Not long after I arrived in Japan, I was introduced to an older gentleman, who shared a keen interests in some European authors and was altogether a pleasure to converse with. That man spoke extremely little English, but was practically fluent in both German and French, while I was, on my end, doing my best to start conveying meaningful sentences through the 15 words of Japanese I had mastered at the time.
I have been in the past ironically referring to “my Japanese lawyer“, and people naturally always assumed I was joking… Well, he is a lawyer. While he should probably have hit retirement a few years ago now, he seems well intent on pleading cases until the very last day. He has, on rare occasions, given me some pro bono advices, repaid in old whiskey and binded european books, which, I suppose, makes him my Japanese lawyer after all.
We once had a conversation about his youth: growing up in Japan during and immediately after the war. The bombing over Tokyo, where his parents lived, got extremely intensive during the last two years. Most of his childhood neighbourhood burnt down before the end of the war. He and his older sister had therefore been sent to some relatives’ house in the country, near a smaller city that had been so far spared from most of the bombings.
At this point in the conversation, which was already rather emotional given how vivid his memories as a 3 year-old in Tokyo were, I was about to let out some comment or other about how lucky they were to have escaped Tokyo and its ceaseless bombings for the peaceful countryside… When he told me what was the name of this coastal town, nearby which his uncle and aunt lived: Hiroshima…
He was five at the time. On this morning, he stayed home with his aunt, while his sister had just left for her school, located nearby the city centre.
When he stopped talking, his voice was a bit shaky, but I was the one with a hard time trying to keep a composure. We hardly said anything else that night, silently finished our drinks and parted a bit earlier than usual. There was absolutely nothing I could say, and nothing he wished to say.
Now, I won’t be getting into the usual questions of whether or not these bombings were really called for, whether they were the only solution, whether they could have been avoided (the second bombing in particular) etc. Many people have already discussed it at length: admittedly, the issue is complex, there was probably no easy solution.
I do question, however, to what extent modern-day Americans realize the massive amount of pain and suffering a single A-Bomb inflicts on an entire civilian population. You have to wonder, when you notice how many US politicians, religious zealots and other lawnchair warmongers have no qualms nowadays calling for use of the atomic bomb on any country standing in the path of the glorious US of A on their way to establish freedom and democracy in the world.
Oh, of course, the average suburban housewife is still scared of the Bomb and may occasionally be convinced to buy one of these 50’s era multi-purpose atomic shelter for her garden. Then again, Americans panic at the thought of practically anything, including the ominous prospect of Osama Bin Laden personally blowing up their local Walmart, in the middle of Buttfucknowhere, Arizona. But this has more to do with psychosis and paranoia, than the sort of rational fear that helps you not get into stupid situations.
There are many possible explanations for the ever increasingly aggressive, ineffective and dangerous foreign policy of the United States over the past fifty years: military might, the will to preserve it, the subconscious perception that it is inexorably slipping away… all work toward making the US a gun-happy country when it comes to international politics.
But while every single of the numerous wars fought abroad has led to more and more negative repercussions for the United States, it has never prevented them from stepping into the next one, all the same, proudly waving flags and chanting western movie one-liners.
Prop that against European nations and Japan, their natural suspicion against leaders that use war as a political argument, a strong aversion to the use of military force in settling diplomatic affairs. Fifty years after WWII, the difference is still glaring between countries who had to live the war on their own soil and those who did not.
I am not, for a second, implying that the US didn’t suffer huge losses during these wars – their cumulated death counts over this whole century is frightening – but coffins do not tell much of the horrors of war. Surviving people do, sometimes. However, one simply has to see where most Vietnam vets have ended up, compared to known draft dodgers, to understand how little weight they have in educating their contemporaries. The emphasis is clearly not on the aftermath.
For an overwhelming majority of Americans, War means the loss of a few family members in a far-away country, a thriving manufacturing business to support the war effort and most importantly: glamorous shots of the victorious surviving ones, marching through liberated cities (or the closest possible approximation)…
On the other hand, the bombings, the killings, the loss of entire families, cities destroyed beyond recovery, ensuing decades of poverty: all these are very abstract notions to the average American citizen. At best, they are cool footage of things blowing up on CNN or Fox News. Rarely ever close-up sights of wrenched out limbs and torn down houses. And even such sight could do little to impart the true feeling of being there.
How to be surprised in these conditions when, on this very year, American politicians can afford to publicly discuss the possibility of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against other countries and not be loudly kicked out of office by their constituents the second they utter such moronic statements.
Oh, and for those who really slept through history classes: today is the 60-year anniversay of the bombing of Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945, first of the two US atomic bombings on Japan that effectively ended the Second World War.
The bomb exploded 500 meters above the city, instantly killing an estimated 80,000 civilians. Radiation poisoning killed 60,000 more people before the end of 1945. According to the city of Hiroshima, as of August 6, 2004, the cumulative death toll of atomic-bomb victims was 237,062. (that’s nearly a quarter of a million deaths from these two bombs, in case you are having a hard time following numbers here).
There are about 270,000 “bomb-affected” people still living in Japan nowadays.