Monday, August 06, 2012

(toro nagashi on the Motoyasu River, Hiroshima)

Hiroshima Marks 67th Anniversary of A-Bomb Attack

I was in Japan for the first time for the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and never before in my short life had I experienced something so profound. I remember going to a bank in Tokyo with my aunt where there was a large and detailed exhibit of the Hiroshima bombing that consisted primarily of a maze of poster-sized photographs depicting very graphic images of the aftermath. I remember distinctly rounding a corner to see an elderly woman sobbing in front of a photograph depicting radiation burns on a woman's back. I felt like all eyes were on me, a half-Japanese -- but most importantly, half-American -- reminder of the war.

Here I was in Japan for the first time, trying to discover that elusive part of my identity that I could never quite grasp as a child -- an identity that, growing up in a very white and very provincial part of the country, was rife with the scars of prejudice and the consequent shame I felt at being different -- and all I felt was more shame.

But the extraordinary thing was, people were warm and gracious to me. Japanese folks are warm and gracious anyway, especially given the all-important public-face, but my aunt told me that people approached her and told her they were happy to see me there -- not only to pay my respects, but to learn from the mistakes of the past.

My Army veteran father and Japanese mother both maintained that the bombing negated the need for a ground war in Japan, which would have killed and maimed so many more Japanese civilians, as well as soldiers on both sides. They both said that the status of the Emperor as a god and the culture of feudalism and obedience meant that even the most vulnerable of civilians -- the elderly, women, and children -- would have come at gun-wielding ground soldiers armed with daggers, hoes, even merely sharpened sticks.

All I know for sure is that war -- however inevitable -- sucks. Though we humans never seem to learn, I hope we learned something from this.

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