Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Political Firestorm Over Incineration Of Inhabitants of Hiroshima And Nagasaki

Political Firestorm Over Incineration Of Inhabitants of Hiroshima And Nagasaki

In case you haven't noticed, here in Japan the Minister of Defense, Fumio Kyuma, has opened his mouth really, really wide and has gone and stuck both feet in it, saying, in effect, that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was okay by him. And the unpleasant wet stuff has well and truly hit the fan.

He didn't go so far as to say, "Wow, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, those were two real fun barbecues, I wish I'd been there to have my share of hamburgers."

But what he said was bad enough.

He said this:

"I understand that the bombing ended the war, and I think that it couldn't be helped."

The response of the mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Naue, was to label the atomic bombing of the two cities as the "indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens."

Meantime, this comment from Seitaro Kuroda, currently in New York and busy with an anti-war show.

He says he could not believe that "a Japanese politician would legitimize the atomic bombing."

In the Minister of Defense's comments he senses "an aim to weaken the public's anti-nuclear sentiment." And he goes on to say that "I would protest any move that would make it easier to start war."

Documentation on the above is from the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE and THE ASAHI SHIMBUN of Tuesday July 3 2007.

In response, I thought this would be a good time to blog my poem about the destruction of civilian cities in World War Two, LUMBERJACKED CITIES, but, when I checked, I found I'd already posted it.

This poem is one of the 141 poems in GENGHIS LOTUS POETRY COLLECTION, the revised cover for which is at the top of this blog entry. Apart from LUMBERJACKED CITIES, there is a poem about Hiroshima, a poem about Nagasaki, and a long Cold War poem called I REEMEMBER ... nuclear war is a theme which has long occupied my imagination.

My own take on humanity's first nuclear war is this:

First, if you set your mind to it, then you can justify anything, including atomic war. But my own opinion is that engineering such justifications into existence is not a useful way to employ the human intellect.

Second, the entire debate about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has to be seen again the background of one key fact: the great powers which were allied against the Japanese state had set themselves the goal of achieving the absolute surrender of their enemies.

By this move, they deliberately precluded the possibility of some kind of negotiated settlement.

Last month, in the month of June, I taught a series of lessons at Waniguchi Gakko, the English conversation school near Waniguchi Station, in which we shared our parents' memories. I did this because I was running out of material and had a bunch of students with whom I'd already exhausted the topic of "my childhood memories."

So I thought our parents' memories would open up new ground, as indeed it did.

I kicked off with a couple of items from dinner time conversation in my parents' house. For example, when my father was sixteen or thereabouts, growing up in rural Somerset during the Second World War, he would sometimes go out on his bicycle to cycle around the countryside looking at bombs which had been dropped by German bombers.

His family home was en route to the city of Bristol, a major seaport and a legitimate strategic target, and sometimes German bombers which had failed to reach their target would unload their bombs at random over the unlit English countryside as they headed for war.

In opening up this subject I was not deliberately probing for war memories, but that what I got. Not always memories from the previous generation. Some of my students had personal memories of seeing the flames of Tokyo on the far horizon after the city was firebombed by the Americans.

And one surface memories of Hiroshima.

Her father died at Hiroshima, dying a classic Japanese death of what is known in Japan as "karoshi," death from overwork. He was a shipbuilding engineer working in the Hiroshima shipyards, and was felled by the sheer strain imposed by his part of the war effort.

Another member of her parents' generation was at Hiroshima when the bomb fell. He survived the blast so decided to walk to his hometown. There was no transport so he made the journey on foot, and it took two weeks.

My student asked me if I had any idea what condition someone would be in after having been hit by the blast of an atomic bomb, and I responded that, yes, I thought I had a reasonable idea.

The man who left Hiroshima on foot finally made it to his home town, looking more like someone dead than someone alive. He died the next day.

This story of the bombing of Hiroshima came home to me because it had a personal connection to someone I knew; because it came at me unexpectedly, without preamble; and because it gave me a new way of imaginatively reconstruction one fragmentary corner of the Hiroshima mosaic.

This is why there is such an enormous political firestorm in Japan: because many of those who survived the atomic bombings are still alive. And many of the younger generation grew up, as I did, with the stories of their parents' wars being told and retold at the dinner table.

One of my theories of Japanese culture is that the concept of "talk fast" does not exist in Japan. In the West, we have the idea that you can talk your way out of trouble, but my concept of Japanese culture is that this concept does not apply in Japan. What I believe, rightly or wrongly, is that Japanese people think that, once you're in trouble, talking your way out of it is not an option. It's better to clam up and say nothing.

So, watching Fumio Kyuma on Japanese TV today, Tuesday 3 July, I was surprised to say that he had no end of words to say, and I got the impression that maybe he did think he could talk his way out of this one.

But I don't think he will be able to.

This is a firestorm, I believe, that will burn and burn, growing as it burns, and we are now just at the start, not at the finish.

At 1611, Japan time, I went to Google News to get the latest, and saw that Kyuma had resigned.

Here's what he said at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Saturday and then retracted on Sunday:

"""I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy." ""

Although he's resigned, I think this may well prove to be yet one more nail in the career of Mr Abe, Japan's current prime minister. From where I'm standing, that career is looking increasingly like a coffin.


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8:29 PM  

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