Japan's atomic bombing, survival, recovery inspires academic


Chad Diehl and Tsutomu Yamaguchi

Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies post-doctoral fellow Chad Diehl will give a public talk about the resurrection of Nagasaki after the 1945 atomic bombing on Oct. 17 in the UCLA Faculty Center Sequoia Room from 4 to 7 p.m.

UCLA Today

If language is like wine on the lips, as once professed by English writer Virginia Wolff, then the language of Japan, especially its written script, is something that has been intoxicating to Chad Diehl for more than a decade.

Diehl recently joined the UCLA International Institute and the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies as the 2011-12 Terasaki post-doctoral fellow. In this role, he will be teaching a course on Japan’s atomic bombings, completing a first draft of a book he’s writing about Nagasaki and working on a documentary examining the American occupation of Nagasaki and Japan.

On Oct. 17, Diehl, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University (MSU) and graduate degrees from Columbia University, will give a free public talk about the resurrection of Nagasaki after the 1945 atomic bombing. The presentation, which will focus on the first decade of that nation’s rebuilding, will be held in the UCLA Faculty Center Sequoia Room from 4 to 7 p.m.

It was a foreign language class at MSU that initially inspired Diehl to move away from sociology and justice studies (which were his focus areas at the time) and toward history and Japanese studies. He spent his junior year in Japan, and later he wrote a compelling thesis paper that earned him a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study atomic bomb history and literature at Nagasaki University.

“By studying the lessons of the past, such as the atomic bombings and the Second World War, we can work to improve our present and our future,” says Diehl.  “I think the most important thing to realize about history is that the past is never behind us. It never dies, but rather lives on in the present and defines us — carrying us forward into the future.”

A chance encounter at the library at Columbia University led to a remarkable opportunity and friendship from which Diehl’s evolution as a historian and humanitarian would flow.  In summer 2006, he translated “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived,” a documentary about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of just 100 people who survived the atomic bombings at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the only one to be officially recognized by the government as such. The film was presented to the United Nations and at a screening that Diehl organized at Columbia shortly after its release. Both screenings were attended by the then 90-year-old Yamaguchi.

In addition to translating the film, Diehl grew to know Yamaguchi. He discovered a collection of Yamaguchi’s poetry that he wanted to help him share with English-speaking audiences. Diehl lived with Yamaguchi in the summer of 2009, discussing poetry and speaking to him about his work. Diehl translated the poems as close to the original Japanese as possible, while maintaining the syllable count and adding rhyme schemes.

 “I felt that his message about the horror of nuclear weapons and the importance of peace needed to be shared, says Diehl, who founded Excogitating Over Coffee Publishing, a small press he intends to convert to a non-profit. “I found that I could help mostly by listening to his stories and translating his poetry.”

And the River Flowed on as a Raft of Corpses: The Poetry of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, Survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasakiwas published in July 2010, six months after Yamaguchi’s death.

“I wonder sometimes if he didn't share the last years of his life with me for my benefit. I learned so much from him, not only about the atomic bombings, but about dealing with hardship in life, learning to forgive, and facing death without fear. His poems that contemplate death are among my favorite, and I only hope that one day I have the courage to face life and death as he did.”

Diehl also co-translated a sequel to "Twice Bombed, Twice Survived" earlier this year. "Twice Bombed: The Legacy of Tsutomu Yamaguchi" will be screened at UCLA on Nov. 14 in the Charles E. Young Research Library presentation room at 3 p.m. The documentary features Yamaguchi’s speeches to the UN on nuclear weapons and a visit by film director and producer James Cameron shortly before Yamaguchi’s death. The film will also be shown in Little Toyko at Nibei Hall on Nov. 12. 

Published: Monday, October 10, 2011