Thursday, March 27, 2008

Normalizing Hiroshima

Photo: Helmut
Ron Rosenbaum:
That's what everyone says after visiting Hiroshima, the statesmen and citizens who sign the guest book at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. We will never forget. But maybe we will. The very fact that Hiroshima is thriving with its KFC and Starbucks, with the carefully manicured lawns of its "Peace Memorial Park"—the only evidence that hell was unleashed here—may have the opposite, anodyne effect. This is not John Hersey's Hiroshima, the Hiroshima of the horrific immediate aftermath, but is to a certain extent a Hiroshima that says a nuclear detonation is a transient thing, something that's eminently recoverable from with a little time and some good landscaping.
Now, really. Ron's apparently easily distracted by coffee and fried chicken.

I've lived in Japan on three separate occasions at different stages of my life. I've been to the museum in Hiroshima and the Peace Park - I've seen the nuclear shadows of people obliterated from the world in an instant, leaving only the "shadow" outline of their body on the concrete. I've also been to Nagasaki. I spoke some Japanese then. I wandered the streets, ducked into bars, and neighborhood restaurants, talked to locals. My impression of Hiroshima - and I realize it's only that, a personal impression - was of city that was steeped in its horrific past. It was striking because I had traveled all over the country and had never visited a place like this. I felt a sense of suspicion. I was given disdainful looks. I experienced the one and only time in Japan in which someone tried to rip me off. Now, I don't want to say that Hiroshima has some kind of essence of which these are eternal qualities. This is simply anecdotal experience. It is an experience I encountered nowhere else in Japan. But the bombing of this industrial city continues to have deep effects on its very identity and mood. How could it not? Hiroshima's message regarding the atomic bomb is that we should never forget the horrors of nuclear weapons. This is how the museum is presented. You are confronted unflinchingly with human disaster.

Nagasaki chose a different message. Perhaps this is because Kyushu, the lush western island on which Nagasaki rests, was always open - for 300 years - as a matter of Japanese policy to foreigners and different ideas. The cultural mix is apparent in the architecture, customs, and friendliness of the people. The memorial at Nagasaki preaches love. It says that the unqualified horror of nuclear war is only surmounted through continuing to urge messages of peace and love and openness. Nagasaki as a place tries to forgive. The contrast with Hiroshima, in my experience, couldn't be greater. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the yin and yang of Japanese pacifism.

It's offensive and typically America-centric to say that Starbucks and KFC are somehow distraction enough to change either of these necessary messages.


MT said...

Maybe it's typically America-centric, but there are narcissists in every country, I imagine. Are you sure it's not also typical liberal-American self-flagellation?

Anonymous said...

Hell unleashed? Hmm, yeah really big bomb, all at once. Lot of dead and many who suffered and yet still suffer because Radiation lasts a "real long time"( remember that when you support Nuc-Energy.) Yet, Nowhere near the death toll of innocent life (The ones that didn't start the waring and are not waring) in the slaughter of the innocents lives, yes abortion. Hell? When we kill our own children because maternal instinct is sacrificed for sexual gratification...