Were We the Enemy? American Survivors of Hiroshima

Were We the Enemy? American Survivors of Hiroshima

Were We the Enemy? American Survivors of Hiroshima

Were We the Enemy? American Survivors of Hiroshima


This extraordinary book commemorates the 3,000 Nisei (Japanese Americans) who died from the atomic blast in Hiroshima & documents the plight of another 1,000 hibakusha (survivors of the bomb) who returned to the West Coast after the war. Branded as "foreigners" in wartime Japan & as "enemies" in postwar United States, their pleas for medical help & political assistance have been ignored by both governments. Through this moving & enriching saga, Rinjiro Sodei makes the reader feel the power of individuals, who, against sociopolitical odds, have struggled to obtain their rights & sustain their bicultural identity.


Much of this book was written as a series of reports from the field for Ushio, a Japanese monthly journal, between July 1977 and September 1978, under the title The Saga of Hibakusha (Atomic-Bomb Victims) in America. When these reports were compiled in a book later in 1978, it caused me to reflect on why it had taken me so many years to awaken to the story of the American survivors of the atomic bomb.

I'd had numerous opportunities to become aware of the American hibakusha. I had spent the early 1960s as a graduate student in Los Angeles, where there were so many Japanese Americans with Hiroshima roots that the area was jokingly referred to as Rafu (L.A.) County of Hiroshima Prefecture. Back then, there were many Issei (first-generation Japanese) still very much alive, who would often tell stories of their experiences in the relocation camps during World War II. There were hibakusha among my Nisei (second-generation) acquaintances, and I was even aware that there was an atomic bomb memorial service every summer at the local Buddhist temple. But I didn't pay any serious attention at the time.

In the spring of 1970, I made a trip to New York in preparation for the American exhibition of the "Hiroshima Murals," a series of powerful paintings of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki. While there, the writer and editor Norman Cousins remarked to me, "The atomic bomb is a sad link between Japan and America." Looking back, I see that the hibakusha who were born in America and experienced the bomb in Hiroshima were the very embodiment of that link, but it would still be some time before they entered my line of sight.

Later that year the "Hiroshima Murals" exhibit opened in New York, and I accompanied the Marukis on their first trip to the United States, traveling to various cities to lecture and show a film about their paintings. In the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, we spoke at the Pioneer Center, a hall dedicated to the Issei generation. After the presentation, a woman approached me to say, "I am actually a Hiroshima hibakusha." I believe she is one of the people whose stories I later heard and presented in this book, but that day we were in a rush to get to the next event at UCLA, and we had no time to speak with her at length. Once again, I missed a chance to connect with the American hibakusha.

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