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