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Author examines language of nuclear destruction

| Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Arthur Binard, a bilingual author, translator and antinuclear activist, delivered a lecture Monday afternoon in the LaFortune Center Ballroom that examined the terminology Japanese and Americans use to describe the bombings of Japan during World War II. At the end of the war, there was a general feeling of euphoria in the United States, but in Japan, the feeling could not have been more different — Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled by nuclear weapons, and the Japanese people dealt with the crippling effects of the destruction of two large cities.

Binard, who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years, said he set about to discover how the language both the American and Japanese people use in discussing this event shape their perspective on the event itself. The interest started for Binard with a trip to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, he said, and a talk from a survivor of the atomic bomb.

When describing the bomb, Binard said the survivor used the word “pika,” a word which roughly translated to “shiny” or “bright,” to describe the explosion. Binard said he had never heard this word before and, “pika gave a strong sense of the event.”

As a result of describing the bomb in terms of light, and not as the mushroom cloud with which he had traditionally associated it, Binard said he began questioning the narrative of the bombing that he had been taught in school. Using the mushroom cloud as the main descriptor of the bomb has profoundly impacted Americans’ views of the event, as they are detached from the destruction itself, he said. 

“Using the mushroom cloud puts us above [the incident],” Binard said. “[In Japan,] nobody talked about the mushroom cloud.”

Binard said he discovered that the Japanese almost exclusively used “pika” in describing the bombing, and this new narrative, not of the necessity of the bomb but the destruction that it created, made Binard shift his perspective on the use of the bomb. 

“I should have been with them all along,” Binard said, “but I wasn’t before because I didn’t have ‘pika.’” 

This discovery led Binard to further examine how the use of language impacts our view of the nuclear bomb and nuclear power. In his examination, Binard said he found examples in both Japan and the United States where the use of language seemed seemed to tame, in the minds of the general population, the negative effects of the nuclear bomb and nuclear power.

According to Binard, the language used to describe an event impacts public perception of the event and when examining an event, one must alway consider how it is described.

“All the language you use always has some perspective,” he said.

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

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