The “Black Rain” – A Re-assessment on the Dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on Japan

In 1965, Masuji Ibuse, a native son of Hiroshima, published his Black Rain (Kuroi Ame).[i] The novel is masterful reconstruction of death from radiation sickness based on the diary of a Hiroshima survivor plus interviews with some 50 hibakusha or victims of the atomic holocaust. Ibuse’s sensitivity to the complex web of emotions in a traditional community torn asunder by this historical event has made Black Rain one of the most acclaimed treatments of the Hiroshima story.

This article seeks to demonstrate how “assessment” issues go beyond testing of historical understanding, meeting examination requirements, or of managing teaching strategies and other pedagogical initiatives, to include wider implications of how historical knowledge is reviewed and re-assessed by historians and history educators.  It was motivated by a recent discussion I had with two upper secondary history teachers who have been teaching for five to seven years. Both do not teach beyond the dropping of “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and “Fat Man” on Nagasaki to indicate their end of their teaching on the Pacific War in August 1945. When asked why is there no discussion on the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bombs, one teacher replied that it is not in the syllabus, while another admitted that she has no knowledge of the topic to generate discussion with the pupils.[ii] In short, pupils’ historical knowledge on the end of the Pacific War literally ended with the dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”. Consequently, they are not able to judge and evaluate America’s decision to drop the bombs and to appreciate the impact of the decision.

If we are passionate about teaching history, and to impart the craft of the historian to our pupils, we have to give pupils a more holistic understanding (or “Total History”) of the events in history and their relevance to our lives today. We need to allow our pupils to appreciate – and to interpret - the wider implications of development of events in the past and present.  This implies that to promote historical understanding and meaningful assessment for learning, we need to anchor decisions on what and how to assess to the clarity of purpose, that is, the why. Pupils would then be able to appreciate concepts of Change and Continuity, Cause and Consequence (or Causation), Similarity and Difference, and Empathy. It is also important to note that, if the teacher has his/her biased interpretation of a historical event, such as the war in the Pacific, it is likely to be reflected in his/her narration of events. The sources selected could also reinforce the teacher’s biased interpretation. We all know that history is one subject that provides opportunities for the teacher to influence the perceptions of pupils towards the historical past, especially controversial, “turning-points” events.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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