J is for Japan, the US and World War II

The visit by Abe to Pearl Harbor 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

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.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Dwight Eisenhower (1963): “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly, our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”

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.

You can watch Atomic Cafe at Snagfilms.com or Vimeo or Documentary Storm, or elsewhere. It also had a nifty soundtrack, which I have on vinyl, and you should seek out these songs.

The other item was Hadashi no Gen, or Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa, which “recounts the bombing of Hiroshima from the perspective of a young boy, Gen, and his family. But the book’s themes (the physical and psychological damage ordinary people suffer from war’s realities) ring chillingly true today.”

“Leonard Rifas’ EduComics (together with World Color Press) published it [in 1976] as Gen of Hiroshima, the ‘first full-length translation of a manga from Japanese into English to be published in the West.’ It was unpopular, however, and the series was canceled after two volumes.” I have those two issues.

There was a 1983 film, which I have not seen; it is here, in Japanese.

Much more recently, I read The Real Reason America Dropped The Atomic Bomb. It Was Not To End The War.

Some salient sections:

Here’s what General/President Dwight Eisenhower had to say about it in his 1963 memoir, The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (pp. 312-313):

“Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly, our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.”

and

Here is a quote from Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, Ellis Zacharias:

“Just when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it had ever seen and, in effect, gave the go-ahead to Russia to swarm over Eastern Asia. Washington decided that Japan had been given its chance and now it was time to use the A-bomb. I submit that it was the wrong decision. It was wrong on strategic grounds. And it was wrong on humanitarian grounds.”

There’s a lot more well-documented information there. Here’s hoping, “Never again.”

Y is Year 2015

Likewise, this will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945.

2015.blocksOf course, no one knows what will happen in the year 2015 except that we’ll celebrate anniversaries of past events.

Back in 1965, fifty years ago, the brilliant music satirist Tom Lehrer, in the introduction to So Long Mom, a song of World War III, said this: “This year we’ve been celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War and the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of World War I and the twentieth anniversary of the end of World War II. All in all, it’s been a good year for the war buffs.” (With a different intro, LISTEN to So Long Mom.)

This being a half-century later, we just “celebrated” the beginning of World War I. 2015 will be the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War in 1865, with all that entails:

January: The U.S. Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to abolish slavery.
March: Second inauguration ceremonies for President Lincoln in Washington.
April: Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Confederate Army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary see the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. During the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth assassinates the President.
June: Juneteeth in Texas.

Likewise, this will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945:

January: The Soviets enacts a massive offensive against German foes along the East Front. Russian troops find fewer than 3,000 survivors when they liberate Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland.
February: U.S. troops invade the Philippines, while British planes bomb the German city of Dresden.
April: US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies. Adolf Hitler, in the face of certain defeat, commits suicide.
May: Germany surrenders unconditionally to General Eisenhower at Rheims, France, and to the Soviets in Berlin
June: The Pacific island of Okinawa is captured by the Allies.
August: The Japanese sue for peace after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
September: General MacArthur accepts the formal, unconditional surrender of Japan in a ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

So what else shall we celebrate this coming year?

April: Josephine Baker’s death (40th anniversary)
May: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s death. (150th anniversary)
June: Signing of the first Magna Carta. (800th anniversary)
June: Battle of Waterloo. (200th anniversary)
June: William Butler Yeats’ 150th birthday.
July: JK Rowling’s 50th birthday
August: Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans and surrounding areas (10th anniversary)
December: Rudyard Kipling’s 150th birthday.

What will YOU be celebrating in 2015?

abc15

ABC Wednesday, Round 15

D-Day; Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was just this FORCE, her speaking voice like music, her wisdom and compassion evident in every sentence.

dday.kn17825As D-Day approaches, all I can think about are 90-year-old men who saw awful things but sucked it up to get through the events, and then stoically never talked about them. That is until 50 or 60 or 70 years later – goaded by family members or in recognition of their own mortality, as at least 600 WWII vets die EVERY DAY in the US – they start telling their stories. And while unique, they are the same story, of friends, of an officer who died that day, of bodies they tripped over while trying to maintain their position.

And, almost inevitably, they cry. They weep for those comrades they still know by name 70 years after they perished, tears that they weren’t allowed to shed at the time because it wouldn’t have been “manly.”

In some ways, it reminds me of the Holocaust survivors who blocked out the horror they saw until much later. They say “war is hell” for a reason. And that was a conflict generally supported by the American public, something I must say I’ve never really experienced in my lifetime; either initially or subsequently, Americans have grown weary of the wars we fought.

So World War II becomes “the good war.” As though there is any such thing.


maya_angelouAll these people have written these great Maya Angelou stories and cited her quotes. And while I’ve read a lot of great tributes to her, I don’t have one and haven’t seen one, that exactly captures my feelings, though “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Shonda Rhimes tweeting simply, “Maya” is pretty close.

I mean, I remember seeing the 1979 TV adaptation of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and only reading the book later. Or I could note seeing her in everything from Roots to Sesame Street to Touched by an Angel. Sometime recently, I even linked to her calypso singing. Unfortunately, I never met her, though I’m likely to have been as tongue-tied as Keef was.

But for me, she was just this FORCE, her speaking voice like music, her wisdom and compassion evident in every sentence. For decades she was like a grandmother talking, trying to relay important knowledge.

I bought for The Wife, probably for some occasion in early 2002 – Valentine’s Day or our anniversary – Hallmark tan/green pottery bowl with these Maya Angelou words inside: “Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet.”

The morning Maya died, I was reading someone’s Facebook post, someone who was hoping that she would get better after she’d declined to attend some event in her honor. Then the Albany NBC-TV affiliate, WNYT, citing a station in Winston-Salem, NC reported her death. But still, I waited until other sources confirmed it – and her Wikipedia post quickly noted her in the past tense – before I could really believe it.

D-Day, as in discovery

Finding myself agreeing with Scalia: “Make no mistake about it. Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

There’s a blogger called Altonian, who is writing a lot about The War Years in England, most recently: “Alton received its fair share of evacuees during the war, most of which came from London.” With my life proceeding as it has, I had not sought to follow any more bloggers. But I saw him comment on the blogs of both Berowne AND Sharp Little Pencil; both of them I met on ABC Wednesday, which, BTW, you can join too.

Berowne, BTW, generally takes a movie or play, changes it up, and sees if you can recognize it. For his current entry, I must admit, I didn’t recognize the movie until he gave a vital hint. Only then was it obvious to me. (I never saw the movie, having fallen asleep watching it on video.)

Amy at Sharp Little Pencil has been writing a string of great poems: a political rant -I don’t rant nearly so well; her manic depression, which she has dealt with; surviving sexual abuse, which she has also dealt with; and a celebration, all in this calendar month.

Appreciated LoveSong: SamuraiFrog and Rainy Days and Mondays on Splotchy’s site. Even without his obsession for Paul Williams, I got to the same place with the song.

Re: ABC Wednesday, I had to deal with a load of spam on the site, all fairly recent. It was a pain; yet its removal felt very cleansing, not as irritating as you would think.

I was struck when Melanie wrote: “It isn’t easy to be still- even when you are sick and can’t move much! That’s because stillness is also a quality of soul.”

I realized, as much as anything, the recent Supreme Court ruling, which states that police can routinely take DNA samples from people who are arrested but not yet convicted of a crime, operates the efficiency over justice model. Finding myself agreeing with Antonin Scalia: “Make no mistake about it. Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason. But the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.” Faster – when it tramples on the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure – is not better.
***
Some recent passings:

Frank Lautenberg, the Last of the New Deal Liberals. The New Jersey Democrat was the last WWII soldier left in Congress. Interesting that Governor Christie has called a special election in October, rather than saving the taxpayer dollars money, by holding it in November. Interesting political calculation.

There would be no ALL IN THE FAMILY without Jean Stapleton.

I used to love to read the syndicated column of Andrew M. Greeley: Priest, Author, Scholar, Scold.

David “Deacon” Jones was the original sackmaster of the National Football League. When I think of the original Fearsome Foursome on the LA Rams, I recall Jones, who the Hall of Fame defensive end who later had his own foundation to help kids; the late Merlin Olsen, who eventually showed up on Little House on the Prairie and other programs; and the still living Rosey Grier, who also played for the NY Giants, and liked to knit. Always seemed to forget the late Lamar Lundy, for some reason.