If language is like wine on the lips, as once professed by English writer Virginia Wolff, then the language of Japan, especially its written script, has been nothing less than intoxicating to Chad Diehl for more than a decade.
Diehl recently joined the UCLA International Institute and the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies as the 2011-12 Terasaki postdoctoral fellow. In this role, he will be teaching a course on Japan’s atomic bombings and working on a book about Nagasaki as well as on a documentary examining the American occupation of Nagasaki, Japan. On Oct. 17, Diehl will give a public talk on the resurrection of Nagasaki in the first decade after the 1945 atomic bombing. It will be held in the UCLA Faculty Center's Sequoia Room from 4 to 7 p.m.
It was a foreign language class at Montana State University (MSU) that initially inspired Diehl to move away from sociology and justice studies and refocus his efforts on history and Japanese studies. He spent his junior year in Japan, and later he wrote a compelling thesis paper that earned him a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study atomic bomb history and literature at Nagasaki University.
Terasaki Postdoctoral Fellow Chad Diehl got to know atom bomb survivor Tsutomu Yamaguchi while translating a documentary on his life. Diehl, who studies the history and literature of the bombings, later helped Yamaguchi publish his poetry.
“By studying the lessons of the past, such as the atomic bombings and the Second World War, we can work to improve our present and our future,” said Diehl, who earned a bachelor's degree from MSU and graduate degrees from Columbia University. “I think the most important thing to realize about history is that the past is never behind us. It never dies, but rather lives on in the present and defines us, carrying us forward into the future.”
A chance encounter at a Columbia University library led to a remarkable opportunity: the task of translating a documentary about an atomic bomb survivor who had the great misfortune of witnessing nuclear devastation in not just one but two cities. This later led to a friendship from which Diehl’s evolution as a historian and humanitarian would flow. In summer 2006, he translated “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived,” a documentary about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of just 100 people who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and the only one to be officially recognized by the government as such. The film was screened at the United Nations and at Columbia, and the then-90-year-old Yamaguchi attended both presentations.
As he grew to know Yamaguchi, Diehl learned that the bombing survivor had written a collection of poetry about his experiences. Wanting to help him share this with English-speaking readers, Diehl lived with Yamaguchi during the summer of 2009, discussing poetry and Yamaguchi's work. Diehl translated the poems as close to the original Japanese as possible, while maintaining the same syllable count and adding rhyme schemes.
“I felt that his message about the horror of nuclear weapons and the importance of peace needed to be shared," said Diehl, who founded Excogitating Over Coffee Publishing, a small press he intends to convert to a nonprofit. “I found that I could help mostly by listening to his stories and translating his poetry.”
“And the River Flowed on as a Raft of Corpses: The Poetry of Yamaguchi Tsutomu, Survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki” was published in July 2010, six months after Yamaguchi’s death.
“I wonder sometimes if he didn't share the last years of his life with me for my benefit," Diehl said. "I learned so much from him, not only about the atomic bombings, but about dealing with hardship in life, learning to forgive and facing death without fear. His poems that contemplate death are among my favorite, and I only hope that one day I have the courage to face life and death as he did.”
Diehl also co-translated a sequel to the documentary earlier this year. "Twice Bombed: The Legacy of Tsutomu Yamaguchi" will be screened on Nov. 14 at 3 p.m. in the Charles E. Young Research Library presentation room. The documentary features Yamaguchi’s speeches to the UN on nuclear weapons as well as a visit by film director and producer James Cameron shortly before Yamaguchi’s death. The film will also be shown in Little Toyko at Nibei Hall on Nov. 12.