Hiroshima, Mokusatsu and Alleged Mistranslations
This paper revisits the issue of the importance of context and critical thinking in translation and translation training by examining the linguistic controversy over the translation of the word mokusatsu in the statement of Japan’s Prime Minister Suzuki in response to the Potsdam Declaration. There is a widespread belief that the bombing of Hiroshima in August of 1945 was caused by a translation mistake. The author sides with the opposing view, i.e. that such an approach takes one word of the statement out of context in order to shift the focus of the problem from politics to linguistics. The message of the statement is unambiguous when analyzed in its entirety. As a result, it is obvious there was no translation mistake and the bomb was dropped for reasons other than translation quality. Sadly enough, the myth lives on as a textbook example of ‘the worst translation mistake in history” whereas it should be taught as an example of probably ‘the worst translation myth in history’.
Bertman, S. (2009). The Anti-Semitic Origin of Michelangelo’s Horned Moses. Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies. Summer 2009, 27(4), 95-106. https://doi.org/10.1353/sho.0.0393
Bix, H. P. (1995). Japan's Delayed Surrender: A Reinterpretation. Diplomatic History. 19(2), 197–225. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.1995.tb00656.x
Butow, R. J. C. (1954). Japan’s Decision to Surrender. Stanford University Press.
Byrnes, J. (1947). Speaking Frankly. Harper & Brothers.
Chase, S. (1954). The Power of Words. Harcourt, Brace and Co.
Coughlin, W. J. (1953). “The Great Mokusatsu Mistake: Was This the Deadliest Error of Our Time?” Harper’s Magazine, March 1953, 31–40.
Emmerson, J. K. (1978). The Japanese Thread: A life in the U.S. Foreign Service. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Dougall, R., Hayes, R. C., Ambach, D. R., Curl, P. V., McDonald, E., Patterson, R. S., Spielman, H., & Stone, I. A. (Eds.). (1960). Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, Volume I. United States Government Printing Office.
Dougall, R. (Ed.). (1960). Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, Volume II. United States Government Printing Office.
Gilad, E. (2018). Why Even Some Jews Once Believed Moses Had Horns. Jewish World, Mar. 27, 2018. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/why-even-some-jews-once-believed-moses-had-horns-1.5949749
Hasegawa, T. (2006). Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674038400
Johnson, Ch. (1980). Omote (Explicit) and Ura (Implicit): Translating Japanese Political Terms. The Journal of Japanese Studies, 6(1), (Winter, 1980), 89-115. https://doi.org/10.2307/132001
Kawai, K. (1950). "Mokusatsu, Japan's Response to the Potsdam Declaration". Pacific Historical Review, 19(4), 409–414. https://doi.org/10.2307/3635822
Marchi, J. J. (1989). Good Translation Might Have Prevented Hiroshima. The New York Times. August 21, 1989, Section A, Page 16.
Polizzotti, M. (2018). Why Mistranslation Matters. The New York Times, 28 July 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/opinion/sunday/why-mistranslation-matters.html
Rhodes, R. (1986). The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition. Simon & Schuster.
Rosenbluh, H. G. (1968). Mokusatsu: One Word, Two Lessons. The NSA Technical Journal. Special Linguistics Issue II. Fall 1968, XIII(4). https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/70/documents/news-features/declassified-documents/tech-journals/mokusatsu.pdf
Torikai, K. (2009). Voices of the Invisible Presence. Diplomatic interpreters in post-World War II Japan. John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1075/btl.83
Senkichiro, K. (Ed.). (1954). Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary. Kenkyusha.
Sherwin, M. J. (1975). A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance. Alfred A. Knopf.
Copyright (c) 2021 Boris Naimushin
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
All published articles in the ESNBU are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
In other words, under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license users are free to
Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
Under the following terms:
Attribution (by) - All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.
NonCommercial (nc) - You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.
If the article is to be used for commercial purposes, we suggest authors be contacted by email.
If the law requires that the article be published in the public domain, authors will notify ESNBU at the time of submission, and in such cases the article shall be released under the Creative Commons 1 Public Domain Dedication waiver CC0 1.0 Universal.
Copyright for articles published in ESNBU are retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the journal. Authors retain full publishing rights and are encouraged to upload their work to institutional repositories, social academic networking sites, etc. ESNBU is not responsible for subsequent uses of the work. It is the author's responsibility to bring an infringement action if so desired by the author.
Occasionally ESNBU may co-publish articles jointly with other publishers, and different licensing conditions may then apply.