History is always a difficult subject; we look back at decisions other people made with such hindsight that we sometimes forget what went into making those decisions. What led people to decide to act, or not act, gets swept away by the sands of times. Likewise, history tends to be written by the victor. So hearing the other side of a question is always a little gift to historians. Redditor u/TheCoolTreeGuy asked r/AskReddit:
“Native Japanese people of Reddit what do you think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing?”
And I immediately thought: wow. Cool. Enjoy this round-up of takes.
1. Highly Critical Thoughts
Native Japanese in my 20s. The bombings are in our collective mind, the representation of the atrocity of war. There’s definitely a strong victim mentality and the general public do not imagine ourselves to be the aggressors of history. We are completely oblivious to the other s**t we have committed since the education system is structured in a way that let us sweep the past under the rug. We were graced by the US’s intervention that enabled us to erase any acknowledgement of our pasts and spent the last 75 years rebuilding our national identity around being meticulous hard workers. Our society is devoted to turning everyone into company robots,malleable with zero backbone (voter turnout for people in their twenties is about 30%.)We don’t think about politics and our knowledge of history is limited.
2. It was part of life
Native Japanese here. I don’t have much to say about the political/tactical viewpoint since I’m not an expert, just a civilian. And I think that goes for most other civilians as well.
The people who lived through it, or whose parents and grandparents lived through it, only know the suffering it caused. In school we were taught dry facts about war, very little emphasis on why any decisions were made. But we did learn a lot about the effects on the common people, to the point where I was tired of spending so much time on it. We visited the bombing sites, heard survivors speak, touched the keloid scars on their arms that still burn decades later. We folded paper cranes and were taught songs that denounced war and promoted peace, as though we were going to be able to make a difference.
Today, most of us live quiet lives and don’t think about the atomic bombs, or the firebombing of Tokyo, or the land conflicts in Okinawa. But if asked, nearly every family has a war story, of would-be grandparents who died or children who starved because they were far enough from the conflict but were still affected by the wartime economy. It’s just part of life. We carry the inherited memory of suffering.
Edit: There have been a lot of questions about education in Japan, and /u/flightlesskite summarized it well. I didnt know about the atrocities commited by Japan until much later either, and it is still deeply upsetting. My answer to the original question is only that Japanese civilians suffered greatly, as did those in many other places.
3. Education system highlights that Japan was a victim in WWII
Im native Japanese born and raised in Japan! As some of those fellow Japanese already mentioned, in Japanese education system the majority of focus is that we are the victim of the WWII and I did believe that for the longest time. I’ve been to the museum in Hiroshima and it’s simply painful to see those images of people who were bombed. I never wish that to my worst enemy and nuclear weapon should be terminated from this world. but having said that, the US government did not have a better understanding of long lasting effect of nuclear weapons to begin with, and Japanese have even invading those neighbor countries and doing horrendous acts in such place China, Korea, and other South Eastern countries. Massacre and “recruitment”‘ of comfort women is simply not acceptable and intolerable. It’s extremely infuriating that many Japanese media or politicians dismissed those act especially comfort women as something like “every country did that” or “it was a good paying job back then” (I’m looking at you Hashimoto) It saddens me to learn many Japanese friends of mine perceive this era of Japan is just a victim and don’t know too much about other historical contexts, but at the same time, many of them don’t speak or read in English or other language so it’s difficult for them to be exposed to outside view. This might be a unpopular opinion but I did appreciate that Obama paid a visit there during his presidency. After all many people died because of the bomb and many people especially from Hiroshima still struggle with certain health issues. So….long story short. I’m feeling very conflicted.
4. From a grandfather
Posting on behalf of a Japanese grandpa I know who was born and raised in Tokyo. We’re both into history, so we’ve talked about it a lot. He views the bombings as terrible, but doesn’t fully blame or hate the US for them. Instead, he blames the Emperor for not listening to military advisors like Isoroku Yamamoto who basically warned Japan that the war they were getting into was unwinnable. He maintains that Japanese wartime rations and famine and firebombing were just as horrific and happened for YEARS, but the west doesn’t talk about those as much.
He acknowledges that he’s more liberal than his countrymen in this regard, possibly because he was raised by a scholarly father/mother (his words). He was also an international salesman/salaryman in the 80’s, so having that world exposure opened up some of his views, he’s said.
He’s also genuinely curious about what the American home front was like, so I’ve swapped stories between my own 94-year-old grandmother and him. And I try to bring him English books about the era when I visit as Japanese publishers don’t cover the topic.
5. It’s not that simple
I’m from Japan. My views of it are very different now that I live outside of Japan compared to when I was younger and hadn’t left Japan. When I was younger i saw it as a horrible thing done to us, no excuses. No reason could justify the horrors of not only the nuclear bombs but also the firebombings. I saw it as the evils war and what warlike mindsets could do to humanity. Japan was 100% the victim. When I was younger it wasn’t taught like Japan=Good, America=Bad, more of the bombs are the horrors of war and this is why war is never a good thing. Now that I live in the U.S. I see it’s not as simple or black and white. I now understand why the bombs were dropped. I still believe it was a horrible thing, but I do believe it stopped the war which is a good thing. I now feel that what Unit 731 did is more of an example of what evil humanity can accomplish vs the nuclear bombs. But again, I no longer live in Japan and my view point will not be the same as people who have lived there their whole life.
6. Necessary Evil
My mum is from Hiroshima, with her sister and parents still living there now. She has very differing views on the bombings then her family.
My mum has the view that it was a necessary evil, due to the fact that it was a quick way of ending the war to prevent further bloodshed. Additionally the knowledge of atrocities committed by the Japanese Military greatly changed her view of the bombings.
Whereas the rest of her family have the view that Japan was the victim and America was overstepping. I think this is because of the Japanese system, where very little of the atrocities are talked about. And it’s mostly just about how Japan was a victim.
My own personal view of The bombings are that it was required to end the war quickly. Coupled with the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the war, it was justified that the allies dropped the bombs.
7. Once I learned the other side
t’s a really conflicting feeling. For the longest time, I felt there was no justifying the bombings. The bombings really helped to paint the country as a victim of war when being taught in Japanese history classes & of course no one (including myself) would question it. It’s only when you learn about the other side of the coin & hear about the atrocities that are hidden in Japanese education – such as Nanking and Comfort women that you realise that Japan isn’t in the clear. To this day, I still do not like the fact that my country still go to lengths to forget about their own wrongdoings.
In the end, war itself is tragic. The bombings caused a lot of japanese people to suffer but we aren’t the only victims of war. Although I come from a Japanese family, I see other tragedies such as the holocaust in the same light. As I personally didn’t suffer from war, I cannot say my way of thinking is correct.
8. Better off
Native Japanese (half) here, grew up there through high school. The bombings themselves didn’t directly affect my family because my grandparents lived in Tokyo and great-grandparents and extended family in the countryside. My grandpa died before I was born but he worked on a battleship in the war.
My grandma would tell me how he used to tell her in secret her how Japan could never win, because the US had so much more natural resources, and was more technologically advanced especially as the war progressed. Of course he would have gotten in huge trouble if he had said any of this publicly.
I grew up listening to stories and manga depicting the bombing, the aftermath, how people’s skin would melt off, etc. I found it more facinating than anything. My grandmother would tell me stories about the surrender. I think (and my Grandmother agreed) that Japan was better off with the bombing as it brought an immediate end to the war. Far more Japanese would have died with a land invasion as the Imperial propaganda during the war was so thorough that civilians would have fought with spears rather than surrender. A lot of people were blindsided and confused by the Emperor’s surrender announcement, which was done over radio with archaic (even for the time) Japanese.
9. Would never have surrendered
Native Okinawan here. Okinawa is where the Japanese soldiers decided to fight for the last battle of WWII. If it wasn’t for the bombs I feel as thought the Japanese would have never surrendered and would’ve been completely massacred on the final battle of Okinawa, along with even more Okinawan natives. The Japanese soldiers occupied our land and drove the native Okinawans to the mountains, scavenging resources from civilians and killing us if we didn’t give up our hiding spots. My great-grandfather was stabbed in the stomach for not giving up his hiding cave but luckily survived. It’s all terrible, but I can only imagine if those bombs weren’t dropped then what would have became of my people and the Japanese soldiers who were literally jumping off cliffs/disemboweling themselves/blowing themselves up, because they were told not to be captured as prisoners. I wish the Japanese had surrendered sooner, but they had too much pride.
10. I’m conflicted now
I’m from Japan and subsequently moved to the United States. When I was living in Japan we learned that a lot of people died and it was very sad. There’s a lot of popular media (anime, books, shows) that attempt to illustrate the horrors of the bombings. There were some educators who would always say that it was unfair that (UK and USA) were allowed to colonize and commit atrocities (African slavery, murdering Indigenous Americans) but when Japan attempted to expand, they were told it was inhumane. Once I moved to America, I was conflicted because it seemed to me that if it wasn’t for the bombings, the war would have kept going for awhile and we would have lost even more Japanese lives. At the end of the day, the Japan we know of today was created due to the pain and suffering from yesterday. So for me I would say that the bombings lead us to where we are today and I’m okay with that. There’s no denying it’s sad when civilian lives were lost though.
11. The Emperor would never stop
My mother was born in Okinawa and was about 11 when the bombings happened. She had been pressed into service as a soldier, armed with a stick. When I asked her how she felt about it, she was wholeheartedly in support, despite the massive death and destruction, because she was pretty certain the Japanese Emperor would have continued the fight until everyone was dead.
Native Japanese born but now live in Canada. When I was a kid, it was easy to think of the nuking as pure evil with no reason. The nuke museum in Hiroshima is pretty shy about Japans role as the villain in the WW2. But you only need to learn a little bit of history to change your outlook on these things.
The bomb ended the war years early and prevented a land invasion by the US in the face of a regime that had brainwashed the entire population into preparing for a suicidal fight to the bitter end, including training women and children how to fight with bamboo sticks. I think it is fair to assume the rapid post-nuke surrender saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the long run. A land invasion of Japan would have been devastating, a years long guerilla war on top of famine, a deranged Emperor who would rather everyone commit suicide than declare loss, there would be no Japan left. Untold thousands of American soldiers would have been killed too.
13. I don’t know how to feel
Born and grew up in Japan, and moved to North America for the latter half of my life. Parents are from China.
The education system never taught me why the government made the decisions that were made and only focused on the day to day of common civilians. It taught me mostly about the elders, women, and children that were trying to survive. I distinctly remember watching this animated film called “Hadashi no Gen” in class and feeling emotional. But while I felt that the war and bombing was tragic, I never thought the countries we fought against were evil or bad for doing what they did. Only after moving to Canada/USA, that’s when I slowly started seeing the bigger picture.
Unfortunately this is a difficult topic in my life and also a part of the reason why I struggle with my own identity to this day — I’ve had so many friends (and especially their parents) direct their frustration and anger to me, while I also didn’t fit in back in Japan due to my background. For many years, I ended up avoiding talking and thinking about this topic because I didn’t have a neutral party to talk to and learn from.
I still don’t know how to feel. On one hand I think the bombing was a necessary evil, but I also feel that it didn’t require a tragedy of that scale to stop Japan as they were already struggling. I really wish the Japanese government would address and own up to their past wrongdoings and grow/learn from that. Honestly, the war was just so tragic for everyone and as an adult I’m still learning. I don’t know, maybe I’m just frustrated that I felt stripped of the opportunity to learn and grow before being subject to microaggressions.
14. Had to be done
I feel like it was a bit of an overkill to drop 2 atomic bombs, but given the stuff the Japanese government did, something had to be done. We don’t really learn much about the stuff we did but more about the stuff other countries did which I think is bs. We can’t learn from our mistakes if we just sweep it under the rug and not talk about it. As much as we are victims of the war (A bomb), we were the perpetrators too. It’s very unfortunate that the civilians had to suffer the consequences though.
15. Double Edged Sword
Grew up in Japan for 11 years and went to a Japanese public school.
Japanese education really emphasizes on how war is evil and gives the aftermath of the atomic bombs as a primary reason. We’re reminded about the devastation caused by the atomic bombs through textbooks, anniversaries, and mangas/anime. I remember reading Hadashi No Gen and dive of the depictions of the war were very graphic.
It’s a double edged sword because on one hand it made Japan a very peaceful nation post world war 2. On the other hand Japan has a victim mentality when it comes to WW2 which is far from the truth…
In the annuls of history and necessities of war, I view it as inevitable. It was going to be used at some point by someone on someone. I understand the decision that killing civilians to lessen the casualties of your own soldiers is a logical decision.
However one thing that majority of Americans do not seem to understand is the horror of the nature of the bomb. I have observed that the vast majority of Americans (I live in Texas) just seems to think a nuke is just a big bomb, and radiation poisoning just means people fall over dead like poisoned.
That is not the case. Most people don’t get vaporized, the majority that were unlucky to survive literally walk around like living corpses and melt to death over the course of hours to days. It. Is. Hell. On earth.
It is one of the most inhumane weapon to ever have been devised.
There’s some part of me that thinks that Hiroshima was somewhat necessary to expedite the end of the war. Though I’m sure Japan would have surrendered, who knows how long it would’ve taken without the bombings. I believe, however, that we would’ve surrendered without the Nagasaki bombings, and that bombing was largely a show of force by the US to act as a warning against the Soviet Union, and also trying to knock Japan out of the war before the Soviets got involved on the pacific front (they failed, obviously, given the korean war).
But after all the strategy and politics is done, there’s really only sadness for the families that were killed during the bombings. Can you imagine, a whole city of civilians disintegrated in a flash, then thousands more dying painful deaths from radioactive poisoning? War is hell and more people have died from other bombings, but the sheer scale and efficiency of the atomic bombs were displayed only twice in history, and Japan’s going to carry those scars in its culture for a long time.