A future documentary will focus on a group of AU students who went to Japan this summer to learn about the effects of the American decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.
AU history professor Peter Kuznick helped organize the 12-day trip, during which 21 undergraduate and graduate students talked with survivors of the two bombs, attended commemorative peace ceremonies and visited historical sites. They went with Atsushi Fujioka, an economics professor and students from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.
Kuznick, Fujioka and students from the colleges have gone on the trip every summer since 1995. One difference this year was the presence of filmmaker Tom Power and his cameramen, who followed the students as they “retraced the steps” of atomic bomb survivors, Kuznick said. One survivor was AU alum Koko Tanimoto Kondo, who was an infant during the bombing.
The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 in an effort to end World War II, killing tens of thousands. Kuznick is an outspoken critic of the decision, calling nuclear weapons “the greatest danger facing our species.”
The trip, which began in late July, was largely guided by the book “Hiroshima” by John Hersey, which started out as a 1946 magazine article about the survivors’ experiences.
Power may finish the documentary this year or add more footage next summer, Kuznick said. It will be shown in high school and college classes and perhaps in movie theaters, although Kuznick said “it’s not going to be like ‘Outfoxed’ and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’
Ryan Shapiro, who is working on his master’s degree in history, said he went to Japan because he “wanted to put a face to the weapon and to the suffering.”
Those who went on the trip said that meeting survivors was movin - as Shapiro said, “meeting and talking and even getting close to people who survived the bombing and are still severely burned and watched their families die,” was an emotional experience.
Nick Roth, who graduated from AU in May, said the most memorable part of the trip took place at a peace ceremony in Nagasaki, commemorating the bomb that was dropped there. When he and some other students saw an elderly Japanese man pass out from the scorching heat, it made them think of the thousands of people who fell because of the bomb.
“You can’t help thinking, ‘This is what it looked like,” Roth said. “I think it stuck in the minds of everyone there.”
At another ceremony in Hiroshima, Shapiro said an elderly Japanese man asked the group if they were Americans. Then he said that even though his father and brother died in the bombings, he did not hate Americans.
“Then he cried and he hugged us and he walked away,” Shapiro said.
He said he was most impressed by the way the Japanese reacted to the bombings, using them to promote peace. Shapiro said people would hug the students on the street, and an 8-year-old girl drew a picture of him while they were on a train.
“I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve been so warmly embraced, and I’m pretty well traveled,” he said. “The amount of warmth that we received from a country that we dropped two atomic bombs on was not something I was expecting.”
Kuznick said it was also valuable to have three Korean students on the trip. Japan “murdered and enslaved millions of people in the Pacific” during World War II, and some Japanese still discriminate against Koreans, he said.
“As critical as I am of Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb, I am also critical and outspoken of the Japanese atrocities against other Asians,” he said.
While he said Power’s camera crew “can be a little bit invasive,” he and the students are hopeful about the future film.
“The documentary carries such an important message,” said Roth, who is now interning with Kuznick at AU’s Nuclear Studies Institute. “Very few people know what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”