Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima Paperback – 30 Nov 1991
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From the Back Cover
In Japan, 'hibakusha means 'the people affected by the explosion'----specifically, the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945. In this classic study, Robert Jay Lifton studies the psychological effects of the bomb on 90,000 survivors. Lifton sees this analysis as providing a last chance to understand----and be motivated to avoid----nuclear war.
About the Author
Robert Jay Lifton is lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima and The Nazi Doctors.
Top Customer Reviews
Dr. Robert Jay Lifton is a psychiatrist, still quite active, who has specialized in the reactions of individuals to traumatic events, notably, the Holocaust, other genocides, and the Vietnam War. His book ...Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Dr. Robert Jay Lifton is a psychiatrist, still quite active, who has specialized in the reactions of individuals to traumatic events, notably, the Holocaust, other genocides, and the Vietnam War. His book Home from the War: Learning From Vietnam Veterans, documented the trauma and alienation of the veterans of that war. Lifton helped establish the medical condition "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" as an officially recognized diagnosis. In 1962, Dr. Lifton first visited Hiroshima, and undertook a project that would involve interviewing 75 "hibakusha," which literally means "explosion-affected persons." There are no charts or graphs; it is not an academic sociological work. There are numerous lengthy quotes of the survivors, carefully selected from the many hours of interviews, which reveal the heart-breaking trauma of both surviving, and suddenly becoming "different." Dr. Lifton quotes Yoko Ota, a hibakusha: "I was sorry for the people who died because I was living." Lifton calls it "the shame of living," and says: "Such guilt, as it relates to the survival priority, may well be that most fundamental to human existence." But the "shame of living" has equally impacted the survivors of the fire-bombing of Tokyo, as well as the Vietnam War. What set the hibakusha truly apart, and is a focus of considerable analysis, is "the A-bomb disease," as the Japanese called it. It is the short and long-term deleterious impact of the radiation; its invisible and unprecedented effects, that would lead, notably, to early deaths from leukemia, as well as unpredictable reproductive problems that were the true horror for the survivors, which was compounded by a general shunning by a wider society that was not directly affected, and which feared "contamination."
Less than half the book however, is directly related to the hibakusha, those who, as the title says, lived a "Death in Life." The larger portion transcends Dr. Lifton's academic training as a psychiatrist, and examines the political and artistic reaction to Hiroshima. There is a chapter on the rise of a leadership class that fought for the rights of the hibakusha. There is also a lengthy section on how the Japanese now perceive America, particularly the "person responsible," Harry Truman. President Truman consistently stated that he "had no regrets," about his decision; that overall it saved many lives. It is an assessment I must regrettably concur with, particularly after considering the results of the fighting for Okinawa, and projecting that onto an overall invasion of the Japanese homeland.
Lifton also examines what he calls the creative response and the artistic dilemma. His erudition and range is impressive, from Primo Levi to Albert Camus. My favorite Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa is also covered, with his 1955 movie, "I Live in Fear." Lifton says: "Kurosawa thus raises the ultimate psychological question in a nuclear world: Who is crazy--the man so sensitive to the threat, so able to envision the `end of the world,' and so insistent upon pressing this vision in the face of general resistance that he becomes what is conventionally described as "insane"? or the world's ordinary functional people, who numb themselves to the threat and oppose actions that either remind them of it or affect their material interests?"
As a final point, since Lifton wrote this book in the `60's, what differentiates Hiroshima from the fire-bombing of Tokyo is how it could happen again, and with the potential for so much more power to be unleashed, it could threaten humankind as a whole. The "threat of nuclear war" is largely off the political radar since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ironically, it was in the last Presidential election that it was raised again, in relationship to America utilizing these weapons against Iran. Logic, coupled with normal human foibles and miscalculations, would render a judgment that as long as they exist, they will be used again. Lifton termed Hiroshima and Nagasaki a "last chance" to learn. It needs to be placed back within the political discourse. Surely Lifton's account remains a solid 5-stars plus.
The book is now as topical as today's headlines, with daily and continuing radiation leaks from the nuclear power reactors following the largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history.
I had been a Chaplain at a US Bomber Base.
After my discharge, I wanted to see Hiroshima.
Returning to America, I witnessed against the Vietnam War.
I bought Robert Jay Lifton's book, DEATH IN LIFE in 1968.
A few months later, I invited Lifton to speak at our Unitarian
Church in Flushing, New York. Lifton gave a name to the anti-war
passion which I felt. He called it ANTICIPATED SURVIVOR GUILT.
He told of the Survivors of Hiroshima and their
feelings of "guilt" that they had survived and others
were dead. We went on to say that possiblity of total
Atomic War makes all of us potential victims or
survivors. Facing either future, love for life and
earth calls us to witness against war.
Years later as a minister in California, I read his book
on the survivors of the Vietnam War. From the text and
poems in that book, the church organist and I wrote
"REQUIEM FOR VIETNAM." The text is not the traditional
words of the mass, but the experience of the war.
Robert Lifton came to introduce the first performance.
The choir sings ...
"Our land became as the face of the moon,
defoliated trees and craters of doom ..."
The Requiem closes with this choral,
"Peace on earth, let it be,
Let the mountain come down to the sea.
And the joy we will share
When there's peace everywhere.
Peace on earth, let it be.
"Peace on earth, let it be.
Let all nations declare the decree.
Let us live the belief
That will conquer our grief.
Peace on earth, let it be."
Richard Boeke, for 6 August 2009
He begins with a description of the physical effects. Survivors, called "hibakusha" meaning, "explosion affected person(s) vividly describe the blast, heat, and radiation effects on themselves and others. However psychologist, Lifton, devotes the majority of this work to the psychological effects that received little attention. Hibakusha, developed several theories to cope with their experience:
1. Why us? We were a small city of limited military importance.
2. We were guinea pigs. The Americans wanted to test their new bomb. We were their lab rats.
3. Racial bias. They only use weapons like that on the colored races.
4. The people responsible will suffer divine retribution for their actions.
5. We, the survivors, have a mission to explain the horrors of nuclear war to the entire world!
Once militaristic Japan turned totally pacifistic after the war. However, Japan has never come to terms with its own misdeeds in World War II, which explains the reactions of the survivors. The author also fails to acknowledge Japan has been able to divest itself of military expenditures only due to America's nuclear umbrella.
While reading I was struck by the similarity between hibakusha and Vietnam veterans. Both were traumatized by their experience. Both were ostracized by their countrymen after the war. Hibakusha were deemed incapable or unwilling to work due to "A-Bomb Disease." Viet vets were similarly shunned as being "walking time bombs" that might "flash back" at any moment. Pity them both, but hide the women and kids when they are around was/is the theory, thus adding to their difficulties.
This work is the first to explore the psychological and sociological aspects of the attack. In a world that is seemingly losing its horror of "weapons of mass destruction" since World War I, it is important to review as terrorists now strive openly to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons. My last criticism is, toward the end, Lifton, is seemingly writing to fellow psychologists, instead of laymen such as myself. Still, it is an important and very informative work. Highly recommended!
Harold Y. Grooms
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