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[May 7] "Democracy? We Deliver": Race, Morale, and Total War in the Pacific



Date: May 7, 2024 (Tuesday)

Time: 3:00–5:00pm

Venue: CRT-5.41, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Speaker: Dr. Ran Zwigenberg (Associate professor of Asian Studies and Jewish Studies, Pennsylvania State University)


In November 1945, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) set out in jeeps across Hiroshima to find eyewitnesses who could tell them about their experience of the atomic bomb. This surreal scene of dropping a weapon of mass destruction on a city, and then going about with clipboards asking residents how they felt about it, encapsulated the many contradictions and ironies inherent at the American way of war. The importance of the moment, however, goes beyond the American context. The encounter in Hiroshima was the result of a convergence of several historical trajectories and developments that were shared across all WW 11 belligerents. The USSBS was the result of the increased scientification of strategic bombing and the methods used to evaluate it. Central to this drive was the notion of "morale" and the transnational idea that the goal of bombing civilians was to break their "will" to fight. During the bombing campaign "'the target,' as one air commander put it, 'had become the Japanese mind.'" Furthermore, Morale surveys, I argue, set the stage for later encounter by the psychological professions with the A-bomb. The interviews were done by trained psychiatrists, psychologists, and other social scientists, and were, in fact, the first hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) testimonies collected in Hiroshima. This encounter further connected to studies done on Japanese American internees, American occupation reforms, and the rise of psychological science as a pillar of Cold War struggles over hearts and minds, making it a pivotal moment in early Cold War history.


All are welcome. No registration is required.

For enquiries, please contact smlc@hku.hk

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