The Hiroshima Lie

It’s amazing the lies humans come up with.

Last week I came across one of the most fascinating stories I had ever heard. Mamoru Samuragochi, the son of a survivor of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II, lost his hearing at 35 years of age. But this great loss could not keep Mr. Samuragochi away from the love of his life, music. Defying all odds, he went on to become a celebrated music composer. His compositions were often compared to those of Beethoven, whose hearing had also deteriorated throughout his life. Samuragochi’s greatest symphony, “Hiroshima,” inspired by the bombing his father survived, sold around 200,000 copies and won several awards. He was considered a Japanese national treasure. His musical works have been included in video games and even the Sochi Winter Olympics.

It’s all an amazing, inspiring story. Except for the fact that Mamoru Samuragochi isn’t actually a composer. He’s not even deaf.

He made the whole thing up. 

Why do we lie? What’s so wrong with the truth?

It does make some sense when someone lies to protect themselves (not that it makes it any less of a lie). We see that the truth will get us in more trouble than we would like, so we lie. 

The first lie I can remember saying was when I was explicitly told not to bring my new toy over to my friend’s house. I tried to sneak the toy out in my shirt. When trying to leave, my parents asked me why I was holding my belly—even though they could see the toy bulging underneath my t-shirt. Not wanting to get caught, I told them it was because I wasn’t feeling good. They didn’t buy it.

At least my lie was better than Aaron’s when Moses asked how the golden calf got there. “The people gave me all their gold and jewels and I threw them in the fire and out popped this mass of gold that happens to look an awful lot like a baby cow.”

Right, Aaron.

While it makes sense to lie in order to protect yourself, what doesn’t make any logical sense, at all, is why we lie when we have no reason to. Stretching a story just a little bit. Shifting a few details around. Creating whole facts about ourselves. Appropriating someone else’s story for our own. 

Often times we do such things, not to protect ourselves from harm, but just to make ourselves look better. We weren’t pinned in a corner, we just wanted to paint ourselves up a bit. 

When we lie in this way, we’re saying, this is the version of me I would rather people see. We aren’t satisfied or happy with how we really are, and so we create a persona, we construct a facade, we pad our resume. Hopefully, people won’t see right through it and see us for who we really are.

The truth? We can’t handle the truth. It’s not good enough. 

Mr. Samuragochi put a lot of work into crafting his lie.

He hired a ghostwriter to compose his songs, an part-time lecturer at a Tokyo music college, Takashi Niigaki. Niigaki was the key to Samuragochi’s success, but also his downfall. The ghostwriter turned out to be the one who first broke the news that Samuragochi was not an actual composer and was not actually deaf. Niigaki told reporters that he was paid a modest sum of money to compose the music, but was also told be Samuragochi that if he didn’t continue to write, Samuragochi would commit suicide. Niigaki said that he and Samuragochi had normal conversations over the phone, and would even listen to music together.

Samuragochi defended the motives of his deception, claiming that his childhood love for music fueled this desire to be the next Beethoven. Although Niigaki wrote the music, Samuragochi claimed to be the driving force behind the themes and musical architecture. As long as the seed of the music was rooted in his heart, that made his lie okay, right? 

We often make excuses for our lies. We justify them to ourselves. It’s ok for me to stretch the truth because it’s founded in the truth. We even give these stories innocent titles like “fibs” and “white lies.” 

What we’re actually doing is just lying to ourselves so we can lie to others. Whenever a pang of guilt enters our minds, we shove it out with our carefully crafted and well-nuanced justifications. I thought of the themes and so it’s just like I wrote the music myself. 

We can do this for so long that we begin to believe the lies too. 

Why do we lie? Fear.

What’s so wrong with the truth? It’s out of our control.

The truth is out of our control, and more than we could ever know. Whether we try to run from it or try to dress it up, the truth will find us. Samuragochi knew that. He told reporters, “I thought the truth would come out some day. It all grew beyond my control, and filled me with terror.”

But the thing is, we should never be afraid of the truth, even after we’ve lied. The truth is not a curse. The truth is liberating. It’s liberating because it means that we no longer have to be the masters of ourselves, burdened with the task of crafting stories to create a better us. The truth means that we no longer have to be in control, and that’s a good thing. When we allow the truth to rule our lives, we allow God to rule. 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)