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Essay Welcome To Hiroshima Analysis Group

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.”


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