14 years ago, my wife and I went to Hiroshima by high-speed ferry boat, on our way back from visiting her parents in Kyushu. Her father’s family comes from Hiroshima (although her father was actually born in Dairen/Dalian (大連), China) and her uncle and his family still live about an hour’s drive north of the city.
It was my first time to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We arrived about a week after the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony and Peace Message Lantern Floating Ceremony, but the museum was a very sharp reminder of the horror that my country visited upon Japan.
August 6th, 8:15 a.m. Hiroshima.
August 9th, 11:02 a.m. Nagasaki.
Hundreds of thousands were killed on those two days. Thousands more radiated for life. Most of the victims were women and children. Some died in school, right in front of their classmates’ eyes. Others were vaporized on the steps of public buildings, leaving behind only shadows on the concrete. Many fled to the river to douse themselves, only to drown in blind panic because their eyes had popped out of their sockets or melted.
Thousands are still alive today, known as hibakusha (被爆者, “atomic victim” but usually translated as “atomic bomb survivor”). They include Japanese citizens but also former US Army POW interned in camps near Hiroshima. As many as 3,000 Japanese-Americans were also victims. They have suffered and continue to suffer the effects of those two terrible moments in time. Those two decisions to bomb civilians, acts that were and still are blatant war crimes for which the US has never apologized.
And the media is silent. Pre-occupied with a nasty cold virus that has sent us all the way back to 1919.
My grandfather believed that, had these two cities not been bombed, he would have been killed. You see, he was on a boat traveling with his engineering combat group from Italy to the Philippines, where he would have joined the invading Allied forces that had taken Okinawa.
Initially, he and his fellow engineers were relieved that they wouldn’t have to fight any more. Eventually he wound up spending more than two months gambling, playing cards, and bar-hopping in Manila (contracting malaria in the meantime) before his honorable discharge that December. When he later found out the true nature of the bombings, he felt horrified. And guilty beyond belief.
But he always believed the bombs ended the war.
The debate rages on even today. But I wonder if we, as human beings, have really learned much from these terrifying experiences. They seem like just footnotes in a history textbook. Just a short clip on YouTube. A misquoted meme on Twitter.
Have we improved since thousands had their lives snuffed out instantly? Have we truly increased our knowledge? Developed emotionally, socially? Grown as a race?
Or have we really learned so little in 75 years?
We continue to elect rich, self-centered narcissists who don’t give a damn about the poor who can’t afford to pay for online education for their kids because the three jobs they had all got shut down. Or the health care workers putting their lives on the line every day. Or the people they send to fight wars in random countries so their friends on Wall Street can continue to increase their obscenely large offshore bank accounts.
How many wars have there been since 1945? How many more have died due to lack of basic necessities like food, water, and medicine? How many from disease? From a changing environment caused by those in richer countries?
How much longer do we have to see the world in terms of “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “bad,” “us” and “them”?
Anybody can make a paper crane.
My Japanese-American daughters (or are they “American-Japanese”?) make them all the time.
It’s a start.