JIN-379 -- Hiroshima and Yankee Guilt

The J@pan Inc. Newsletter
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 379
Wednesday August 9, 2006 TOKYO
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@@ VIEWPOINT: Hiroshima and Yankee Guilt

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Hiroshima and Yankee Guilt

This past Sunday marked the 61st anniversary of the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima. The run-up to the annual memorial
service in Peace Park in Hiroshima includes TV and radio
specials, newspaper and magazine features, exhibitions, and
visits by dignitaries from abroad. This midsummer peace
movement is of a scale and regularity to have invited
criticism as a "peace business." The climax is a
memorial service in Peace Park on the morning of the
anniversary of the bombing.

This year I tuned out the telecast of the service on
account of my discomfort tuning in to it the year before.

I happened to be home on Saturday, August 6, 2005, the
day on which 60 years earlier the Enola Gay dropped an
atomic bomb on Hiroshima. While eating breakfast, I
watched the live broadcast of the memorial service in
Hiroshima's Peace Park. My grade-school-age son and
his grandmother were likewise watching the memorial
service. The telecast included a segment explaining the
stories behind the charred children's clothing in the
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. An old woman who had
evacuated to the countryside as the situation in cities
grew severe remarked, "Nothing is as sad as war."

I fidgeted in my seat as I watched. I had
mixed emotions. I recalled reading in my middle school
history textbook, a standard book widely used in
American schools, that the atomic bomb saved lives by
accelerating Japan's surrender. The explanation for
Hiroshima and Nagasaki was short, perhaps no longer than
two paragraphs. It encompassed the extent of my generation's
knowledge of the atomic bombings.

As an American, do I bear responsibility for the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima? As someone born after the war, I
probably should not feel responsible for a wartime event.
Yet as an American, I'm not proud of the bombing. If I'm
not proud, am I ashamed? If the history textbook was
correct--the A-bomb was a life saver--then I should not be
ashamed of my country's action. Yet I can't escape the
feeling that the textbook explanation is no more than a
justification to assuage a subliminal sense of guilt.

In Japan, Hiroshima is a topic I avoid like the plague. If a
Japanese brings up the subject, I'm polite and apologetic;
far from a knee-jerk no-more-Pearl-Harbor declaration. I
remember returning with a photographer from
Hida-Takayama, Gifu, to Tokyo several years ago. He is a
garrulous soul, and somewhat of a polymath. Our
conversation ranged widely during the five-hour ride.
Hiroshima came up. I reiterated the textbook explanation.
He bridled and said, "No nation has the right to do such a
thing to another!"

At 8:15, the moment the bomb exploded over Hiroshima,
the Peace Bell sobbed its mournful peal of mourning for the
dead. I was suddenly gripped by the fear that my son, who
has two homelands, would ask how the one could do such a
thing to the other. I glanced in his direction. To my
relief, he had wearied of the memorial service and was
absorbed in a comic book.

Someday he'll ask why, and I'll have to plumb my soul
for an answer.

-- Burritt Sabin

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