Posts Tagged ‘Hiroshima’

I was thrilled by a pair of events addressing the historic Japan-United States enmity of the 1940s.

In May 2016, then-President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima, the first American commander-in-chief to do so since the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city over 70 years earlier.

While criticized by those on the left and the right, I thought it was an important gesture. “As he promised, the president did not apologize for the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which killed an estimated 215,000 people. He laid a wreath at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and embraced a 91-year-old survivor of the nuclear attack.”

During his 20-minute remarks, “Obama said, ‘Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible forces unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead … their souls speak to us and ask us to look inward. To take stock of who we are and what we might become.’

“In the Hiroshima museum’s guest book before his speech, the President wrote that he hoped the world will ‘find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.’‎” Most of the elderly survivors, I imagine, did not foresee an American President in their midst, in that place.

Then, in December 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his condolences for his country’s attack on Pearl Harbor. “‘We must never repeat the horrors of war again, this is the solemn vow the people of Japan have taken,” he said. The Prime Minister was accompanied by President Obama, making the visit the first by the leaders of both countries.

“Mr. Abe paid tribute to the [2,400] men who lost their lives in 1941 at the naval base, many of whom remain entombed in the wreckage of the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese that day, and vowed reconciliation and peace.

How did this come about?

“Just as was the case when Obama visited Hiroshima earlier in the year—as the first sitting U.S. President to go to the site of the atomic bombing—the visit by Abe comes after many years of debate in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere about how the two nations should come to terms with the legacy of World War II.”

Mr. Abe never actually apologized, but as one elderly Pearl Harbor survivor noted, the Prime Minister’s presence was even more important.

HiroshimaRuinsLargeMy sixth grade teacher, Paul Peca, who died four years ago, believed that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, was necessary in order to end World War II in the Pacific.

He said, and the conventional wisdom supported the claim, that the kamikaze fighters were doing severe damage to the Allied troops and that the war needed to end quickly.

Regardless, I was never convinced that the United States should be the first country to drop the bomb. The sheer devastation, not just immediately but in the aftermath, troubled me.

On this issue, I was affected greatly by two pieces from the arts. One was the 1983 documentary Atomic Cafe. “Disturbing collection of 1940s and 1950s United States government issued propaganda films designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety.” It reviewed quite well.
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The best teacher I ever had was Paul Peca, my sixth grade teacher. He encouraged us to think, create, debate about things in the world. He was a staunch Republican, yet encouraged a mock election in class in which Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater for President, 13-3.

One of the issues we debated was whether the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and the Nagasaki bombing a couple days later were justified. Mr. Peca said yes; it shortened the war. Most of us said no; it was brutalizing, with health effects far beyond the immediate event.

I haven’t really changed my position, and I suspect neither has Mr. Peca, who we loved so much that some of us walked 12 miles roundtrip one day to visit him the next year.
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