Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard is a nonfiction book that exposes the suffering endured by the victims of the atomic bomb. Nagasaki is a hard-hitting book that delivers the facts about the atomic bombing regardless of how uncomfortable the truth may be.
Susan Southard follows several Japanese victims of the atomic bomb (known as hibakusha) in order to personalize the story of Nagasaki’s destruction. While it is heart-breaking to read about the mangled bodies, third-degree burns, and doomed “survivors” of the initial bombing, Nagasaki hits the hardest when Southard details the suffering of the most prominently featured hibakusha and their families. It is an odd phenomena of human nature that reading about the horrific deaths of one hibakusha’s brother and sister is more emotionally disturbing than any list of casualty numbers ever could be.
In addition to the stories of individual hibakusha, Nagasaki is also full of cold facts and meticulously researched historical information relating to both Japan and America’s response to the atomic bombings. Southard suggests that the Nagasaki bombing was unnecessary even in regard to ending the war because the Japanese government was still considering surrender after the first bombing at Hiroshima. It makes the Nagasaki bombing all the more tragic in that Hiroshima alone might have brought about a surrender. The treatment of hibakusha by their countrymen and by American researchers is also infuriating.
Southard really brings home the sad fact that the Nagasaki bombing was not an attack on a military installation but, rather, noncombatants including children and the elderly. The affects of radiation on the hibakusha that Southard explains are horrifying and long-lasting. In a way, the radiation poisoning of the victims is worse than the bomb’s initial detonation.
Thankfully, the lives of the featured hibakusha are fascinating to the end and their struggles for equal treatment, medical care, and their campaigns to end nuclear war are inspirational. The final chapter also brings home the sad fact that the WWII generation has almost left this world. As the grandson of a veteran of the attack at Pearl Harbor, I feel the need to state that Nagasakimade me realize what a tragedy the atomic bombings truly were. After all, two wrongs do not make a right. I never recall my grandfather supporting the bombings vocally, and I can only wonder what he truly thought about them.
I highly recommend Nagasaki to anyone who wants to take a critical look at our past and at the reality of nuclear war. Maybe if more people are aware of the toll of human suffering then hibakusha will not have struggled for peace in vain.