"The Secret Project" is a children's book with some very adult subject matter, relating to the United States' efforts to build the first atomic bomb. Now, a Japanese language version ("Kono keikaku wa himitsu desu") is available after a summer release, and author Jonah Winter spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun via email about why he decided to tell the story of such a terrifying weapon to children.
"The invention of the atom bomb is one of the most important -- and horrible -- moments in human history," said Winter, 55, of the project which made possible the devastating nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
The 2017 book begins with a rural New Mexico schoolhouse principal being informed by the U.S. government that the building would be needed "for important government work." The school is closed, and soon after "the most brilliant scientists in the world" begin to arrive.
The scientists in the Manhattan Project referred to the bomb they were developing only by the codename "the gadget," and they were immersed in their work day and night. The support staff at the ultra-secret Los Alamos National Lab -- the people who cooked the meals and guarded the perimeter -- were never told what was being researched there. The scientists, the book relates, were trying to beat other countries to the bomb, and development proceeded under the strictest information security.
Then, in the middle of the desert, a countdown begins.
That countdown, the tick of the timer down to the world's first atomic detonation, was in July 1945. It was a plutonium weapon, the same type as would be dropped on Nagasaki the following month, three days after the incineration of central Hiroshima by a uranium-based bomb.
Winter noted that "traditional American propaganda about why the bomb was invented and used" insists that the atomic attacks on Japan were needed to shorten World War II and even to save lives. However, "I wrote this book for very young children because I think that children deserve to know the truth," he said of the literary project, which he started in 2015. His mother Janet, 78, did the illustrations for the volume, which was published in the U.S. in February 2017.
The book's second-last page is a countdown to detonation. The final page is blank; no words and no pictures. This was not by accident.
"The book ends wordlessly because there are no words to describe the horrific moment when this weapon of mass destruction was introduced into the world," Winter told the Mainichi. "I would like for my book to represent one small step in America's acknowledgment of this crime against humanity."
The Japanese edition was translated by 70-year-old Yumiko Sakuma, who commented, "I hope this book is able to spur readers to think about how terrible things can go on without us even noticing, and to treasure their own thoughts."
The Japanese edition of "The Secret Project" was released by Suzuki Publishing and retails for 1,620 yen. Inquiries can be made at the publisher at 03-3945-6611 (Japanese language only).
(Japanese original by Emi Aoki, Fukuoka News Department)