I continue with the Japanese view of the atomic bombings, first with some views from Kenzaburō Ōe and a chapter entitled “The Unsurrendered People.”
Few people today view the world in terms of a dualism of good and evil.
It would be good to believe this; sadly I don’t believe it is so. In order to whip up support for military adventurism and other government depravities, propaganda is often developed along these lines. This does not bode well for reasoned thinking when it comes to the political body; therefore it offers significant opportunity for the government actors to cause whatever amount of mischief they desire.
From the instant the atomic bomb exploded, it became the symbol of all human evil.
It is difficult to disagree with this. The most devastating weapon of indiscriminate killing devised by man was deployed against non-combatants, far from a war zone, against an enemy who had already lost and was suing for peace; by a president that delayed any hope for an early peace in order to deploy the weapon. Human evil doesn’t get much more clearly defined than this.
It is quite abnormal that people in one city should decide to drop an atomic bomb on people on another city. The scientists involved cannot possibly have lacked the ability to imagine the hell that would issue from the explosion.
Unfortunately, this has become all too commonplace. Hell from afar has become the norm, allowing the deliverer of such devastation a sanitary means by which to unleash fury.
But it is abnormal – there is nothing normal about such behavior. Almost all would agree it is abnormal to drop a bomb into the chimney of the house of an unsuspecting neighbor. What changes if the bomb is dropped ten-thousand miles distant?
Writing of a dentist who was involved in the relief efforts immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima, despite having fractures in both hands and burns over half of his body:
He had asked an older doctor why the people of Hiroshima still had to suffer so much even after the war had ended – and, of course, there was no adequate reply to such a question. Thirty minutes after the discussion ended, the young dentists strung a rope from a bolt jutting out from a broken wall and hanged himself.
American POWs Killed by the Bomb
The following is from “Hiroshima Memories,” by Hideko Tamura Snider. Today, Snider lives in the United States, working in the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Chicago. A few blocks away is a monumental bronze sculpture, called Nuclear Energy, marking the spot where Manhattan Project Physicists achieved the first self-sustaining chain reaction in December 1942.
To me, Nuclear Energy terrifyingly resembles a mushroom cloud, and I avoid going near it.
Perhaps that is because I recall a warm sunny day in another city, when I was a child of ten. On that day, August 6 in Hiroshima, the sun and the earth melted together. On that day, many of my relatives and classmates simply disappeared. I would never again see my young cousin Hideyuki, who had been like a brother to me, or Miyoshi, my best friend. And on that day of two suns, my Mama would not come home for lunch.
Twenty-three years after the event, Hideko’s father relayed the following story:
He [the father] had been at his post at the harbor, more than two miles away, and he had been well shielded by a sturdy building when the bomb burst. A few hours afterward, he had encountered a young American prisoner of war wandering in a daze.
This American was surrounded by a crowd of injured civilians, ready to stone him. The father, speaking as an army officer, intervened.
He was not armed and he was obviously not about to harm anyone. They must not become killers themselves.
Later, Papa said, he learned that the bomb had killed forty to fifty American prisoners of war who were located near the epicenter.
Following are excerpts from a dialogue between the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary year of the bombings. I offer the comments, without specific attribution and without further comment.
On war and the use of nuclear weapons:
We need to pledge as a nation never to participate in nuclear war.
…we must continue to assert that nuclear weapons are exceptionally inhumane weapons, and that they are a violation of international law.
If we fully comprehend the damage caused by this special weapon, we will pledge never to wage war a second time.
On the role of the population at large:
In a time of war, there is always some glimmering cause which everyone follows, saying, “of course.”
It is because the banner of “justice” is always raised for people to fight under. Isn’t it?
…public opinion was remarkably unified. Terms like “Holy War,” the “Imperial Army,” and the “Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” were commonly used.
Yes, we were really convinced it was a just war.
Ours is a society that emphasizes harmony.
“Blindly following the crowd.” In practice everyone tends to follow without an opinion of their own.
The Japanese can get carried away by things and the war was one of those times. it would have been good if at some point there had been a strong force saying, “This is wrong.”
Nations create a symbol of popular unity and try to define public consciousness with it.
I declared publicly at the time it was necessary to give my life for my homeland. I accepted the war as logical. I thought I should die for Japan. When I look back on it now, it was a very simplistic way of thinking.
I did not [have any doubts about the war]. I thought it was perfectly natural. My body and soul were girded up and marshaled for war…. However, to trample the soil of another country that did not invite you and call this a love of one’s homeland is quite a mistake…. In Westerns, sometimes, there are scenes where one or two people riding on horses give them a little switch on the back to turn them, and hundreds of cows come running after them. I think we were a great deal like a herd of cows.
On the immoral justifications:
Truman said on August 9, 1945 that he dropped the bomb in order to end the war quickly. He claimed it saved 250,000 to 500,000 lives. It is a figure which has steadily grown: President Reagan said 1,000,000; President Bush said it saved all of several million.
The narrative should not be that 300,000 people died and 1,000,000 were saved. It should be that an atrocity that should never have been committed by human beings occurred and the threat of similar acts continue to this very day. If you say that the act itself was correct, without questioning the effects, then you end up calling a war by any means justifiable.
…it is a fact that they dropped the bombs onto what was already a hopeless situation.
…they did not need to drop any atomic bombs. In my view, the U.S. simply wanted to show the world that they had invented this terrible weapon.
On Japan once considering, and then rejecting due to public protest, the acquisition of nuclear weapons:
People in the face of the extreme, large-scale destruction that occurred recognized that if this weapon were ever used again, it could lead to the eradication of human life.
On the inability of some to come to grips with the threat:
…things outside your own experience are so enormous and terrifying that to try to help or to even think about them would not do any good.