1945~ :Post-War: Responsibility and Memory

The Second World War was the most destructive and devastating conflict in history. Although it ended with the surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945, the effects and consequences of its events continued to manifest for decades afterward. The articles in this sub-theme deal with the long-term impact of wartime hardship and atrocity and discuss the allocation of responsibility in the postwar period. They also explore past and present narratives of the war in individual and collective memory both in Japan and worldwide. By looking at the immediate and long-term consequences of the war and ongoing remembrance and commemoration in the present, we can come to a fuller understanding of the meaning of the Second World War for those who lived through it and for the world more broadly.

Articles in this Sub-theme:

Survivors of Hiroshima

Looks at the bombing of Hiroshima in terms of its immediate and long-term effects on survivors and its place in personal and national Japanese memory.

How the Wind Shifted:The Average Perspective of the Destruction of Nagasaki

The article on Nagasaki discusses how civilian life was affected by the atomic bomb immediately afterwards and in the long term.

Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal

In an article examining the overview and effect of the Tokyo Trials it can be discerned that the expedience of the trials and omission of cases led to issues in the post-war period in relation to the war’s remembrance. This can be seen in the exclusion of crimes against women in the form of the Comfort Women system. This omission led to the denial of such crimes for several decades until an additional trial was held in 2000 in order to gain acknowledgment over these issues.

Unit 731: The Side of the Scientist

Delves into the everyday life of a scientist within the unit, and looks at the war crime trials for the scientists which took place following the war.

Tokyo Rose: Narratives of Race, Nationality and Gender for Nisei during the Second World War

An article that looks at the everyday lives of Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) in Japan and America during the world. Narratives of race, nationality and gender of the lives of the Nisei are understood through the lens of the Tokyo Rose, Iva Toguri.


Survivors of Hiroshima: The Experience and Effects of the Atomic Bomb

By Ariel Merriam

“I don’t like to use the word ‘hell’,” wrote Ōta Yōko in late 1945, reflecting on the sight of corpses piled up at the entrance of a Hiroshima hospital that August 6th. “That would use up my vocabulary of horror; but there was no way to describe this scene other than as the wrath of hell” (205).1 Indeed, survivors and historians alike have struggled to encapsulate in words precisely what happened in Hiroshima that morning, when more than 110,000 civilians were killed and countless more were injured by the American nuclear bomb that destroyed the city (222).2 Intense historical debates have attempted to assert precisely why the bomb was dropped, and assess its role in ending the war and establishing the postwar order. However, despite the importance of such political and military questions, it would do a disservice to the survivors of Hiroshima to fail to account for the immense and lasting impact of the nuclear bomb on the lives of its victims. To assess the full extent of this impact, it is important to examine the experience and immediate consequences of the attack for individuals and infrastructure, the long-term effects of injury, radiation, and trauma, and government and societal responses to survivors.

Map of Hiroshima Prefecture drawn by the U.S. Army Map Service showing the scope of damage done by the atomic bomb.

Map of Hiroshima Prefecture drawn by the U.S. Army Map Service showing the scope of damage done by the atomic bomb3.

Although this paper focuses on the human experience of Hiroshima, political and military context are important to a full understanding of the impact and consequences of the atomic bomb. Since the end of the war, historians have attempted to assert why the Americans dropped the bomb and determine its role in Japan’s surrender and the establishment of the postwar world. One main argument posits that the United States bombed Hiroshima in order to end the Pacific War before a full-scale invasion of the Japanese home islands, which would have caused greater losses of life and resources, became necessary (13).4 Indeed, the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th was pivotal to the sequence of events that ended the war, followed by the similarly devastating nuclear attack against Nagasaki on August 9th and culminating in Japan’s offer of unconditional surrender to the United States on August 10th (4-5).4 However, many historians also argue that the United States had another motivation for dropping the bomb: to display their power in order to provoke and intimidate the USSR (13).4 This argument indicates that the use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima was not only crucial in ending the war, but was central to the establishment of a power struggle between the United States and the USSR as a defining feature of the postwar order. These political and military arguments therefore make it clear that the bombing of Hiroshima occupied a central place in both the end of the Pacific War and the formation of the postwar world, which would have important consequences for later treatment of its survivors.

Video reel shot in Hiroshima by the U.S. Air Force in the Spring of 1946, documenting life in the city's ruins.5

Such political and military perspectives on the bombing are valuable, but give no sense of what it was like to be in Hiroshima on that day. For an account of the human experience of the bombing, it becomes necessary to turn to firsthand survivor accounts, which are dominated by confusion, shock, horror, and helplessness. This may in part be a result of the fact that until the morning of August 6th, daily life in Hiroshima had carried on with the semblance of normalcy throughout the war. The city had not endured bombing like other areas of Japan, and residents believed that the Americans would continue to spare them (341).2 In addition, on the morning of August 6th, residents of Hiroshima had already been awoken twice by air raid sirens, false alarms that made altering daily schedules to take shelter seem unnecessary (195).2 Hiroshi Shibayama, who was twenty years old and on his way to work at the time of the attack, speaks to this sentiment, recalling that sirens in the morning were a normal occurrence, and that he “did not take much notice of it” (97).6 Even the first impact of the bomb did not convince him of the imminent danger, and he was instead fascinated by the beauty of the multi-coloured pillar of cloud rising into the sky. It was not until he saw the destruction caused by the explosion that he understood what had happened. Survivor accounts of the minutes and hours that followed the impact are dominated by an overwhelming sense of shock and horror. Those able to walk wandered the streets numbly, looking for lost relatives or roaming aimlessly like sleepwalkers. They were horrified and embarrassed by the immodest sight of people whose clothing had been burnt away in the blast, and felt shame at their inability to help those who lay injured in the streets (202).2 Human losses were beyond description or imagination, with nearly 85% of families losing at least one member and some being wiped out entirely (370).7 Ōta Yōko was not the only survivor to use the metaphor of hell to attempt to describe scenes of collapsed buildings, fire, and severely disfigured victims. Teiichi Teramura and Nakaichi Nakamura both describe the streets of Hiroshima as “hell on earth” (40, 49),89 while Shibayama and Katsuyoshi Yoshimura compare these sights to “scenes from a medieval painting of hell”(78, 99).610 The scope of tragedy experienced in Hiroshima is almost impossible to encapsulate in words, and our best attempts at understanding it come from the scenes of horror, shock, confusion, and helplessness described in survivor testimonies.

Aerial view of Hiroshima taken by the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey in April 1945.

Aerial view of Hiroshima taken by the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey in April 1945.11.

Aerial view of Hiroshima taken by the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey on 8 August 1945, two days after the bombing.

Aerial view of Hiroshima taken by the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey on 8 August 1945, two days after the bombing.12.

In addition to examining firsthand survivor experience, it is important to look at the disastrous impact of the bomb on infrastructure, which contributed to the disintegration of individual lives, communities, and the bonds of society in Hiroshima. All structures within a two-kilometer radius of the bomb’s epicentre were destroyed, and only 8% of the city’s total buildings remained in usable condition (344).7 For individuals, this meant the loss of property and assets that had ensured their livelihood and stability (384-5).7 It also dealt incapacitating damage to important administrative organizations and facilities, including city hall, refugee shelters, fire departments, police stations, and networks of communication and transportation (379).7 Only 3 of the 45 hospitals in Hiroshima were able to accept injured patients, and 90% or more of doctors and nurses were killed or injured in the attack (198).2 This unprecedented destruction of life and infrastructure meant that Hiroshima experienced a “total loss of its central functions,” and was incapable of providing relief to survivors (379).7 Nearby towns and villages to which refugees from Hiroshima fled found themselves quickly overwhelmed by the needs of injured survivors, and could do little to help (524).7 Damage to the infrastructure of Hiroshima therefore destroyed personal assets and communities, which inhibited relief and delayed recovery from the attack.

Photo taken by a U.S. Navy Photographer depicting the conditions of victims of the bomb living in the ruins of Hiroshima.

Photo taken by a U.S. Navy Photographer depicting the conditions of victims of the bomb living in the ruins of Hiroshima.13.

The consequences of the bomb continued to plague survivors for as long as they lived. Those who had sustained injuries were left with painful physical wounds and scars that often rendered them severely disabled and unable to work, and which served as constant reminders of their traumatic experience (489).7 Furthermore, the appearance of radiation sickness heightened anxieties about death when, months or even decades after the attack, seemingly healthy survivors suddenly became extremely ill (489).7 For many, anxieties about illness and death only intensified as time passed and the consequences of the bomb continued to manifest. Between 1965 and 1971, mortality from leukemia was found to be seven to eight times greater among victims of Hiroshima than other Japanese citizens as a result of exposure to radiation (222).2 In addition, the physical consequences of the attack were not only long-lasting but also intergenerational. Mothers who had been pregnant during the bombing gave birth to children with severe developmental and physical disabilities, later found to have been caused by irradiation of the fetus (449).7 Even children conceived and born years or decades after the event were not exempt from such consequences. The endurance and continuing emergence of disfigurement, injuries, and illnesses related to the atomic bomb in the years that followed therefore provoked intense and pervasive anxieties and psychological trauma among survivors, who continued to suffer the consequences of the bomb long after 1945.

Exacerbating the difficulties faced by survivors of Hiroshima were government inaction and social stigma, which endured for decades after the attack. In the period of American occupation following Japan’s surrender, information about the bombing was heavily censored and survivor testimonies, images, and reports from journalists were forbidden (29).14 This initial censorship had several consequences. First, victims were unable to express their grief and find solidarity with others in a way that could be cathartic and facilitate healing (227).2 Censorship also prohibited medical researchers working with survivors from sharing their findings, thereby stunting efforts to treat the medical conditions of victims (127).15 In 1952, when the American occupation ended, survivors began sharing their experiences of the attack through artistic renderings and written testimonials, and the Japanese government began extending some aid to victims (129).15 However, this aid was dependent on local resources, which had often been decimated during the war, and it failed to adequately meet the needs of survivors continuing to suffer from illness, injury, and poverty (126).15 Furthermore, broader attitudes toward victims of the attack were marked by stigma, which alienated them from normal life and inclusion in Japanese society. Machiyo Kurokawa recalls being rejected from lodgings at a Tokyo school after revealing that she was from Hiroshima, and was asked not to return to a bathhouse because of her scars (95).16 Kayoko Satomi remembers that her older sister, who sustained heavy injuries during the attack, was subjected to relentless taunting from other children and rude comments from adults (173).17 For many Japanese people, survivors of the bombing, particularly those with distinguishable physical injuries, were a reminder of a difficult wartime past that had culminated in the use of the atomic bombs and Japan’s humiliating surrender (128).15 These survivors, termed the hibakusha, and the past they represented, were unwelcome in the new postwar Japan. As a result of censorship, government inaction, and stigma, survivors of the bomb suffered mental and physical trauma without aid, and often lived in poverty and alienation from Japanese society long after the attack.

Despite these challenges, many survivors discovered methods of healing, finding meaning in their experience and feeling a responsibility to advocate for the needs of survivors and warn against the dangers of nuclear technology. Ōta Yōko recalls writing her memoir immediately after the bombing, while living in constant fear of radiation sickness and death, and states that even then she felt the “responsibility of getting the story written down” (147).1 This sense of responsibility is clear in the memoirs and testimonies of many survivors, who came to see themselves as a “chosen people” with a mission of awareness raising and advocacy (500).7 This process, in which the horrors of the atomic bomb could be mobilized into a powerful message of peace and hope, provided many survivors with a sense of purpose and meaning, and helped them reconceive a sense of order in their lives (67).14 It also had a tangible effect on government policy. In 1954, survivor demands led the government to pass the A-bomb Victims Medical Care Law, which provided regular healthcare and treatment to survivors (544).7 In 1968, campaigns for a relief law yielded the A-bomb Victims Special Measures Law, under which victims could qualify for aid and special allowances (557).7 Yet, despite these gains, survivors often still lived in poverty, and those who expressed grief and rage rather than conforming to the discourse of transformation, peace, and hope, were silenced and shunned (69).14 Even so, the emotional mobilization of survivors shows the ways in which some found meaning and stability in their lives by transforming their horrific experience into a powerful message of peace and activism.

The impact of the bombing of Hiroshima on its survivors was entirely life-altering, with immense, long-lasting effects on physical and mental well-being, economic stability, and social status. Throughout their lives, many survivors were traumatized, impoverished, and plagued with bomb-related injuries, illnesses, and anxieties. These woes were exacerbated by the destruction of Hiroshima’s infrastructure, and by government inaction and social stigma, all of which contributed to the alienation of atomic bomb victims from Japanese society. Yet, despite these difficulties, some survivors found meaning in their experience and transformed it into a powerful tool of education and advocacy. Today, Hiroshima occupies an important place in Japanese national memory as a defining trauma central to the formation of postwar Japanese identity and shared by all Japanese citizens, complete with a nationwide commemorative infrastructure (193).18 Therefore, although Hiroshima’s legacy has most often been studied in terms of its political and military implications and consequences, its widespread and long-term effects on those who survived the attack cannot be ignored. In order to come to a full understanding of the meaning of Hiroshima, it is necessary to take human experience into account and to treat it with seriousness and respect.

How the Wind Shifted: The Average Perspective of the Destruction of Nagasaki

The destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb stunned the world. It was a display of destructive capability the likes of which had never been seen before. Still, Japan’s military leaders remained determined to endure. When a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, it all but crushed Japan’s spirit. The political implications were clear: the Fat Man was the tool America needed to force Japan’s surrender. What is less evident however, is how the destruction of Nagasaki impacted the Japanese people—from Japan as a whole to those who survived the blast. To fully understand this shift in the social structure of the headstrong nation, it is important to study how their society changed before and after Nagasaki’s destruction. Amazingly, even with America’s possession of atomic weapons, many of Japan’s military leaders were determined to keep fighting. Ultimately, it was the emperor’s decision to surrender that ended the conflict. But it was too late for many in Nagasaki. The people of the ill-fated city endured the greatest changes; for them, everyday life was reduced to digging through rubble and avoiding corpses in the streets while strange new ailments—unforeseen consequence of radiation—swept through the populace. Their homes were left desolate and families torn apart. Out of the destruction arose an entirely new class: the hibakusha, the survivors of the blast.

Craig Collie’s book, Nagasaki: the Massacre of the Innocent and Unknowing, is written as a series of narratives from the perspective of individuals in the city before, during and after the blast. These stories give a collective sense of how people carried out their lives at the time. It becomes clear, from early on, that war was embedded in their daily lives at a fundamental level. Several accounts mention the hunger that was ever present: “They chattered on about the things that occupied young Japanese males at the time: hunger and how you might supplement your food supply”(144)1. This came due to the need to fuel the war. Focus was placed on maximizing the output of factories to produce more arms, causing the production of food and goods to falter. Every citizen was expected to do his or her part, whether that be service or factory labour. War was not thought of as the endeavour of the military, but as a national effort. Seeking shelter became a routine practise as American bombers tore across the sky, and some even regarded the sirens casually. Citizen were told time and time again that it was the “Japanese spirit” that would win the war (126)2. This was not some simple sentiment, but something people wholeheartedly believed in. Children were indoctrinated at a young age, and even made games of fighting off imaginary American soldiers when they inevitably came. When an American airplane was shot down, the pilot, Lieutenant Marcus McDilda, was quickly captured by Japanese forces. The reaction of the citizens expresses how their patriotism fuelled hatred towards their enemies. McDilda was marched blindfolded through the streets of Osaka while ordinary citizens screamed at him, and beat him (145)1. Yet despite the coercive patriotism, children and adults alike knew that the war was not going in Japan’s favor. “The workers in the plants knew the war was going badly, but they kept hoping for the miracle that would save the country from defeat. Plans were already being made to counter the expected American invasion of their islands. Civilians were being told that they must fight in the streets and in the hills to defend the homeland. There seemed no other choice” (88)3. The fervor of the Japanese was formed in large part due to the extensive propaganda schemes of the Japanese military and political manipulation (which in itself is an extensive study). The American forces knew of this zealousness and were well aware that invading the Japanese islands would be a long and bloody affair. President Truman ordered the first nuclear bomb to be dropped in an attempt to “avert an invasion of Japan and in that way avoid the loss of huge numbers of American lives” (311-344)4. Though Truman’s reasoning is hotly debated among historians even today, the result is still the same. On August 6th, 1945 Hiroshima was flattened.

Fat Man Assembled

Fat Man Assembled5.

The Japanese military ensured that the destruction of Hiroshima was kept narrowly publicized. Indeed, the day after, “the Japanese military was starting to get a good fix on the new weapon and what it could do. The Japanese people, however, were not much the wiser” (114)1. News trickled across the country, broadcast over televisions and published in newspapers, but little evidence was given to indicate the scope of the destruction, or that it had been an atomic bomb. The only information shared was that it was a new weapon capable of “enormous damage” (140)1. Alternatively, the horrific firsthand accounts of the survivors painted a picture so gruesome and terrifying, it was difficult to fully grasp. Information or no, many found such a weapon beyond the realm of comprehension. How could something so small be so destructive? Life for many, including those at Nagasaki, simply continued. Whether out of ignorance or necessity, it is impossible to say.

Nagasaki: Before and After

Nagasaki: Before and After6.

Hiroshima undoubtedly caused Japanese military leaders to hesitate, and despite opposition from some, they refused to surrender, setting US forces in motion again. Only three days later, on August 9th, planes set out carrying Fat Man, the second nuclear bomb. Nagasaki was actually the secondary target chosen by American intelligence. Due to a number of mishaps, including poor weather, the B-29 Bockscar was forced to redirect. A break in the cloud cover gave the bombardier just enough vision to see a stadium, and he released Fat Man. Japanese citizens hesitated at the small group of planes, but otherwise thought little of their presence; bombing runs were usually carried out by far more aircraft. Some took shelter while others simply continued as if nothing was the matter. Then, the bomb detonated. In an instant, thousands of lives were snuffed out, and tens of thousands more were forever changed. The blast all but obliterated the Urikami valley, knocking over buildings and setting the surroundings ablaze. Anybody exposed to the brilliant flash was severely burned, even at a distance of over two and a half miles from the epicentre (93)3. It is estimated that approximately sixty- to seventy-thousand died by the end of 1945 (69)7, from the initial blast and radiation. Within milliseconds, the everyday life of almost every citizen of Nagasaki was drastically and irrevocably changed. “The atomic bombs destroyed the total ‘society.’ They destroyed ‘home,’ ‘workplace,’ and even ‘community.’ Such a loss of the social milieu for sustaining human life was made total by the demolition of the regional community and support system” (69)7. Adults and children alike found themselves surrounded by death and decay; bodies lay strewn everywhere, in the streets and floating in rivers, stripped of flesh and torn apart. Nagasaki’s recovery would be a difficult and arduous process. What nobody could have predicted was the emergence of an entirely new social class; the survivors who flooded out of the city were regarded as tainted, and faced intense discrimination8. For these people, even as Japan entered a new era of peace, life could never be the same.

The word hibakusha translates to “A-bombed persons” (1)9. Very quickly, these people were set apart from others, mostly due to the effects of the radiation they had been exposed to. Their diseases were unfamiliar and seemed to come from nowhere, giving the impression that they were inherently unclean. Cleanliness and purity, like in many cultures, was a significant concept to the Japanese people, and had been for centuries. The hibakusha were therefore neglected and even avoided, as if their blood was contaminated and their “impurity” contagious—similar to lepers in ancient times. Though both the American and Japanese governments knew somewhat of radiation, they “did little to alleviate [the hibakusha’s] plight in the days and weeks that followed the bombings” (5)9. In fact, even though America occupied the Japanese homeland in a “businesslike and peaceful” manner (329)3, their presence was a hindrance for the hibakusha. America denied the effects of radiation at first, asserting that the propaganda of the Japanese government was to blame; which in turn was accepted by the Japanese government, who were eager not to contend with their occupiers. Later, a censorship code was enacted by the US limiting any mention of the radiation-involved cases and having the studies of Japanese doctors sent to American agencies for analysis. This made the situation for the hibakusha worse, as they could neither understand nor receive treatment for their ailments. Meanwhile, they continued to suffer not only social stigmas, but severe physical side effects. The radiation affected reproductive systems severely, and was commonly inherited from one generation to the next; many were left sterile while children were often stillborn or horribly deformed. Women faced the greatest prejudice, seen as doubly unclean because of pre-existing notions of famine impurity and were the more avoided. Even when special medical programs were later created specifically for hibakusha, doctors weren’t wholly sure how to treat their symptoms, or simply dismissed them as having “A-bomb neurosis” (21)9, the belief that mental preoccupation with the atomic bomb was the cause of their distress. In other words, they were considered hypochondriacs. Hibakusha not only faced a greater chance of illness, but they faced social barriers which, passed down from parents to children, wouldn’t fully dissolve for several decades.

Destroying Nagasaki was what finally crushed Japan’s spirit. In the long run, it even proved beneficial for the country. Many of the Japanese leaders still petitioned to continue the war, but ultimately the Emperor made the decision to surrender, faced with the possibility of more nuclear strikes and Russian’s declaration of war against 1945. Emperor Hirohito declared Japan’s official surrender on August 15 and for many it was the first time they actually heard the man speak (285)1. Despite the stirrings and suicides of military leaders that followed this fateful decision, Author Craig Collie concludes the narrative of Nagasaki in an eloquent way: “Whether a coincidence or cause and effect, the day after the Nagasaki bombing saw the first steps towards the new Japan and, free from the grasp of militarism that had plagued it, the economic recovery that was the nation’s post-war miracle” (285)1. While Japan moved forwards, it was the hibakusha who felt the lasting impact of the bomb. For them, Nagasaki’s destruction was more than the loss of their property, it was the complete loss of the lives they once knew. For the hibakusha, life would never be the same.

Tokyo Rose: Narratives of Race, Nationality and Gender for Nisei during the Second World War

Tokyo Rose

Narratives of race, nationality, and gender for Nisei during World War II

By Josie Junck

“Newsmen and a handful of G.I.s at last, after three long years, got a look at the Jap radio's famed, honey-voiced Tokyo Rose. Their opinion: with television, she wouldn't have lasted." 1 This was the bolded, first line of a Time magazine article, published in September of 1945. The article, less than 400 words in length went on to specify that Iva Toguri, the woman branded as the Tokyo Rose, was “California-born” but “Jap-blooded,” and that the money she earned while working on the radio show, The Zero Hour, were in fact “wages of sin." 1 Directly after the publication of this and many other brief articles like it, Iva Toguri would be arrested and sent to the Sugamo prison in Yokohama in October 1945. She would remain there for a year, until the next October, without any charges and without access to a lawyer. From there she would go on to be sentenced to ten years in prison, getting out in January 1956 for good behaviour, only to have the United States Government open a case to deport her (pg. 4). 2

Unfortunately, the Time article was just one of multiple, all conveying a similar message. While the biased, sexist and racially- charged language seems to signify she did something horribly wrong and that she was a traitor to her country, phrases like “Jap-blooded” paradoxically suggest that she was not a full and deserving citizen of the United States. The irony of being chastised for betraying ones’ country, while also not being accepted by that country as a full citizen, is difficult to ignore. This paper will inspect the experience and myth of Iva Toguri, labeled the ‘Tokyo Rose,’ in order to understand the everyday lives of Nisei, both in Japan and America, during World War II. Through this analysis, it will also argue that the myth of the ‘Tokyo Rose’ gives insight into the way in which perceptions of race, nationality and gender governed the treatment of Nisei during and immediately after World War II. It will do so by first providing background on Iva Toguri, before focusing specifically on how notions of race, nationality and gender informed her treatment and public opinion. The purpose of this paper is to suggest that while all Nisei were not on trial for treason per se, these same narratives informed their lived experiences just as they did for Toguri, and that her life provides a terrific case study through which to inspect such issues.

As the 1945 Time article states, Iva Toguri was indeed California-born, on the most American day of the year, the Fourth of July, 1916. In her own words she was raised in a “typical American community,” in which she attended both public school and the Christian community church (pg.42).3 She continued her average Christian, American life in California by enrolling at UCLA, eventually graduating in 1940 with a Bachelor of Arts. The only reason Toguri was in Japan in the fall of 1941 was to visit a sick aunt. It was her first trip ever to the country. After Pearl Harbor in December 1941, returning to the United States became too costly for Toguri’s upper class family to afford due to their relocation to internment settlements. Thus, she was forced to remain in Japan, along with some other “40,000 Japanese Americans” for the remainder of the war (pg. 132). 4

The disenfranchisement of Toguri’s family in the United States reflects the lived reality of all Issei and Nissei (first and second generation Japanese Americans, respectively). After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, “110,000… [Japanese-Americans] were removed from their homes on the West Coast and confined in camps"(pg.21). 5 Their race, it now became clear was far more important to their identity than their nationality, at least to their government. When considering if the Nisei men were appropriate to draft into the U.S. military, the board of officers within the office of the Army Chief of Staff decided that the “lone fact that these individuals [were] of Japanese ancestry… tend[ed] to place them in a most questionable light as to their loyalty to the United States" (pg. 26).5 In this way, it can be seen that racism indeed trumped the American government’s perception of their citizens. That is not to say that there were not advocates from within the government who condemned these acts. For example, Lieutenant Commander Cecil H. Coggins declared that a “Nisei thinks like any other American boy who has lived in the same environment"(pg. 24). 5 That being said, the overwhelming message received by Japanese Americans was that they were at best suspicious and their loyalty was not to be trusted.

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Map of forced internment camps used to house Japanese Americans during WWII6.

Due to her family’s disenfranchisement at home in the United States, Toguri had no choice but to get a job in Japan, where she, along with other Nisei trapped in Japan at this time experienced “considerable pressure to assume Japanese citizenship" (pg. 172). 4 She worked at Radio Tokyo as a typist and began doing some broadcasts as “Orphan Ann,” on the show The Zero Hour. The show was a form of propaganda in which “seductive” women would entertain the Allied troops, while playing music, telling stories, and reading letters supposedly written by Allied prisoners of war, which were all meant to make troops homesick. In one interview, Toguri claimed she did not want to broadcast, but was convinced “by the commanding prisoner of war officer, Charles Cousins,” an Allied soldier at the station who confirmed her story (pg. 172).4 She said Cousins told her it would bring the soldiers comfort, as they were away from home. It did indeed appear to, as is confirmed by the fact that “hundreds of veterans who served in the Pacific… testified in the 1960’s that broadcasts by the female announcers from Radio Tokyo did not hurt their morale" (pg. 175). 4 Many even claimed to “look forward to her broadcasts" (pg. 175). 4 Toguri’s life changed in 1945, when she was labeled as the official ‘Tokyo Rose,’ by two American journalists who promised her pay for signing a document, which stated she was the one and only, but then neglected to pay her.

Immediately after agreeing to be the ‘Tokyo Rose,’ it was clear that the focus of her story would be her race and how that intersected with her nationality and gender. Indicative of the kind of pressure Nisei living in Japan during World War II experienced, an officer from the Foreign Section of the Special Security Police (Tokko Keiatsu), showed up to interrogate, question and pressure Toguri to give up her American citizenship. When she refused, he told her that if she kept her “American citizenship there [would] be all kinds of trouble” for her (pg. 55).3 Arguably, the officer would not have considered this had Toguri been a Caucasian American citizen. She would have immediately been interned. Instead, the officer told Toguri “since you are of Japanese extraction and a woman, I do not think you will be very dangerous so we will not intern you," (pg. 55) 3 despite the fact that Toguri told him that she wanted “to be interned as a foreigner" (pg. 55).3 Ironically, at this time her family members in California were interned and stripped of all rights due to their race. While it was clear that Toguri was American, not able to even “understand enough Japanese to listen to the radio” in Japan, her race helped her escape internment, yet it forced her family into it (pg.54).3

One historian, Naoko Shibusawa suggests it is primarily the media’s fault for playing into “familiar stories, motifs and morals” in order to sell papers, thereby framing the story on preconceived notions of race and gender (pg. 171).4 While the media certainly did perpetuate the stereotype of a conniving, mysterious “oriental” woman, the handling of the myth of the Tokyo Rose cannot be to blame entirely, as the narratives of race, gender and nationality already existed. In fact, many American newspapers actually appeared to be critical of the United States’ charges of treason against Toguri. For example, in 1949, the Washington Post, claimed that while her actions deserved some sort of punishment, her case was most likely the result of “some sort of amnesty or oblivion,” noting that the evidence against her was slim.7 Another article wrote in 1957, one year after Toguri’s release from prison in the United States, that “if the government, through this case, wins the right to deport and native born citizen, an ominous precedent will have been established" (pg. E4).8 This article directly critiques the impact Toguri’s race had on the United State’s government’s refusal to recognize her as a citizen.

Perhaps what most impacted the myth of the Tokyo Rose however, was her gender. Shibusawa suggests that Tokyo Rose “symbolized the alluring feminized side of japan,” a dangerous one, “veiled in oriental mystery" (pg. 169).4 This appears to be true, as the reports surrounding her had to do with either her treachery, or her looks. Reports on her trial mainly focused on the fact that she was plainly dressed, and as the first line of the Time article suggests, people did not feel she was attractive enough to have made it on television. It has been pointed out as well that the “United States press and government paid very little attention to the male Nisei broadcasters” (pg. 178). 4 This could be because the male Nisei had, in a sense, proven their worth as soldiers for the United States. It could also be because “misogynist and racist notions made it easier for American journalists to see a Japanese American woman as a treacherous, Asian seductress” rather than a patriot (pg. 289).4 Indeed much of the fascination with the legend of ‘Tokyo Rose’ was her mystery. G.I.’s were often focused on her femininity; a couple interviewed were reported to have said “I’d sure like a date with her," at the same time that others asked about their thoughts on the ‘Tokyo Rose’ declared she must be “punished” (pg. 170).4

In consideration of the handling of her race, nationality and gender, Iva Toguri’s tragic circumstances can be recognized as one case, which demonstrates the ugliness of the treatment of Nisei at home in the United States, as well as in Japan, during WWII. A large portion of her life was stolen, as was the case for tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans, due simply to their race. As the Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL) declared, Iva Toguri was “a victim of wartime hysteria and a scapegoat… for those who… sought vengeance and national retribution" (pg. 29).9 She was painted as an “Oriental villain” despite living her entire life in the United States with the exception of the years (1941-1947) in which she was forced to stay in Japan. Although the media played a role in crafting her myth, the fictitious legend of the ‘Tokyo Rose’ was supported by a long established notion of the race and gender of Japanese Americans, and how that prevented them from being viewed as fully American.

Unit 731: The Side of the Scientist

When thinking about medical experimentation during World War II (WWII), one’s mind often turns to Josef Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz. Josef Mengele and his experiments are infamous and their brutality is known around the world, yet Unit 731 is rarely talked about. Unit 731 was a program created by the Japanese Government, in which thousands of lethal biological and chemical experiments were carried out on Japan’s prisoners of war during WWII. Most people have never heard about Unit 731 nor are they aware that a unit of the Japanese Army in WWII was doing biological and chemical experimentation. Many of the documents from Unit 731 were intentionally destroyed, the victims very rarely survived and the majority of the staff and leaders died without giving a confession, which makes it difficult to gather information into the daily life within the walls of Unit 731. This essay will address Unit 731 by looking at some of the atrocities that were committed, highlighting the leader of the unit, as well as commenting upon what is being done at the location of Unit 731 now.

Unit 731 is responsible for the suffering and death of thousands of individuals through barbaric and appalling biological and chemical experiments. The Kempeitai –the Japanese Military Police Corps – provided most of these victims and they were “Manchurians, Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Europeans and Americans” (290).1 The treatment of these individuals did not differ between the ethnicities nor did the way in which they were acquired. They were subjected to many different bacteria including “cholera, typhoid, dysentery, anthrax and bubonic plague”(290).1 Quite often, vivisections were performed on patients with no anesthetic, using only restraints to help hold the individual in place. Many women were raped until they were pregnant and then vivisected in order to see what changes the female body experienced whilst pregnant. Other experiments included “tying victims to stakes and bombarding them with shrapnel laced with gangrene; inserting them in pressure chambers to see how much their bodies could take before their eyes popped; and exposing them, periodically drenched in water, to subzero weather to determine their susceptibility to frostbite ”(290).1

Very rarely did an individual survive these experiments and if they did, they would undergo more experiments until their body finally gave out. Victims very rarely made it out of Unit 731 alive.

During WWII Unit 731 was covered up, as it was officially known as the ‘Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army’. The Unit was set up in Pingfang China, the largest city in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, and was commanded until the end of the war by Ishii Shirō. It was created after the biological testing center that General Ishii Shirō had been working at in Manchuria blew up in 1934. It became possible for Unit 731 to exist in the 1930’s rather than the 1920’s or earlier because it became common knowledge that a war was going to breakout and the Japanese government felt that preparations were necessary. Japan wanted to be prepared for a war and they wanted to continue to conquer countries therefore, they felt that biological and chemical warfare testing was necessary. Biological and chemical warfare were seen as the weapons that would win the coming wars and Japan wanted to continue their expansion throughout Asia. The unit was supported by the Japanese army as they were interested in biological warfare, however its experiments were kept hidden until the end of the war when they were discovered by the US Army. Following the war, most of the documents were destroyed by the Japanese government in order to hide what had been happening and there were several attempts to destroy the facilities as well. Unit 731 was located “near Pingfan railway station, 20 kilometers from the city of Harbin in northeastern China”(97).2 Although it was created in 1936, by “early 1939 a large-scale military camp with many laboratories and service buildings had been constructed ” in order to facilitate the thousands of experiments that would take place in the coming years (97).2 Unit 731 was made up of eight divisions carefully plotted and planned out: Human experimentation in division 1, research for biological weapons was completed in division 2, shells filled with biological agents were made in division 3, division 4 was reserved for miscellaneous tasks, division 5 was used to train the personnel and divisions 6 thru 8 were used for equipment and administrative purposes (97).2 All of these divisions were housed in the roughly 150 buildings which housed the well over 3,000 victims and covered the 6 square kilometers in which the Unit 731 complex was located.3

Ishii Shiro’s hand drawn map of Unit 731

Ishii Shiro’s hand drawn map of Unit 731 3.

Ishii Shirō was the man in charge of Unit 731 until the end of WWII. He graduated from the Imperial University in Kyoto in 1920 and joined the Imperial Army (167).4 He had always been interested in infectious diseases and began to experiment with bacteria as a possible weapon of war. In 1932, he was “placed in command of the Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory in Tokyo which…had the primary task of creating chemical and biological weapons ” (167).4 Several years later, he moved the location of his experiments to Manchuria where Unit 731 experimentation took place. Ishii Shirō trained those who worked under him to not see the victims as people. He taught them to “[refer] to their victims as maruta, a Japanese term for ‘logs of wood’ or ‘lumber’ ”(27).2 By teaching his workers and colleagues to dehumanize the victims, Ishii Shirō made it easier for them to unleash as much brutality as possible upon the captives and prisoners. Ishii Shirō was the one responsible for the command unit and the decisions of Unit 731.

Following the war, many workers from Unit 731 were imprisoned and tortured until they confessed to what had been happening within the walls of this place of experimentation and brutality. Yuasa Ken was a doctor at Unit 731 who has commented on his experience there. In his confession, he describes his first day at Unit 731 and what he encountered when he first arrived. On his first day, he walked straight into an operating room where there were two men awaiting surgery. The operations took several hours, during which the men were sliced open and the doctors were free to explore and dissect the individual however they pleased. These men were not sedated and were expected to eventually bleed out on the table to which they were strapped. Following the surgery, one of the men who had been sliced open began to gasp – he was still alive.5 They then attempted to kill him by “[injecting] air into his heart with a syringe… [strangling] him with string…finally…[giving] him a shot of anesthesia…afterwards [they] threw him into the hole ” where all bodies were deposited.5 Yuasa Ken was being trained at Unit 731 so that he might serve as an army doctor for the Japanese Army and help the men on the front line. He operated at Unit 731 for several years before eventually working as an Army Doctor and training others. He was imprisoned in China for his role at Unit 731 and was released in 1956 when he then returned to Japan.

Following the surrender of Japan in 1945, American army leaders arrived in Japan and began questioning individuals regarding the biological testing. Although the American troops did not agree with the testing that had taken place during WWII, they agreed to make a deal with the leaders and staff of Unit 731. Following the war, the “United States granted immunity from prosecution to the members of this unit in exchange for the information [from] the experiments”(68).4 The United States received a lot of negative backlash from around the world for the decisions made pertaining to the members of Unit 731. The United States agreement made it so that “the Japanese scientists [received] 250,000 yen…in exchange for their data, but [also] immunity from prosecution of war crimes”(57).2 This agreement was “granted to all those associated with the program” not just the doctors who performed the experiments (57).2 When the United States made the deal, they had “full knowledge that the data collected [was] from human subjects, almost all of whom were killed in the experiments” some of whom were United States prisoners of war (57).2

Ishii Shirō managed to “[negotiate] immunity from war crimes prosecution” following the war due to the agreement that had been made with the United States (167).4 There were close to 3000 staff working at Unit 731 yet only “nine of the accused were charged with crimes committed while they were serving with…Unit 731”(97).2 Since the vast majority of the staff who worked at Unit 731 were able to simply walk away with no repercussions, they were able to have “successful academic and business careers after the war” (338).4 Despite these individuals having tortured and murdered thousands of people, they were still allowed to return to a normal life at the end of the war – many of them working as doctors once more.

Following the Tokyo War Crimes trial, during which many of the accused walked free, the public became interested in Unit 731. Interest in the experiments that had taken place began to rise in the 1990s, as well as in the individuals who were involved. Ishii Shirō was shunned from society following the war and he was “unable to find consistent employment and died…in 1959” (167).4 The public was appalled that these atrocities were allowed to take place and that they were condoned by the Japanese Government and seemingly the United States Armed Forces. There are records showing “requests from a Japanese pharmaceutical company [asking] for brain-cortex tissue…[and later] a second request came from the company asking for ten bottles [of brain-cortex tissue].”5 More and more companies were revealed to have been involved with Unit 731 and their findings and the public soon began to feel that “everybody was involved” and that they had been betrayed by their government.5

Today, “23 sites are listed as the key sites for protection to testify to the crimes” and they are open to the public.6 They have been preserved by the Japanese people, and now tours of the sites are offered. The tours are used to give a voice to those who died so that they may never be forgotten. Just outside the site of Unit 731, is a plaque outlining a brief history of the atrocities that occurred here and refers to it as “the den of cannibals.”6 Even though the public is interested in learning more about Unit 731, “official denial of war crimes and denial of official compensation for victims, supported by neo-nationalist individuals and non-governmental groups of ‘deniers,’ remain in place” (29).2 The Japanese Government is still not willing to admit to the atrocities that took place at Unit 731 let alone delve into details pertaining to Unit 731. There have been many “heroic efforts by many individuals and organizations to face history squarely” yet it seems to have had little to no impact on the Japanese government (29).2

The plaque outside the site of Unit 731

The plaque outside the site of Unit 731 6.

Although there are people fighting for Unit 731 to be recognized by the Japanese Government, asking that there be an admission of guilt and a formal apology, this seems to have fallen on deaf ears by those able to enact such a response. For the horrors of Unit 731 to come into the full light of public scrutiny, there needs to be a full and complete process of the gathering of data and full description of the complete historical picture. Public protest is simply not enough. It is important that historians and teachers not focus solely on the European aspects of WWII, but also on the Asian front. The victims of Unit 731 must never be forgotten, nor should the staff be permitted to have their names slip away into oblivion. Unit 731 and its atrocities need to be remembered and discussed in the same way as the Josef Mengele experiments.

The War on Self: Selective Memory and Historical Revisionism in Grave of the Fireflies

by Kelly J. Clark


There are few films about war that tell the story of civilian suffering with the raw, emotional power and impact of Grave of the Fireflies. Released in 1988, this film was produced by anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli and has received countless accolades since its release for its soulful adaptation of Nosaka Akiyuki’s acclaimed short story of the same name, which follows two orphans as they attempt to survive and ultimately fall victim to the brutal reality of living in a war torn nation. This paper will argue that the theme of victimization by war itself within the film Grave of the Fireflies in an example of how the post-war retrospective memory has rebranded Japan’s true enemies in World War II from the United States and Allied Forces to that of the institution of war itself and the consequences of blind nationalism on the Japanese home front. This revisionist ideology fundamentally alters the narrative regarding Japan’s role in the war. That the themes of war and aggressive nationalism serve as a replacement antagonist for a more conventional and historically relevant enemy, such as the United States, will be argued by analyzing the film and the short story it was based on and their internal similarities and discrepancies, the original author’s experience during World War II, and the choices of overt metaphor use throughout.

Nosaka Akiyuki and Grave of the Fireflies

The story of Grave of the Fireflies begins on September 21st, 1945, with the death of its protagonist, Seita. The slow depiction of withered, sickly boys dying from starvation in Kobe Train Station a month after the unconditional surrender of Japan is haunting. The film then flashes back to March 16th and 17th of 1945: the days of the infamous firebombing of Kobe, where Seita, age fourteen, and his sister Setsuko, age four, escape the bombings, but lose their mother in the process.


"Unknown - Japanese book "Showa History of 100 million people: Occupation of Japan Vol.2" published by Mainichi Newspapers Company. "Kobe after the 1945 air raid." Courtesy of Wikipedia.

They are forced to find shelter with their father’s sister, a woman whose pettiness and thievery drives them away from her home and to their ultimate fate1. The overarching narrative of the anime was adapted from the semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by author Nosaka Akiyuki. Nosaka, unlike his fill-in protagonist Seita, did survive the war and its aftermath; his sister, however, was not so lucky. Nosaka stated in his biography that the story itself was untrue because Seita’s displays of love and unflinching devotion to his sister’s wellbeing were far greater than the author’s own had been. For example, unlike Seita, Nosaka recounted eating meals first and striking his sister when she would cry out from hunger. The girl would eventually die of malnutrition and Nosaka would be haunted for years by the knowledge that his actions had contributed to his sister’s death. He would later write the short story as both a posthumous memento of his sister and as part of his ongoing struggle with survivor’s guilt.2 Critic Igarashi Yoshikuni wrote that the work itself had been “a form of exorcism” for Nosaka and that the author had offered up Seita’s life at the end of the story as a substitute sacrifice for himself in order appease his long suffering sister’s ghost (40)3.The overwhelming guilt that Nosaka’s felt for his actions during the war profoundly impacted his writing for years afterward. In fact, these emotional wounds would remain even long after the publication of Grave of the Fireflies, more than twenty years after the end of World War II.

Grave of the Fireflies - Setsuko's Death Scene1

Nosaka’s alterations to the events of his life in his short story were made in a very personal effort to amend his own past after two decades of grief, but the anime adaptation, a further twenty years removed from that the short story’s publication and thereby more than forty years removed from the events therein, adds additional layers of historical revisionism to the already guilt laden retrospective of the short story. While no adaptation is perfect, the anime not only takes liberties with the plot of the novel, but also its essential themes and symbols. For example, the anime adaptation omits much of the filth and rawness found in Nosaka’s work and instead focuses on the theme of the wonder and innocence of childhood being made into a casualty of war. This is a fundamental, if subtle, shift in tone replaces the short story’s depiction of war as what can be describe as an almost environmental condition, such as the aftermath of an earthquake, with the anime’s depiction of it is as an active and assaulting influence in the lives of the characters. This tonal shift and the alteration of the role of war is echoed in the single most critical instance of symbolism found within each work: that of the firefly.

On Fireflies

While the firefly is an active symbol in both the original short story and the anime its significance differs greatly between each work. For example, fireflies in the short story are used as a device to foreshadow Seita and Setsuko’s deaths, whereas in the anime they serve as a metaphor for joy and innocence. As the film progresses the symbol becomes more and more in line with the morbidity of the original work, but crucially differs in that it never becomes a symbol of inevitability, but rather evolved into a metaphor for the fragility of human life and happiness: at once paramount and transient. Goldberg believes that fireflies are a crucial element of the film, symbolic of the themes found within and “yet at the same time nostalgic for a past that never was—or perhaps nostalgic for a future that never came to be. Since Japan has rebuilt and, especially in the 1980s, has thrived economically, the film asks the viewer to remember this wartime history paradoxically through the act of viewing the natural"(40)3.

While the fireflies themselves serve as a symbol in both works how the characters interact with them provides yet another example of Japan’s identification as a victim of war and nationalistic fervor. In a pivotal moment in both the short story and anime, Seita and Setsuko capture a group of fireflies to use as a light source in their dark shelter. While in the short story the pair catch the fireflies with a net and keep them inside of it until morning the anime shows them catching the insects with their bare hands and trapping them in a jar. While this may seem like and incidental change the result of these two different methods is remarkable: in the short story half of the fireflies survive whereas in the anime they are all dead by dawn(457)4. Both the net and bottle serve as symbolic representations of how the author and the director respectively viewed the war from their time period. In the short story the net serves as a metaphor for both war and the tools of war that create an environment of death and suffering. However, in the anime it is literally by direct actions taken by the hands of the Japanese people that the fireflies, a symbol for happiness and innocence, are killed. The death of the fireflies in the anime is a direct metaphor for the suffering felt by the Japanese people created by their own hands.

Japan the Victim

In an article for Asia in World History, “Grave of the Fireflies and Japan’s Memories of World War II”, Dr. Masako N. Racel discusses the how the film has been labeled as anti-war, and despite Japan’s initiation of the conflict in the Pacific it is shown repeatedly throughout the film as a recipient of tragedy rather than an instigator of war (58)”2. Indeed, she also states that Japan seems determined to self-identify as victims almost exclusively during the events of 1945 and that memories of victimization remain in greater relief in the minds of survivors “due to a constant fear of air raids [and] a widespread shortage of food"(58)”2. Japan’s revisionist memory allows itself the permission to self-label as the victim of the war rather than an aggressor facing retaliation for its actions. However, in doing so Japan refocuses the source of that victimization from the enemy forces attacking them to the concept of war itself and the underlying reasons for their continued involvement in the war: the very same militant nationalism that is repeatedly shown throughout the film. As Goldberg writes:

While the film presents a realistic picture of suffering, it is also critical of a blind patriotism that masks selfish impulses during the war and, afterward, of Japan’s inability to confront this past. Seita, who is not only the author’s doppelganger of guilt, is also a figure who expresses selfishness masked by nationalistic fervor. When he, like others in the film, acts in the “name” of communal ideals, he is really performing for personal gain or pleasure. Throughout the film, Seita dreams of his father rescuing or revenging their wrongs (overtly, against Japan’s enemies who are bombing their town, and, tacitly, against the alienating Japanese society) and pays the ultimate price for this choice. His fantasy world of righteousness and revenge is a mirror to the society in which he lives; visually and textually, Takahata links him to this national fantasy of war. Setsuko, on the other hand, is as much his victim as a victim of the war (40).3

The Nationalist Tragedy

As can be seen in this passage, blind nationalism is shown to be even more to blame for Japan’s suffering than the United States and Allied Forces ever were. This internalization is the definition of historical revisionism. Goldberg’s point becomes inherently clear later in the film when a farmer instructs Seita to “swallow [his] pride and apologize1.” The orphans have long since set out on their own from the caustic household of a relative whom they had stayed with since their mother’s death. Now living in a cavernous bomb shelter, another grim metaphor for life in wartime Japan, they struggle to even feed themselves as Setsuko’s health fades away. With these words a rice farmer rebukes the war orphans Seita and Setsuko and bids them to return to their aunt in humility. They have nothing to barter with him and therefore he has no rice for them—he can offer them nothing except that advice: place survival before stubborn pride.

This is a turning point in the film and the beginning of its tragedy. This scene itself does not appear in Nosaka’s original story and, beyond a brief mention of an impending bad harvest and of farmers’ reluctance to sell crops(459)4, the short story contains nothing resembling it. And yet the fact that director and screenwriter Isao Takahata felt compelled to include this scene raises questions about what benefit its addition provides the narrative. While it could be that it was intended to raise dramatic tension or to call out the obvious solution to the children’s problem and thus increase the tragedy of the ending, Goldberg’s nationalistic interpretation seems just as likely a culprit. The Seita of the film serves as a metaphor for the retroactive memory and shame surrounding the actions taken under the stubborn and unflinching morale of Japanese nationalistic ideology during World War II. Such actions prolonged the suffering of victims like Setsuko long past any point of gain and this concept is further reinforced by Racel’s article, wherein she states that “the aerial bombing and starvation experienced by the Japanese during 1945 was so widespread that for millions of people the very term ‘war,’ became associated with the tragedies of 1945, whereas ‘peace’ represented a hoped-for permanent end to misery, hunger, and suffering"2.

USA: The Missing Enemy

Finally, although the institution of war itself is the film’s chief antagonist it must be noted that, shockingly, throughout its length there is not a single negative statement about the United States. In fact, the concept of war as the enemy is so prevalent that the US is hardly mentioned beyond a few brief statements of fact to bolster the setting, such as that the US will invade soon or the US has sank the Japanese fleet. Even during the film’s first moments when fire rains down on Kobe the US bombers are depicted similar to thunderclouds--more a part of nature than an attacking force. Only in hindsight could such a shift in perception be made.


"Extent of destroyed areas of Kobe as surveyed in 1946." Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In fact, the US war strategy banked on the idea of heavy collateral damage as a tool of economic and psychological warfare. Though the American Air Force declared that in their policy “civilian populations are not suitable military objectives” (174)5 and that, in reference to the firebombing of Dresden, "our policy never has been to inflict terror bombing on civilian populations"(174)5 there is substantial evidence to the contrary. For example, it was less than a month after the horrors of Dresden that FDR was briefed on the progress of the atomic bomb and only five days after that, on February 18th, 1945, that the fire bombings of Tokyo began (174)5. The total war strategy employed by the United States Air Force against civilians was not only known by the public at that time, but accepted as a part of necessary action in wartime. “Even the religious press seemed to accept, if it understood, the changes in American strategy"(174)5. That such warfare could be committed by a foreign enemy and not be a focal point of Japan’s identity of victim-hood in the film shows evidence that it was a wilful choice to exclude it from the narrative.


The film Grave of the Fireflies is a prime example of Japan’s retroactive reinvention of its identity during World War II from instigator and aggressor to that of victim. The twenty years separating the film and short story and further twenty separating the short story and the actual events of the war have allowed the presentation of a narrative that follows a very selective memory of both Japan’s past and that of its wartime enemies. The film embraces the sentimentality of victimhood and places all of the blame for Japan’s suffering not on their aggressive instigation, or on the United States and Allied Forces, but onto the very institution of war and the blind nationalism on the home front that left it unable to achieve peace.