Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
4-5-4 Shibaura, Minato-ku,
I recently visited Hiroshima for the first time. I wanted to go in July, before crowds descended on the city for the annual atomic bomb memorial anniversary. it is a beautiful city, and I would like to visit it again. Downtown is small enough to walk everywhere I wanted to go. Plus, the city is organized and primed to host international visitors. Multi-lingual tourist information is easily available, and in the Memorial Peace Park itself the park is well-wooded, signage is excellent, there re plenty of bench seats for resting and there are many public toilets available. No garbage receptacles, though.
I worry that overuse of the word "peace" renders its true meaning and motivation anodyne: the Peace Park, the Peace Museum, the Peace Fountain, the Peace Boulevard, the Peace Bell, the Peace Clock, the Peace Cenotaph with the Peace Pool and the Peace Flame, etc. After roaming around the city on my own for a couple of days I joined a tour for my last day, before returning to Tokyo. It was then, while listening to my Japanese guide, that overuse of the word "peace" began to aggravate me. Others in the tour group seemed not to appreciate that in 1945 there was a war going on. It was total war. It was a war that Japan started and that Japan waged in a notoriously heinous and criminal fashion. It was a war that Japan stubbornly refused to give up long after its cause was lost, preparing to sacrifice its own civilian population in a fight to the death against battle-hardened U.S. Marines. And it was a war in which Japan allied itself with Nazis! In the summer of 1945 there was still no end in sight, so I'm thankful the Americans used their new weapon to force the Japanese government along.
Of course, the A-bomb did not push Japan into surrender. Even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Japanese General Staff was prepared to push on. What decided the issue was the very real threat that the Soviets would parachute into Sapporo and take the northern island of Hokkaido. Surrender to the U.S. became the lease offensive of a list of evil options.
But I could be wrong.
Published in The Japan Times on Sunday, August 12, 2018 as "Too much focus placed on 'peace'."
I don't like the title chosen by the newspaper.
The use of atomic weapons was a terrible thing, no denying. I am somewhat averse, but not completely averse to terrible things. Knowing how bad atomic weapons are, we may not legitimately judge the decisions, behaviours or values of the past by our contemporary values. We can do it, of course. We do it all the time. But doing so is illegitimate. Even worse was the use of conventional weapons which killed more people and did more damage due to more extensive use. People are prone to let atomic/nuclear weaponry distract them from the evils of conventional weaponry - and they are prone wrongly to judge the past by our present values. In addition, Allied forces were/are not free of accusations of wartime atrocities. The annual homage to Chiune Sugihara is interesting and predictable. While his efforts to save Jews are commendable, his actions make him simultaneously a hero to the world and a traitor to his country. Interesting. I've long suspected that his story is revived once a year in Japanese media as a purification ritual to distance themselves from their guilty association with war crimes, or at least with their Nazi allies. Or not. It's never suggested in Japan that Sugihara was a traitor. I admit that I'm not very interested in Mr. Sugihara, although I know his story quite well. Chiune Sugihara bores me. I know that there were dissenting opinions in U.S. power circles about the new weapons' use. Some dissenting opinions were fair and some were ridiculous, but none of them were/are convincing. By the summer of 1945 the Imperial Navy and Air Force were fundamentally gone and the USAAF was bombing Japan at will and largely unopposed. But the Imperial Army was still deployed, still armed, still dangerous and still game for war. Japan was sending out peace feelers, and it might be said that the stubborn Anglo-American insistence on "unconditional" surrender was a problem that by itself artificially extended the conflict by fortifying the Axis will to resist.