Believing everything about Hiroshima

A recent editorial from the Asahi Shimbun gives a perfect illustration of the difficulties of teaching English and American academic writing and debating style to Japanese and other Asian students. First of all it does that great Asian almost zen-like trick of giving two diametrically opposed points of view and never coming down on one side or the other.

The other argument they use that would never make it further than the letter pages of a British or US newspaper is that the reason why Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma was wrong to say he accepted that the Hiroshima bomb was historically inevitable was because it could upset people. If he was right or wrong is seen as almost irrelevant, only the results of his words matter. And I’m not saying that this Japanese use of language is wrong, but seeing words only as an emotional thing not as a way of grappling intellectually and bringing the other person’s argument down like the average British man’s conversation in a pub is a huge leap for me. Not that some Japanese men don’t spend all their time using facts and logic to argue with their friends too. They certainly exist, and they are called ‘otaku‘.

Not that anyone is asking me, but I say as it is impossible to say what would have happened if the A bombs weren’t dropped it is impossible to say one way or another whether they saved or caused more death and suffering.

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This entry was posted in Academic writing, Cultural differences/ cultural training, EFL exams, English for Academic Purposes, IELTS, Linguistics, applied linguistics and SLA, Paragraphing, TEFL, TESOL. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Believing everything about Hiroshima

  1. Ben Thirlway says:

    Hi Alex (again)!

    Actually, reliable projections – extrapolated from American campaigns against Japanese forces in Iwo Jima and Okinawa – based on estimated length of the campaign, casualty rates and the tendency towards the fierce Japanese defence of home soil, put possible Allied dead of an invasion of Japan at 500,000, along with approximately 2 million Japanese. The war would also have continued until about November of 1946.

    The Japanese dead would have included huge numbers of civilians as well, due to the fanatical defence squads of men, women and children who were being trained to rush the Americans on the beaches with improvised weapons and fight the invaders from house to house.

    The atomic bombs actually saved lives, distasteful as it may be to admit it. Personally, I wish the Japanese factions who favoured peace had got the upper hand earlier. Then the bomb would never have been necessary.

  2. Alex Case says:

    Hmmm. surely a “reliable projection” is one that later turns out to be true. Maybe you mean a “believable projection”… To give an idea of the impossibility of such calculations, let’s imagine that someone had tried to do exactly the same thing at the start of the Iraq war (although in far less dramatic and newsworthy ways, people were dying everyday because of the Saddam Hussein regime). What are the chances they would have predicted successfully the exact increase in the number of deaths per year? Can we even predict now how many there will be from now until the real “end of fighting”?

    Although I tend to avoid military history books, but from what I read I got the idea that no civilians on Okinawa actually fought against the Americans, although there were forced suicides on Iwo Jima.

    Finally, although the bomb might have saved lives (which is possible), was that the real motivation of the American leadership? I have read several books (not Japanese) that claim convincingly that the aim was to show the Soviets what they had got.

  3. Ben Thirlway says:

    You’re right about civilians on Okinawa. However, Okinawa was not the Home Islands, and the difference in psychological importance between the two territories in the Japanese psyche was considerable. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, especially in Kyushu, were training daily with bamboo spears and other weapons to meet the Americans as soon as they landed. It was, of course, about showing loyalty to the Emperor.

    And you’re right, no-one could predict the exact number of deaths in a conventional invasion. But going by the experiences on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, it would have been a bloodbath. The Americans had a fairly good idea of what resistance would have been like based on previous encounters with the Japanese. The same can’t be said of Iraq, although a couple of (marginalised) U.S. generals predicted the current mess well before March 2003, so I guess reliable estimates are possible.

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