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  • Resurrecting Nagasaki: Reconstruction and the Formation of Atomic Narratives by Chad R. Diehl
  • Yamaguchi Hibiki
Resurrecting Nagasaki: Reconstruction and the Formation of Atomic Narratives. By Chad R. Diehl. Cornell University Press, 2018. 234 pages. Hard-cover, $39.95; softcover, $23.95.

Resurrecting Nagasaki is the first scholarly work in English on the history of Nagasaki after the atomic bombing on 9 August 1945. Disappointingly, no equivalent scholarship has been published even in Japanese. Chad Diehl’s book is therefore a welcome first work on the topic, one that can extend the frontiers of our understanding about how people have struggled to deal with the aftermath of unprecedented devastation.

Nagasaki’s experience provides a good contrast with that of Hiroshima, the other site of atomic bombing. Unlike in Hiroshima, whose most densely populated area was directly hit by the bomb, the region of Nagasaki that suffered the greatest devastation, Urakami, was on the city’s periphery. Located to the north of the city center, Urakami is known also for the persecution of its Catholic residents by the Tokugawa shogunate, an ordeal that ended in 1868. Further, perhaps because Nagasaki was the second city chronologically to have been bombed by an atomic weapon, it has always played second fiddle to Hiroshima, which has all too often been treated as the icon of atomic devastation. Philosopher Takahashi Shinji even coined the phrase rettō hibaku toshi (“inferior atomic-bomb city,” in Diehl’s translation) to refer to Nagasaki. Diehl’s book is about how these distinct aspects of the city have shaped “the diverse narratives of postatomic Nagasaki” (p. 1).

As Diehl writes, “The story of the atomic bombing appeared as part of the city’s long history, not as its primary characteristic. Unlike Hiroshima, addressing the human destruction and suffering caused by the bomb was never a top priority for politicians in Nagasaki” (p. 2). Instead, Nagasaki city officials chose the phrase kokusai bunka toshi (“international cultural city”) to describe their postwar city. The decision was made in 1949 when legislation intended to boost Nagasaki’s reconstruction efforts was named the Nagasaki International Cultural City Construction Law (Nagasaki Kokusai Bunka Toshi Kensetsu Hō). Adopting this characterization was not entirely [End Page 227] by choice, however. Hiroshima had outpaced Nagasaki in its efforts to enact its own reconstruction law, named the Hiroshima Peace Commemoration City Construction Law (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Toshi Kensetsu Hō). Hiroshima refused to share the “peace city” (p. 33) image with Nagasaki, and when the National Diet passed the two laws at the same time, the two separate identities were established.

The reactions within Nagasaki to the reconstruction law were “mixed” (p. 34). Yet faced with the new designation as an “international cultural city,” various actors took part in the process of determining how to interpret the phrase and how to translate the vague slogan into concrete reconstruction plans. In this context, Diehl identifies four categories of actor who shaped the postatomic city: Nagasaki officials and politicians, the US Occupation personnel, the Catholic community, and the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors).

Following chapter 1, which deals with the first few years of reconstruction by officials and politicians, Diehl turns his attention in chapter 2 to the second groups of actors, the American Occupation forces. The pacification of the Nagasaki populace was its primary concern. To describe the strained process by which that goal was pursued, Diehl offers various instances of cultural exchange between Japan and the United States. A case in point is Winfield P. Niblo, chief education officer of the Nagasaki Military Government Team, and his effort to introduce square dancing. Another example is the first-ever Miss Nagasaki pageant, sponsored by three newspaper companies in 1946. Pacific Stars and Stripes, the US military’s newspaper, dubbed the event Miss Atom Bomb of 1946. The name was given mostly out of the gaze of local residents, who did not read English. This case indicates how Americans used the words atom or atomic “as a marker of pride in American science, which from their perspective had brought victory and peace, indeed something of which to be proud” (p. 58).

In chapters 3 and 4, Diehl delves into the role played...


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