Abstract This paper examines an international oral history collaboration involving the "translation" of the American book, Atomic Fragments: A Daughter's Questions, by Mary Palevsky, into the Japanese documentary film, Memories of the Trinity Bomb, directed by Yoshihiko Muraki. The author utilized oral history and personal narrative to chronicle her inquiry into the legacy of the atomic bomb in the lives of its creators. Japanese scholar, Kayoko Yoshida, translated Palevsky's summary of Atomic Fragments into Japanese for Muraki, working with the filmmaker throughout the process. For the film, the author conducted interviews with Manhattan Project scientists and was interviewed in sites of personal and historical significance. This paper explores the methodological challenges underlying three essential features of this transnational project: the transformation of audience, from American to Japanese; the transformation of medium, from book to film; the transformation of identity, from researcher and author of a book to subject of a film.
When I asked Kayoko Yoshida to read, Atomic Fragments: A Daughter's Questions, I was seeking her opinion about translating it into Japanese. (1) My question seemed straightforward:
Did she, a Japanese oral historian, think readers in her country would be interested in a book by the daughter of Manhattan Project scientists about her conversations with the aging scientists who created the atomic bomb? But in fact, translation is never a straightforward act. Our collaboration took my work beyond the boundaries I had anticipated, in ways I could not have envisioned.
Translating the story of Atomic Fragments into the documentary film, Memories of the Trinity Bomb (2) involved three essential changes:
* the transformation of audience--from American to Japanese.
* the transformation of medium--from book to film.
* the transformation of identity--my personal transformation from the author of a book about the memory of the bomb in the lives of its creators, to the subject of a film about this memory.
To explore these developments in more depth, I will open this essay with an overview of Atomic Fragments, and my approach as an oral historian and author, using the medium of writing, to speak to American readers. I will examine my decision to use first person voice in my writing in order to accomplish my goals. Then, I will discuss how this approach formed the basis for transition to a film for which I was the primary narrator, and how I negotiated the challenges of becoming the subject of another creator's oral historical work.
Overview of Atomic Fragments: A Daughter's Questions
My late parents were young scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, the top-secret crash program to create the first atomic bomb during World War II. After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought the war to a close, my father, Harry Palevsky, vowed to never work on weapons again, and went on to a long career as an experimental nuclear physicist. Like many atomic scientists, he was committed both to his postwar career as a physicist and to the issues surrounding the proper role of the scientist in society--particularly regarding the development and control of nuclear weapons. In 1990, during the final months of my widowed father's life, we recorded his memoirs on audio-tape. Four years later, as a doctoral student in human development, the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the A-bomb in 1995 provided the stimulus for me to broaden my understanding of the moral legacy of the atomic bomb in the lives of its creators.
An in-depth discussion of my research design and methods is beyond the scope of this paper. However, I will review some relevant features of my work. (3) My approach was interdisciplinary, informed by theory and methods in ethnography, oral history, biography, and autobiography. I have conducted interviews with thirty individuals, nineteen of whom worked on the Manhattan Project. The balance includes physicists and others actively involved in nuclear-related issues. Many of my narrators had been interviewed often over the years, therefore, I did not expect to discover some occurrence they had never before revealed-like a secret meeting or conversation. But I did hope to uncover facts of consciousness, related to how they reasoned through the complex moral and ethical issues regarding science, weapons, and the scientist's obligations to the larger society. And, because of my human development perspective, I wanted to explore the ways in which the scientists had conceived of such questions while working on the bomb, through the intervening years, and during our conversations, a half-century after the weapon's creation.
In Atomic Fragments, I profiled seven Manhattan Project participants, physicists Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, Joseph Rotblat, Herbert York, Philip Morrison, and the late Robert Wilson, and the late philosopher, David Hawkins. Hawkins was a friend and confidante of Los Alamos laboratory director, Robert Oppenheimer. He helped Oppenheimer administer the war-time laboratory and wrote the first official history of the bomb-building project. During a telephone conversation, Hawkins told me that the atomic scientists were irrevocably "marked" by their Manhattan Project work. He wrote,
Everyone's life was being changed, changed radically I think, and irreversibly. Many of us were aware of those changes at the time, though I think even the most reflective of us were inadequately aware of them. I could not then have generalized about the nature of these changes, and I am not much more able to do so in retrospect. We all did know we were involved in something which would alter the nature of the world. We understood less, perhaps, the reflex effect upon ourselves. (4)
I knew some of the ways my own father had been changed but also understood that the "reflex effects" to which Hawkins referred were not uniform among the atomic scientists as a group. In writing the book, it was not my aim to abstract themes from my narrators' testimony, to categorize them according to types, to psychoanalyze them based on their choices, or to resolve the moral and ethical dilemmas of the bomb. Any attempt to do so would have been reductive, simplifying the complexity inherent in our subject matter. I chose these seven men to represent a diversity of views--to elucidate differing experiences, interpretations, and choices--while keeping the group small enough to give readers in-depth accounts of our conversations.
In writing Atomic Fragments I drew from three general sources of data: 1) the interview material described above, along with my notes, correspondence with my narrators, and other interview related materials; 2) historical sources, primary and secondary, including the narrators' writings on the personal, political, and historical and on the implications of their work; and 3) my own research journals, which I used to record observations, as a tool for introspection and to develop questions and ideas.
I devoted one chapter to each of the seven narrators and between the interview chapters placed interludes of varying lengths, reflecting the often-improvisational nature of my actual research journey. This is where the journal material was essential. The interludes often described unplanned experiences during which I did not record or take notes but documented as soon as possible after the fact. For example, two interludes …