Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Tsutomu Yamaguchi [1916-2010], a survivor of the atomic bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, died recently at age 93. Although it is estimated that 165 people survived both blasts, Yamaguchi is the only one officially recognized by the Japanese government as a nijyuu hibakusha, or twice-bombed person. Late in life Yamaguchi publically advocated for nuclear disarmament through speeches, songs, and books, and his death was reported around the world, including obituaries in the New York Times and the Guardian.

The health consequences of war-time radiation exposure were profound, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and illnesses; subsequent generations have also suffered due to genetic damage and birth defects. Special Collections at Health Sciences Library has several works related to the atomic bombings, with one of the most notable being Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6 - September 30, 1945. Published in 1955 by University of North Carolina Press, it is a firsthand account by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, director of the Hiroshima Communications Hospital, and describes his own injuries and the mass destruction surrounding him (UNC Press republished the book in 1995 with a new foreword by John Dower).

Warner Wells, M.D., a surgeon at the UNC School of Medicine from 1952 until his retirement in 1973, edited and supervised the translation of Hiroshima Diary. Wells learned of Hachiya's diary through his work as a surgical consultant for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which he joined in 1950. It appeared in segments in the Japanese medical journal, Teishin Igaku, and in spring 1951, Wells met Hachiya and obtained his consent to translate and publish the diary in English. He was assisted by Dr. Neal Tsukifuji, a Japanese-American doctor, and consulted frequently with Hachiya. Wells also visited all the places mentioned in the diary, and noted this about the translation process: "Trying to relive Dr. Hichiya's experience, I succeed to the extent that I came to dream of the bombing and on occasion awakened in terror."

An account of Hiroshima from an American's perspective is Averill A. Liebow's Encounter with Disaster: A Medical Diary of Hiroshima, 1945. A physician, Dr. Liebow was a member of the Joint Atomic Bomb Commission in Japan. His diary records the formation of the Commission, the establishment of a working relation with Japanese medical investigators, and daily activities from September 18 to December 6, 1945; it also describes the preparation of the Army Institute of Pathology's report on Hiroshima that was completed on September 7, 1946.

Subject searches on Hiroshima and Nagasaki yield many resources at UNC University Libraries; some of the titles at the Health Sciences Library include:

:: Hiroshima under Atomic Bomb Attack [1954]
:: Ichiban: Radiation Dosimetry for the Survivors of the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki [1977]
:: US-Japan Joint Reassessment of Atomic Bomb Radiation Dosimetry in Hiroshima and Nagasaki [1987]
:: Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima [1994]
:: Reassessment of the Atomic Bomb Radiation Dosimetry for Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Dosimetry System 2002: Report of the Joint US-Japan Working Group [2005]

With nuclear weapons a mainstay of the arsenals of the world's most powerful military forces, the threat of wartime radiation exposure continues today. Depleted uranium is also utilized in weaponry in active war zones (see, for example, the 2004 documentary, The Doctor, the Depleted Uranium, and the Dying Children, which examines the impact of radioactive weapons in Iraq). In Japan, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation is a joint Japanese-American scientific organization devoted to the study of the health effects of nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is an independent organization created by the United Nations in 1956 that was given impetus by President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech to the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1953. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, opened for signature in 1968 and entering into force in 1970, is one of the main international instruments governing the use of nuclear weapons, and limits to five the number of declared nuclear weapons states: United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China, which coincidentally are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Originally intended to last 25 years, the treaty was extended indefinitely during a UN review conference in 1995.

No comments: