain and analyse the ways in which the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima has been remembered, because seventy years since this defining moment in history, these memories are still contested. The speech President Obama made in Hiroshima in May 2016 drew criticism in the United States by veterans groups for being too apologetic, and peace activists for not being apologetic enough.

This debate has international reverberations. 

For instance, the Rio Olympics organizers decided not to go ahead with a planned minute’s silence honoring the bomb victims, for fear of offending the United States. In Japan, the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, supports the Mayor of Hiroshima’s call for an end to nuclear weapons, while at the same time seeking to reinterpret the pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to allow for a more robust military.

The book consists of essays by leading academics from Australian and international universities (such as Peter Kuznick, Carolyn Stevens, Mick Broderick, Bo Jacobs, Daniela Tan and Monica Braw) and the editors are each contributing an essay. 

Some of these essays look at the way the bomb has been written about in poetry and prose –reinterpreting atomic bomb literature, other essays examine the way the bomb has been explained by historians and memorialized by museum curators and, finally, some essays look at how the bomb has been interpreted and used by politicians. Together these essays help explain how memories of the bomb and opinions about it have evolved.

In November- December 2016, Cassandra and Alyson undertook field research in Japan for this project:

“The trip involved a series of interviews with volunteers and scholars from the Hiroshima Peace Park, many of whom spoke about the need to ensure that such devastation never be allowed to occur again. A number of these volunteers were (perhaps curiously) unwilling to speak about issues of guilt or blame, and believed that America was not at fault. During the time of our visit, the Peace Park and Museum was surrounded by hundreds of students, their coloured scarves marking their varied school affiliations. Their presence, particularly among the tributes to Sadako, was a stark reminder of the victims of the A-bomb, many of whom were children attending schools in the city. This is also reflected in the haunting testimonials and artifacts displayed in the museum, including Shigeru’s infamous charred but in-tact bentō, Shin’s rusted tricycle, and Sadako’s painstakingly small paper cranes.” 

Hibakusha Tree in Hijiyama

Much of the research in Hiroshima focussed on collecting testimonials and object images, and visiting memorial sites, including several hibakusha or survivor trees, which miraculously endured the bomb blast and continued to thrive. Our shared projects required that we collate examples of various objects that survived the A-bomb, including teacups, clothing, building materials, even sewing needles, all of which were harrowing reminders of the force of the explosion. We also spent a considerable amount of time at Hiroshima City University and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), first known as the controversial Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. Situated in Hijiyama Park, the RERF is responsible for examining and monitoring the long-term effects of radiation on hibakusha. Finally, we tracked down a series of trams that not only survived the blast but also continued to run after the explosion, instrumental in transporting survivors, food, water and medical goods during the aftermath of disaster. The ‘Emperor’s Tram Girls’, the women who drove the Hiroshima trams, were a powerful reminder of human resilience but also of Japanese perseverance and determination to keep the city functioning even after the worst of events.” – Alyson Miller