PHOTO: Japanese girl praying at the Hiroshima Memorial Museum in Japan. Courtesy of China Daily.
August 6 and August 9, 1945. The Great Death occurred in Japan.
Everyone in the universe is an ancestor of the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima 広島 and Nagasaki 長崎, Japan in August of 1945.
What parts memory and apathy, ignorance and decadence play in our identities as world citizens would inform the level to which we may understand my opening statement. It indicts and also informs new possibilities–to say: we are all ancestors of that horrific period. The problem is that people think of war as an event. War happens at such and such a time and the opponents are good or bad, one or the other. Usually, all sides of the war play themselves out as ‘good.’ Also, many citizens of a region, community, ethnic group, religion, or nation-state, and other such divisions that foment conflict escalations into warfare, may think of themselves as ‘innocent’ in a war. I do not blame any of these sides for their self-labels. This is because the fog into which we are thrust when it comes to memory, and how memory is largely controlled by larger forces, is ignored or made too complex for understanding in the mainstream ways in which we have learned to think. Indeed, I would challenge the fact that most people know how to ‘think’ because we have been taught to do our thinking within a framework that benefits the national dominant, in which we are citizens.
An aunt, whom I never knew, died in Hiroshima in the atomic bomb blast on August 6, 1945. My mother’s older sister had gone from Osaka to Hiroshima that day, to pick up important documents concerning my mother and her father. By 8:20 that morning, she was incinerated and blown through the atmosphere, gone forever.
When my mother and I were moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico by my father–who is an African-American man who met my soon-to-be mother when he served in the US Occupation of Japan on the Occupation police force, my mother was terrified to learn that the Los Alamos laboratory, just two hours away, was where the atomic bomb had been conceived and tested, then shipped to the Enola Gay. I, being too young, did not know why she was upset, at the time.
As an adult, I learned about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old, when I asked very innocently about my mother’s siblings, that I found out about her older sister that was killed. Then my mother proceeded to tell me that she experienced one year of US bombings in Tokyo, then two months of bombings in Osaka. Over the years, I began reflecting on why my mother was the way she was….always awake at night, falling asleep at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, then sleeping until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. She would sometimes be sweating when she woke up, and would have to take a bath. We lived on US Air Force Bases in Japan and in the US. Whenever the noontime sirens would go off, my mother would become tense and she would become fidgety, sometimes cry out with some kind of sound. I, found out, that the sirens bothered her. The US bombings of Osaka were at NIGHT. It all made sense to me then, at that moment I began to actually think about my mother, instead of myself. She had come from a wealthy upper-class Japanese family, but she had spent much of the postwar time in poverty and their family had to have rationed rice and for a short time, she and her friend had survived on the streets eating rat’s legs sometimes.
Over the years, as I began doing public talks of my experiences in Japan in the early 1960s, and speaking about my mothers’ experiences to people; as well as doing research on the World War II Japanese experience, Hiroshima and Nagasaki loomed large and in most cases, most Americans only thought of this as World War II. The other pictures Americans had in their minds were of the Japanese brutalities toward its Asian neighbors in China, the Philippines, Korea, and Southeast Asia. No other images of Japanese/US relations or history, no other images of what was happening in Japan, or in the halls of the US Occupation forces along with their scientific laboratories, military bases, educational institutions, and economic institutions toward ‘re-building’ Japan, were known to anyone. It really was true. People’s prejudices and knowledges are formed by what they have encountered over and over and over. There is no investigation or questioning. Even with the nicest of people and friends, the most thoughtful, there was nothing I could do to surmount the defensiveness and ignorance. In addition, there is aggression in regards to memory, by both the Japanese people by-in-large, and the Americans.
I became further traumatized and disheartened when I began speaking and writing about it in the US, and I would be met with “you should’ve all died in the bomb’ and ‘there weren’t enough atomic bombs dropped on you’ and ‘it’s even payback for Pearl Harbor and Nanking and Seoul.’ I would be the first to condemn the Japanese military and government’s brutalities. I do not make them worse or better than the US. If people would research how the US had treated Japan leading into the war, the knowledge of the US government about Pearl Harbor, the politics of building and using the bomb in relation to the Soviets, and the use of Japanese bodies to secure US imperial ambitions, etc. etc. etc……perhaps the story would be different. Perhaps we can say that everyone needs to change directions and we can create something different.
I have also been aware of the tireless and depressing work that the atomic bomb survivors–the hibakusha 被爆者 have been doing, to enlighten people on the work and what their work means. People have tended to see their work as a plea for pity and compassion. Yes compassion, perhaps, but the knowledge of the leaders on how the US and Japanese governments colluded to keep information hidden, and how the US were callously uninterested in healing Japan or the survivors, but interested in experiments and scientific data, and how the cruelty and force of the US Occupation has been hidden from the public, and other such information has been a key factor in the hibakusha’s work in educating people. The work of ‘never again’ had been abandoned by the hibakusha when they themselves began doing research and through their experiences, realized that this was naive. Would people who conceived the bomb, then dropping it on a people, be uninterested in that country’s welfare unless it benefited them, and be designing bigger and more horrific bombs at the same time, be told ‘why don’t we stop doing it, it’s bad’? The road to peace, is more complex than asking for it. It is too late to have this kind of peace. It is deeper, more insidious, more complex, more frustrating. It would take tremendous social movements to develop to shift our world from national elite mentalities. All of us are within this system. What we know needs to be a question, and what we do not know needs to be known. How to THINK about these things is also another issue and concern. Knowledge alone will suddenly wake people up. Some people know many things. How do they think of these things? Do they secretly want the ‘other’ to go away from the world, but are nice about it, or keeping it to themselves? Do they even care about how to use knowledge except as personal opinion?
The prominence of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombs in the Pacific War imagination, has made people like my mother, become invisible. If one were to look at the pictures of Osaka, where my mother’s family lived, in 1945, you would see a city that is desolate and gone, and similar to the picture of Hiroshima. The US did daily bombings in 66 different cities during this time. Most of the killings were of civilians. The chemical weapons were used. In the case of Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama, for instance, the fire-bombs were used. This was purposefully used in Japan, where many of the houses were made of wood and paper, and the fires would spread quickly as chemicals sprang out from the bombs in all directions, then igniting a spark to create the fire. These were not just explosions. My mother’s history of being bombed over a prolonged period of time, is a trauma that has not been addressed or spoken of. Hiroshima and Nagasaki stories need to be told. But also, the fire-bombing experience is another form of prolonged tension, torture and death. Daily bombings. Daily. Now, as you see in the video below, young Japanese children from Tokyo, are taken on field trips to the Hiroshima Memorial and are fed lies about how the benevolent US helped save and build Japan. Hiroshima, in other words, is USED by the powers and has gained prominence in the imagination because of it, not just because of the horrific actuality of it. The daily bombings of 66 cities and the 60 percent utter destruction and killings are not mentioned at all except by historians more-or-less excited by it while they look at pictures of nice-looking warplanes built by the US (i.e. entertainment).
The hibakusha story was not over at the dropping of the bomb. And it started way before the bomb. As you may know from reading, even the military has conceded, through the display of their own documents, that the dropping of the bomb was strategic and was eager to be used in order to show up the Soviets. The Japanese were already starving and defeated at the time the bomb was dropped. But I cannot tell some people this. They continue to feel that it was just and America did ‘the right thing.’ These people will also allow other bombs and killings by their nation-states, because they believe ‘it is justice.’ So we will NOT have peace in the near future.
As I write this, it is August 5, 2010. I write this with my ancestors in mind. My father, working in a military that treated Black men inferior. He worked as a policeman in the US Occupation, while sometimes, he had to go to the Korean War fields during the US war there–a war which most people do not remember. My father trying to be a good American, while the Japanese public largely knew nothing of what atrocities the Japanese had committed in the neighboring nations. My uncle, my mother’s older brother, was a colonel in Burma (today it is called Myanmar), but had left just before one of the most brutal battlefields of World War II, in Burma, had started. When I had the chance to speak with him about his experience for a short period when I was younger, his stories were horrific. He had conflicts with some of this brutal higher command and had to endure their abuse against him and the more subordinate soldiers. The legacies of oppression continued. Meanwhile, lynchings of Blacks in US Occupation prisons in Japan were happening, and enduring the racism in the military to be a national citizen continued for my father.
Many people still believe the names that are given to institutions as exactly what they say they do. The organization mentioned in the video below: ABCC – The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, has been told to the Americans as one of the more benevolent things the US had been doing to ‘help’ the devastated and uncivilized Japanese to become a nation again. It was a front for the experiments the US needed to do on the victims. In addition, they had to cover up the fact that nuclear reactors and nuclear energy, spread through air and water without detection and caused cancers and related diseases. This had to be hidden from the world population, now that there were nuclear plants around the world. Compassion and kind democracy was and still is, a cover for other things. These things had been planned way before the atomic bomb was conceived of. The World War was an imperial project that began with France, Britain, Australia and the US snubbing Germans, the Soviets and the Japanese, as well as the Southern Europeans. Not just in attitude. Some of these nations were not doing well economically and within their poverty, they resisted the market-capitalist system which made them go deeper into debt and to be controlled by those countries. I do not say that fascism is correct. I am pointing to the reality of pressure, of attitude, of racism, of self-concern, and a callous disregard and disrespect in the intensity that creates enemies. Enemies co-create. If one has more resources at one’s disposal, then perhaps there is a power imbalance already. The fear of losing that power plays a large role in making the attitude that resources must be competed for. So the game of the elites is oftentimes a smokescreen. The masses must be kept ignorant and be told that they are free while resources are amassed and the struggle for supremacy continues or escalates.
The bombings of the Japanese cities by the US Americans, the atrocities and bombings of the Asian countries by the Japanese, the Communist and nationalist struggles going on at the time of the 30s and 40s, the Soviet and US complexities, the need for land in order to move military hardware, the propaganda, etc. — all play into the game of controlling land (which are now nation-states) and water and air. As I look at my life and my parents’ lives, I feel sad, and at the same time I respect their strength and survival. Everything seems to me, contradictory. The World Wars still live in all citizens and through all citizens in the system of institutions and identity. Our systems of governance, the materials and institutions all have come from the re-configuring of worlds into what it is ongoing in every present day moment. Along with the hibakusha and my mother’s memory, I work so that perhaps the world would arrange itself differently so that we can mourn, create justice, and to live more peacefully than we do. At present, everything is a preparation for more wars.
The glee and happiness of some who built the bomb, dropped the bomb, etc. was the victor’s posture. Don’t people feel it strange that a people from a compassionate democratic country would feel happy about killing the amount of people they were told would be killed in the bomb — 30,000 or so? Even if for a ‘good’ cause?’ But how could the killing of civilians be a ‘good’? Because they believed in the racism that was taught to them. The number killed, of course, would be higher that the pilots and bombadier were told. The fear and coming remorse of the pilot crew of the Enola Gay, were assuaged a little, by hearing of the dropping of leaflets on the cities before dropping the A-bomb which were warning the population that a bomb would be dropped. This was supposed to make it easier for the Americans. It was, however, not meant to ‘warn’ the Japanese. In fact, there were two planes that flew over Hiroshima that day. The first was a plane meant to surveil how many people would be outdoors instead of indoors at what exact time, for the maximum benefit of this bomb. They needed as many bodies to experiment on so that further research could be done. The Enola Gay went after this first plane, when it was determined that at exactly 8:15, the bomb must fall. None of this is secret. And the US President’s words to the US public after the bomb? The public was told that Hiroshima was a military target. Most Japanese that I personally have spoken to, who were knowledgeable of Hiroshima, told me that although there were some Japanese soldiers there, most of the military there had the largest concentration of foreign military and their families, as well as Japanese civilians. Hmmm….
The Japanese government did NOT tell their public what was happening. Even as Japan was starving and desolate before the bomb, the public was told that the Japanese were victorious everywhere and nothing was wrong. Although much of the public were unconcerned except about getting food and living lives, this was meant to hide the realities. Even after the bomb, some of the more hardline militaristic Japanese commanders, did not want to surrender. According to most of the reliable documents I know of , the Emperor was not told the complete story. When he visited Hiroshima himself, he realized that he was not being told the truth. They had to surrender. However, three months before the atomic bomb, many of the other Japanese commanders were already planning to surrender and their ruling committee was conflicted. The hardliners wanted a death-wish to come true. They hated themselves and wanted all of Japan to go down.
So, as we are pawns and pieces in elite war games, it should alert us to support more justice and healing-from-trauma movements, and social movements that bring about different ways of thinking and forcing accountability to be prioritized and for us to build different worlds, away from the joys of militaristic victory which requires death and assimilation. We can live as diverse beings that are more self-sufficient, not depending on the war-makers, yet having to contend with their control over us. The elite will not change their ways because we think it is better. They have already proven that ultimately, they do not care, unless it is of benefit to them…….or not.
This has been my own unique way, this year, to give my commemoration of the 65th anniversary of that day of the Great Death, along with my previous posting on Hiroshima:
For further readings on Japan/US and social dynamics during and post World War II, please read John Dower’s works, which I think are collectively excellent: