The hibakusha is the name given to the thousands of Japanese survivors of Harry Truman’s ill-conceived decision to make America the only country to ever use nuclear weapons against another country. (Which should give pause to any rational person as to the question of the U.S. should be allowed to tell any other country what to do with their nuclear knowledge.) A great many of those Japanese who lived through the initial exposure died within two months from radiation poisoning, but thousands continue to live for decades and die from illnesses directly related to that radiation, including leukemia and cancer. The hibakusha have through the years suffered disfigurement, pain, and torment. If only they had all been Japanese soldiers who were trying to kill our guys it would be so much easier to deal. Alas, the overwhelming number of hibakusha were and are children, women, and other civilians.
Because there has no real way of ever effectively determining just how many of the hibakusha died from illnesses related to the dropping of the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese government has never kept an official list of causalities related to the atomic bomb. Despite the horrific pain and torture that many of these people have lived with they have ultimate provided a very positive public service that people all around the world should be grateful for. The experiences of treating the hibakusha has formed the basis for practically all knowledge that science has regarding the safety of using radiation in all its form, including X-Rays and leakage at nuclear facilities.
Scientists and doctors studying the hibakusha have managed to extrapolate from the reactions to intense radiation dosages that these people received an almost mind-numbing depth of knowledge about how much radiation a person can survive. As a result of the study of the hibakusha in particular, a nuclear physicists working New Mexico, a dental technician taking X-rays of a six year old in Cleveland, and all the Homer Simpsons working at all the Three Miles Islands around the world now know exactly how much radiation they can be exposed to without having to worry about becoming a future patient who will be studied for how they developed leukemia or cancer.
The case of the hibakusha is an excellent example of how something nightmarishly bad for specific individuals can be used to create something magnificent for the larger society as a whole. Of course, I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts most members of this mercifully exclusive club would be more than willing to trade away making the world a better place to go back in time and convince the bottomless chasm that was Harry Truman’s mind to reconsider the possibility that sending a message to the Japanese could have been accomplished on a non-populated island.