Robert Jensen is one of the cultural workers in the world that I respect tremendously, along with Angana Chatterji, Barry Lopez, Yuri Kochiyama, Judith Butler, Angela Davis, among many others. He speaks to getting to the root of our issues in the contemporary world as far as oppression and social justice, ecological devastation and proliferations of violence, cultural wars, and identity formation in late capitalist patriarchal globalization.
I will post more of his works on topics such as racism, sexism and heterosexism, masculinity, and others later. What I respect in this regard is his accountability to these topics and to what I believe is a core of the issue: the unequal distribution of power/wealth and the ‘isms’ such as racism and others as tactics of certain kinds of uses of power and violence. His works are anti-oppression, centering on a national US and global imperialism centered on national, patriarchal and white-supremacist ideological formations which intensify greed and dominance as forms of governance. Through this, our cultures are formed. There is no fancy idealism in his views. I also enjoy this fact. He presents activism as not anything special but an everyday life of struggle, without romanticizing. I love this approach.
In the videos I present here, he is at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, in a discussion with attendees on the screening of the film entitled ‘Countdown to Zero.’ This movie is supposed to be released soon and is based with many accurate facts, from my own research, but along with Robert Jensen himself, I have critiques about. The most glaring one is perhaps the most obvious, as you may have gathered from my postings throughout my blog. It is the fact that the movie is a propaganda tool used to incite fear of the rogue states that the US government has ‘othered’ through its racist rhetoric, without giving historical facts along with an analysis of the power relations that inform the historical development of the present predicament.
Since the US has achieved almost total control of the world through its nuclear power, just by sheer numbers, through lies regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (that they were militarily necessary instead of the fact that over a million civilian Japanese were killed in the Second World War as a strategy against the Soviet Union, as one example); and that other countries must now want to not be controlled by the US by not having its own strong weapons as defense. Constant subjugation through economic pressures, food and medical aid manipulation and stipulations, debt-making, not to mention the assassination of democratically elected leaders in many countries, would lead to countries needing nuclear power in order to equalize. The movie presents these acts of survival as crazy and presents the US as the sole savior and rational peacemaker in the race for nuclear weaponry.
As Robert Jensen also states in the video, I do not want some of the leaders and groups to have weapons, but also the way we pursue nuclear non-proliferation must also be just and based on different accountabilities than the ones now pursued by the US. The US continues to flaunt its domination and this will fail for all of us. The US will not give up its monopoly of violence (i.e. nuclear weapons) so that is not something I wish to waste time on at this moment. But accountable, ethical non-proliferation actions which include actions that assure non-subjugation of other nations is a start.
Robert Jensen site: http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html
These videos are each about 10 minutes or so, with the total being 30 minutes or so.
Hiroshima is remembered, and perhaps will always remain a reminder of the Atomic bomb dropped. No one speaks of Nagasaki, where a second bomb was dropped in 1945. As horrific as these actions and effects were and are today, we do not think of the daily bombings of civilians all over some of the major cities of Japan during WW II. I’ve talked with so many people who think that Hiroshima was the only thing done to the Japanese and that was a victory for the allies. This is all that is in the imagination. When people speak of victims, it is the atomic bomb survivors that they may refer to for stories and memory.
My mother’s older sister died in Hiroshima that day on August 6, 1945. My mother herself experienced the horrific, searing, blood-letting by the US firebombs dropped on Osaka everyday for two years. She and her family endured these. The aftermath of the bombings, made Japan a vast cesspool of destruction, horrific sights of humans and animals, stenches unbelievable to comprehend for most people, and the resulting effects that never go away. After long periods of time, as people forget, people such as my mother, do not. Even as she forgets details brought to her through the eyes and ears and nose, her night shivers and insomnia and moments of freezing upon hearing a siren, attest to the body-memory of war. And it is not only the war caused by those bombs.
My mother, was one of the youngest medical students in Japan to enter a prestigious medical school. She remembers that the Western doctors would humiliate the Japanese doctors in front of the students and replace Japanese ways of healing and medicine, with the Western. This was part and parcel of the ‘re-education’ – the civilizing of the Oriental.
Most people think that the westernization of Japan began then. This isn’t so. If you read my earlier piece on tempura, you will understand that westerners have been in Japan for centuries, building coalitions of those who believed in the western way of doing things; struggling with those who opposed in one way or another. The Dutch were in Japan for perhaps the longest time as far as foreigners are concerned. They taught the math and sciences to a select group of Japanese. This helped this select group in the Japanese civil wars over centuries, where the small island experienced multitudes of massacres, take-overs and subterfuge to unify the diverse people on the islands into a nation. Today, people think that there is a natural Japanese or Chinese or American, and that they are born this way. The forgetting continues.
I am pointing here, to a series of violent take-overs of the mind through political and militaristic endeavors which create culture and cultures. A national culture is created through centuries, in the case of Japan. The strategies of western nations in their civilizing, colonial exploitation and violence over vast areas of the planet, is not even thought of now. We are the living result.
I am the son of a Japanese woman and an African-American US serviceman. My mother is a Japanese national. However, her mother was mixed race. My mother was born in Soochow, then moving to Manchuria when the Japanese began their imperial conquest of China through the making of Manchuria. This is often considered completely evil by Westerners, but the bombing of Tokyo Bay by Commodore Perry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_Matthew_Perry is not looked upon with horror by most people. It was a part of manifest destiny. And to take this further, what are the psycho-cultural effects on a people when going through this? Although it seems as if they willingly complied….. well, of course! The so-called ‘democracy’ of the western nations is very easy with a gun. In the case of colonialism, sometimes they were cannons and bombs.
My father is African-American man who joined the Air Force to help his family survive. They had experienced bitter racism in the US and him and his brothers had been raised in separate families separated by several states and their family was fragmented by poverty, US laws, discrimination, and the disappearance of the father when he was very young. This forced his mother to work several jobs. He joined the military to empower himself as a man. In the US during the 50s, there was very little room for a Black man to be empowered. The racist attitudes were not sequestered in the southern US. The racism in the other parts of the US (my father’s side of the family moving to Detroit from Nashville for more opportunities for work) were done in different forms. His joining the military offered travel, the G.I. bill, and a way to help his mother and brothers.
My parents’ relationship was contentious throughout, even as they showed many moments of affection and friendship. They divorced in the 80s. My mother’s experiences as a Japanese woman are only memory. Her siblings are gone. She often questions the meaning of the war and the US Occupation. She is both happy and enraged about the Occupation. She felt that the Japanese military needed to be stopped and the hardline policies of the schools and the poverty needed to change and perhaps the Americans could change this. She also felt that many of the American soldiers she met were too arrogant and condescending. She questions the meaning of her life, complete with the night shivers, insomnia, occasional flurries of outburst and hostility, then bursts of charm and grace. She is a wise woman, tangled in our history. I, born in Japan as a mixed-race black child in Japan, experienced harsh and near-death experiences due to racism in Japan and in the US, where our family moved in 1962.
The Atomic bombings of Japan created craters inside of people’s memory and lives. The survivors are virtually ignored and their more extreme views are kept hushed. If they were to say certain things, there would be consequences. Their appeals for peace are now tamed. My mother’s rage and loneliness, is not from her inner psychology. Neither are anyone else’s who have experienced war. And who has experienced war in the world? Mostly all of our grandparents at least. Even if we were not being bombed, perhaps we were at the factories doing our share of helping our soldiers. Or following our presidents and ministers and emperors to slim down on our consumption and save. This is also a part of being in war.
There are scars for the victor in a different way. As these are not looked at carefully, and while societies carry on; doing the business of living by rules that are outmoded or unconcerned, the scars are invisible. Soon, they are not scars anymore. They are further privileges and pride for victorious national citizens. This allows for further wealth and further ignoring of what had been done to them and others. The others – the heathens, the unwanted. Pearl Harbor’s revenge, in the case of the Japanese. But if one were to read and investigate how World War II developed, over a long period of time, you will find that nothing is as you were taught. The textbooks are filled with propaganda, on all sides of all oceans and mountains. But it is a deep and wide issue in normal life today.
The Occupation of Japan that started in 1945, was supposedly ended in 1947. Most of the US air bases stayed in Japan until the 1980s and 90s. The constitution of Japan was written by the allied powers, especially the United States. With an increasing strategy of using Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines as a buffer to the rising Communist states, the allies needed Japan to be occupied. It couldn’t fully control. It had to assimilate as well as accommodate aspects of the Japanese society. It was easier through the strict controls, censorship and dictates of the US military. When I was a boy in 1959, 1960 to when we left to America in 1962, American military jeeps, tanks, and weaponry drove freely around Japan. The military bases were off-limits to the locals without permission. There were places the Japanese could not go (in their own land – or was it ‘their own land?’). Whose land was it? There was no ‘Japanese.’ There were divisions divided by loyalty and position in Japan. Those who wanted to wrestle power away from the traditional, so that they could ally with Americans, British, Australian and the French, were able to rise further to the top of Japanese industrialization. Japan today, is a neo-colonized state with openings for difference. Much like the US state, it is now hybrid in time and values, cultural modes. But traditional Japanese life has become a museum and the young Japanese increasingly wanted American things that are Japan-ized.
I encounter people – young people who did not experience World War II, who tell me that more atomic bombs should’ve been dropped in Japan. I have received emails responding to other posts elsewhere, telling me to die. Even as I speak for peace for all of us, it doesn’t seem to be what people want. Or put another way, ‘peace‘ for some people is such a connection to trauma and pain passed on to them from their relations and their own histories, it intensifies the pain and is mixed with the idea of retribution and revenge as a natural outcome of such pain. This legacy will be hard to cut, unless we begin to look at the way we structure our education, our learning, our systems of life. Healing, mourning, and thinking ability need to be included. If one thinks it is impossible, it is because we wait for others to do it. We ourselves need to position ourselves as makers of new societies. We have gotten here through centuries. Changes take place in an instant or over the course of decades. Change is happening all the time. First we must look at our priorities as persons and as citizens.
We are national citizens. Citizens of nations that increasingly only want peace for the people that rule and to maintain that system. Many of us do not see our own obedience in this picture. Railing against it will get us killed. Thinking of creative ways other than the known, is a start, I think. At any moment now, we may be on the margins.
Photo of a joyful and hopeful Colonel Paul Tibbits, Jr. – junior pilot of the B-29 named “Enola Gay” that would drop the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6, 1945. Courtesy of historicalresources.org
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:
Nâzım Hikmet (January 15, 1902 – June 3, 1963) was born in Salonica of the Ottoman Empire, which is now Thessaloniki, Greece. He is considered Turkey’s greatest and most well-known literary figure and poet by the western world. His writings were banned in Turkey during his lifetime. He spent many years in prisons for his anti-imperialist/capitalist stance and his leanings to Marxist ideas in order to fight against imperial capitalism.
On November 22, 1950 he was among the recipients of the International Peace Prize along with Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, Wanda Jacubowska, and Pablo Neruda. Later during that period, the intensification of persecution against him pushed his need to escape, which he did to Rumania, then later to the USSR. He published from Russia and did not hide his literary work and views against the intensifying Turkish monopoly on the population’s thinking. The Turkish state continued to persecute him in every way they could until his death by heart attack in Moscow in 1963. Despite the Turkish state’s animosity against him, most of the Turkish population were in love with him. The ban on his books was lifted in 1964, a year after his death. His books were purchased in record numbers. Those that weren’t in line with his popularity were the people who mirrored the state’s views of what Turkey and the human being ‘should’ be. During the 60s, all over the world, there was a revolution, mostly led by educated students. In Turkey as well, there were violent clashes and many deaths by various anti-capitalist groups, right-wing and left-wing groups, and Marxist and socialist groups. In 1959, the Turkish state revoked his Turkish citizenship. Hikmet still had his Polish citizenship, however. The Turkish state ‘restored’ his citizenship in 2009.
Most of his writings concerned the wish and struggle for peace, and the condemnation of states that killed for the state. When Turkey participated in the Korean War, Hikmet opposed this stance. After John Foster Dulles’ (the, the US Secretary of State) Senate address, where John Dulles announces the Turkish soldier’s renumeration for their military service with the US soldiers at 23cents, while the lowest paid valued US soldier’s was $70, he wrote the poem: “23 Sentlik Askere Dair” translated as ‘Regarding the Soldier worth 23 cents.”
Hikmet’s dramatic works written in the 1930s and 1940s includes The House of the Deceased (1932), which focuses on the greed and hypocrisy of a middle-class family.
When his friend Kemal Tahir, also a leading literary figure and poet in Turkey was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his views against the Turkish state’s policies, he wrote a poem:
Letters to Kemal Tahir from Prison
- This world will grow cold,
- a star among stars,
- one of the smallest,
- this great world of ours
- a gilded mote on blue velvet.
- This world will grow cold one day,
- not like a ball of ice,
- or even a lifeless cloud –
- but like an empty walnut it will roll around and around
- in pitch dark space for ever.
- You must grieve for it right now,
- and endure the sadness,
- for you must love the world this much
- if you are to say,
- ‘I have lived’.
February 1948 (Beyond the Walls: Selected Poems by Nazım Hikmet, Richard McKane, and Ruth Christie)
Another most beloved poem of his shows what he desired of life
(English translation follows Turkish version):
Dörtnala gelip Uzak Asya’dan
Akdenize bir kısrak başı gibi uzanan
Bu memleket bizim!
Bilekler kan içinde, dişler kenetli
Ve ipek bir halıya benzeyen toprak
Bu cehennem, bu cennet bizim!
Kapansın el kapıları bir daha açılmasın
yok edin insanın insana kulluğunu
Bu davet bizim!
Yaşamak bir ağaç gibi tek ve hür
Ve bir orman gibi kardeşçesine
Bu hasret bizim!
Galloping from Far Asia and jutting out
into the Mediterranean like a mare’s head
this country is ours.
Wrists in blood, teeth clenched, feet bare
and this soil spreading like a silk carpet,
this hell, this paradise is ours.
Shut the gates of plutocracy, don’t let them open again,
annihilate man’s servitude to man,
this invitation is ours..
To live like a tree single and at liberty
and brotherly like the trees of a forest,
this yearning is ours!
Trans. by Fuat Engin
His works have been translated into over fifty(50) languages and enjoy immense relevance today.
One of his poems, Hiroshima Child, is a very powerful plea. In 2005, famous Japanese singer Chitose Hajime, collaborating with the internationally reknown musician/ethnomusicologist Ryuichi Sakamoto, recorded the Japanese version of this poem set to music, on the grounds of the Hiroshima memorial.
When I first heard/saw this piece I cried openly. An aunt I never knew disintegrated into the ground or the walls in that burning Atomic blast in August of 1945, and my mother was further left alone when she lost that older sister then. It is also the story of the victor, the United States government. Can any government listen?
Kapıları çalan benim
kapıları birer birer.
göze görünmez ölüler.
oluyor bir on yıl kadar.
Yedi yaşında bir kızım,
büyümez ölü çocuklar.
Saçlarım tutuştu önce,
gözlerim yandı kavruldu.
Bir avuç kül oluverdim,
külüm havaya savruldu.
Benim sizden kendim için
hiçbir şey istediğim yok.
Şeker bile yiyemez ki
kâat gibi yanan çocuk.
teyze, amca, bir imza ver.
şeker de yiyebilsinler
I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead
I’m only seven though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I’m seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow
My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind
I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead
All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play
Overview at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nâzım_Hikmet
死んだ女の子 – 元ちとせ/坂本龍一
Dead Girl by Chitose Hajime and Ryuichi Sakamoto