Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Teaching English at Tokyo public high schools is one of my jobs. I am fortunate to work at a particularly high level school. Recently I was in a second year senior high school class in which the Japanese English teacher and I have worked all spring training the students to agree or disagree with simple propositions, giving reasons for their opinions. It is meant to hone presentation and debating skills - a tough task. I am impressed that my students can do it as well as they can and wary that they lead me to over-estimate their English ability.
We were discussing the proposition that Japanese high school students should go on overseas school excursions. Some expressed a keen enthusiasm. Were they sincere? Then I was surprised how many firmly opposed the idea. It seems that in the 2010s young people are withdrawing from the outside world. If it persists might it have implications for Japan’s place in the future world order?
One young man wrote that students should learn about their own history and culture before going abroad to learn others’ - a wise idea - and that school excursions might go to domestic destinations like Hiroshima and learn about the atomic bombing and “all the people who died.”
What has the boy “learned” about Hiroshima in his history lessons, or on a previous visit to the site? Many Japanese still imagine themselves largely the victims of WWII rather than the instigators of it, but I think the lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is less about American aggression than Japanese aggression. The lesson of Hiroshima is not that America is to blame for killing so many in a flash with a shocking new weapon of mass destruction but rather that Japanese nationalist militarism is to blame for giving them no choice. Japan killed twenty million for a false, unachievable dream, and by refusing to surrender in a timely manner invited the American whirlwind. Japan could have and would have continued fighting into 1946 if the U.S. hadn’t shocked Emperor Hirohito into overruling his Imperial Household Agency and the cabinet, and risking a military coup d’état by doing so. The lesson of Hiroshima is the evil of wartime Japan, not America. Who is to blame for the atomic bombings? The Japanese, of course.
But I could be wrong.