The Unredressed and the Unforgiven: American Atomic Bomb Survivors and the Politics of Reparations in the Cold War Pacific

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:00 AM
Columbia 11 (Washington Hilton)
Michael Jin, University of Illinois at Chicago
President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016 to commemorate the Japanese victims of the atomic bombing reopened historical debates about the legacies of the bomb, civilian war victims, and the compensatory role of the state. However, neither the U.S. nor Japanese government has yet to recognize the existence of more than a thousand U.S.-born American citizens of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) who were trapped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bombs were dropped in August 1945. The experiences of these American atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) have been largely excluded from the public memories of war in both countries. Without official state recognition as war victims, the Nisei hibakusha were denied access to resources necessary for the treatment of their radiation illnesses. Moreover, as the dominant political language of loyalty and Americanism shaped the post-WWII Japanese American redress movement that resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and an official U.S. government apology and reparations for the Japanese internment during WWII, the movement failed to include the voices of the Nisei hibakusha as victims of state violence whose stories complicate the nationalist narrative of the atomic bombing as a necessary means to end the war. This paper explores the “unredressed” as meaningful intervention in the study of post-WWII reparations movements in the context of U.S.-Japan Cold War alliance by focusing on the struggles of the Japanese American atomic bomb survivors. Negotiating the shifting geopolitical dynamics of the postwar Pacific Rim world and the politics of citizenship, the Nisei hibakusha emerged as a lesser-known contingent of the international anti-nuclear movement at the height of the Cold War arms race. These survivors have reclaimed their bodies as sites of memories that challenged both American and Japanese narratives of war and reshaped the debates about the postwar government care and reparations.
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