The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 unleashed a force as mysterious as it was deadly--radioactivity. In 1946, the United States government created the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) to serve as a permanent agency in Japan with the official mission of studying the medical effects of radiation on the survivors. The next ten years saw the ABCC's most intensive research on the genetic effects of radiation, and up until 1974 the ABCC scientists published papers on the effects of radiation on aging, life span, fertility, and disease.
"Suffering Made Real" is the first comprehensive history of the ABCC's research on how radiation affected the survivors of the atomic bomb. Arguing that Cold War politics and cultural values fundamentally shaped the work of the ABCC, M. Susan Lindee tells the compelling story of a project that raised disturbing questions about the ethical implications of using human subjects in scientific research.
How did the politics of the emerging Cold War affect the scientists' biomedical research and findings? How did the ABCC document and publicly present the effects of radiation? Why did the ABCC refuse to provide medical treatment to the survivors? Through a detailed examination of ABCC policies, archival materials, the minutes of committee meetings, newspaper accounts, and interviews with ABCC scientists, Lindee explores how political and cultural interests were reflected in the day-to-day operations of this controversial research program.
Set against a period of conflicting views of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, "Suffering Made Real" follows the course of a politically charged research program and reveals in detail how politics and cultural values can shape the conduct, results, and uses of science.
This account of how US authorities studied the surviving victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ought to be of wide interest, but Lindee's version of the story will not attract a general readership outside academic circles. Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 Nobel laureate in literature, has described the atomic bomb survivors as "people who, despite all, didn't commit suicide." After the war these people comprised the world's best sample by far for studies of how exposure to radiation affects individuals and their offspring. An Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was set up under the US Atomic Energy Commission, and the work of the ABCC over nearly three decades is the subject of this book. Lindee (History and Sociology of Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania) refers to the ABCC's work as "colonial science," by which she means primarily that the dominant power could not carry out its work without the cooperation of its defeated subjects. How was the organization and work of the commission affected by this dilemma? Did any kind of systematic bias creep into the many scientific papers published under its auspices? These are the kinds of questions that interest Lindee, but the language in which she cloaks her conclusions sometimes makes it hard to tell what they are. Take the question of why it was decided that the ABCC would not provide medical care to the survivors as it was studying them: "I suggest that the treatment debate was a forum in which various parties explored the proper relationship of the Americans to the Japanese." Although this is an authoritative scholarly work, it suffers from an excess of sophistication and circumspection, so that the questions readers most want answered are not addressed squarely enough. (Kirkus Reviews)