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THE ATOMIC BOMB EXPERIENCE I) Anticipation Anticipation is prior imagination, and the extent of one's capacity to imagine a profound event has important bearing upon the way in which one responds. In the case of Hiroshima's encounter with the atomic bomb, the predominant general tone was that of extreme surprise and unpreparedness. Neither past experience nor immediate perceptions— the two sources of prior imagination—could encompass what was about to occur.1 People did, of course, expect conventional bombing. They knew that Japanese cities were being attacked from the air, and they could observe the destructive power of American raids in the devastation of the nearby naval base of Kure. Though wartime censorship kept them from full knowledge of Japan's desperate plight, such things as diminishing food rations and the lull in military activity in their own city were indications that the situation was serious. They also noted the large-scale demolition work underway in Hiroshima, for which thousands of schoolchildren had been recruited, in the effort to create fire lanes to control anticipated conflagration. They wondered when Hiroshima's turn would come. They were puzzled that virtually no bombs had been dropped on their city, despite its obvious strategic significance as a major staging D E A T H I N L I F E area for Japan's military operations in China and Southeast Asia, its large military population, and its war industries. There had been frequent air-raid warnings when planes passed over Hiroshima on the way to other targets, and when single planes dropped relatively innocuous bombs on what turned out to be practice runs for the atomic bomb mission. Gradually realizing that Hiroshima was one of the few major Japanese cities not yet badly bombed, people sought to comprehend this strange state of affairs through various rumors which began to circulate. Some of these rumors were strongly wishful, such as the very common one emphasizing the fact that sizable numbers of people from the area had emigrated to America. As an elderly widow recalled: Hiroshima was so related to America. . . . So many people had relatives in America, and therefore America would show sympathy toward Hiroshima—there were many in our neighborhood who had relatives in America, and believed this. Equally wishful was the idea that both Hirsohima and Kyoto were being spared because they were "so beautiful that Americans might build their villas there [after occupying Japan]. . . ."* Other rumors minimized Hiroshima's military significance: "There were not too many big factories in Hiroshima . . . so we thought it would not be bombed until all of the really big cities had been bombed." There was also a rumor that Americans were holding back because of the presence of "important foreigners" in Hiroshima, and a German priest who, with his missionary colleagues, made up virtually the entire foreign population, told me how in those days Japanese officials would sometimes, with halfhumorous seriousness, comment appreciatively to him that things were all right "thanks to you."t In a somewhat similar vein was the even more far-fetched rumor that a relative of President Truman—"perhaps his mother"—was in the area. The underlying element of denial in these rumors is suggested by another expression of anxious humor: "We * Sometimes mentioned in support of this rumor was the proximity to Hiroshima of the island of Miyajima, a place of considerable beauty as well as religious significance. For Kyoto the rumor turned out to be partly true—the city was given a last-minute reprieve from atomic bombing, not because of any plan to build American villas there, but because of its unique cultural importance and concern about the consequences should it be annihilated.2 t The Japanese phrase, okagesama de, is more vague in its connotation. Literally "under your shadow/' it is used to convey one's actual or ostensible gratitude toward another, usually of superior status, for his beneficent influence. There were also rumors, apparently never confirmed, that American prisoners of war were in Hiroshima. One hibakusha insisted to me that he saw, in a Japanese military area soon after the bomb fell, a severely wounded and moribund GI. 16 The Atomic Bomb Experience thought that perhaps the city of Hiroshima was not on the American maps/' But there was also the opposite kind of rumor—"the Americans must be preparing something unusually big" for the city—which turned out to be true. Some discussed this possibility in terms of a "special bomb"; and there was...


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