Today I went, once again, to the annual “From Hiroshima with Hope” event at Greenlake. The event takes place on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and this year happens to be the 70th anniversary. Every year, there’s music, speeches, booths of local Buddhist and peace organizations, picnics, families, and mix of Japanese, whites, and half-Japanese like my kids. And as the sun goes down, the event ends with the lighting of lanterns.
I stayed as late as possible, right up until when the first lanterns went into the water, but then Leo had to go to the toilet. With the line up at the porta-potties, and the kids past their bed time, I make an executive decision to return home early.
I went, because it does have relevance to me. I have a desire for peace in this world. I also have sympathy for Japan and how they suffered in the war. And I agree that war is horrible and we must do all we can to avoid conflicts taking place. And I love the sentimentality and gesture of sending wishes away on little floating lanterns.
But in some unfortunate ways, it is very much a political event. And as such, there a couple of things that rubbed me the wrong way, and I hope I can discuss: Yes, civilians were killed. These people did not deserve to die, nor did they deserve to take responsibility for what their government—the military—decided for them, which was to never surrender. But the event was showing images of death without defining the context, the causes of the bombing. The implication being that death was brought upon these people for no explicable reason.
Here is what’s not usually explained. (And not taught to Japanese school children, whose curriculum is determined in part by the right-wing government.)
First a bit of back story: In college, I was traveling Japan. I went to Okinawa for a week as part of my month-long journey. I was with my friend Stanley and we were touring the south end of the island on bicycles. We didn’t have an agenda, just ride as far as possible and get back to Nara before dark. And suddenly we somehow found ourselves visiting these caves in the middle of nowhere.
There I learned the story of how the Okinawans were preparing themselves for mass suicides. The Americans were on the cusp of invading and if they weren’t going to kill themselves, then surely they would die fighting the U.S. army off with bamboo stakes.
And you might believe therefore, if the Japanese people were prepared to throw away their lives like this, then the military certainly weren’t going to give up half as easily. And given the situation at hand during WWII, where even the continuous and unopposed firebombing of Tokyo did not prompt surrender. Where the military promoted and used suicidal tactics like the Kamikaze, and where decisive loss after loss did not prompt surrender, then the U.S. found itself in a difficult situation. What measures would prompt the military dictatorship to act rationally and end this war?
At “From Hiroshima with Hope”, I winced as the key speaker at this event said the nuclear bombing was “genocide” of the people of Japan. This is more than a slight exaggeration. The intentions of the bombing was to end the war as swiftly as possible, both for the sake of the U.S. military personnel and for the Japanese people. And also ending the war was for the sake of those countries under Japanese rule, like Manchuria, and to free those war prisoners being abused and starving to death. (See also: Merry Christmas Mr. Laurence.)
(And another thing I winced at was a fluorescent green sign that said “Cukes not Nukes” and had a picture of a cucumber on it. It was slightly clever but poor taste. I kind of wish the peaceniks would dress up their signs a bit more and try to be a little more formal in their messaging.)
And lastly, it’s sadly true that the U.S. under (Nobel Peace Prize winner) President Obama plans to spend a trillion dollars continuing nuclear proliferation. Obama did have honest intentions to cut down on the number of nuclear weapons. But sadly, the Chinese and Russian governments continue to act hostile. Especially it’s easy to see Putin’s a bit mad. Realistically, nuclear proliferation may only come to an end once those governments, and Israel, India, and Pakistan, end hostilities and pettiness.
It’d be nice if “From Hiroshima with Hope” could concentrate solely on the messages of promoting peace, the result and risks of nuclear weapons, the result of the bombing, rather than entirely frame it as: This was horrible what the U.S. did to innocent people. Or—if there’s no time for a brief history lesson—try not to frame it as victimization of the Japanese people.