Clinton Godart: Japan is Right to be Angry at QI Atom Bomb Joke

[Clinton Godart teaches Japanese history at the University of Cambridge. He specializes in modern Japanese intellectual history, philosophy, and history of science. He is currently working on a book on the reception of Darwin in Japan.]

Stephen Fry and the BBC seemed to have been caught off guard by a wave of outrage among Japanese people since it featured Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a survivor of both nuclear attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in panel show QI last December. In the programme, when debating whether Yamaguchi was the luckiest or the unluckiest man on the planet, one panellist said: "Is the glass of water half full or half empty? Either way, it is definitely radioactive … don't drink it." The same joke about an Auschwitz survivor and Zyklon B would never have passed.

The BBC apologised, but the furore in Japan has intensified. Nuclear victims groups, the mayor of Nagasaki and Japan's foreign minister, as well as users of Japanese social media, have expressed their anger. As the BBC is Britain's state television, it has damaged Britain's image in Japan. But few seem to care: the rare British comments on the internet range from mildly sympathetic to "they got what they deserved".

That jokes about nuclear victims touch a raw nerve in Japan should not have been a surprise. Many victims are still alive, and there are people still suffering from the effects of the nuclear bombs. Yamaguchi was in bandages for 12 years. His wife was exposed to radioactive "black rain" and both children suffered health problems....

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