Reporting Exposure: The Midwives of Nagasaki

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Between June 1950 and January 1954, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) piloted a novel program partnering with midwives’ associations in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, branding the enterprise the “Genetics Registration Program.” This short-lived collaboration aimed to surface firsthand reports of pre- or neonatal death and even physical corpses for autopsies, for which midwives were remunerated at a set scale by the American scientists in charge. So detailed were these largely financial records that reporting within “12 hrs. of death” was worth double the rate of reporting “later than 24 hrs. after death,” according to memos contained within William “Jack” Schull Collection at the McGovern Historical Center in Houston, Texas. This article, “Reporting Exposure: The Midwives of Nagasaki,” interrogates how the “Early Termination Program,” a branch of the Genetics program defined “exposure” and how the “exposed” were determined to be “profitable objects for study,” as one memo articulated. At stake in this project is more than historical analysis; these ABCC documents illustrate paradigmatic responses to the scalar and social logics of toxicity, particular with reference to the measurement of distance and time. These archival documents reveal invaluable insights about first-of-its-kind statistical collation and confirmation biases, to say nothing of how they animate conversations about life, death, and the sociopolitical tensions this arrangement undoubtedly complicated.

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