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“There are those who go to war and those who are left behind, with each experiencing a different kind of hell.” This is a translation of an excerpt from a letter found among the possessions of a Nagasaki woman widowed when her husband was killed in action during World War II. Though it was displayed as part of a memorial exhibition, there was no mention of what had happened to the woman or whether she survived into the postwar years.

Most likely she experienced her share of hardship and hunger, as did most of the Japanese population. The government’s method of dealing with such people was to try and make them understand that their suffering was merely a fraction of the agonies endured by the nation’s soldiers. Based on this logic, it was only right that the women and their daughters, whose menfolk had been taken away, were forced into labor at munitions factories and that entire cities should subsist on water and ground-up tree roots. As the letter stated, war engendered a kind of hell, both on the front lines and back home.

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