Today, my third year students finished the chapter in their English textbook on Hiroshima and the atomic bomb.
The chapter is a short story about a tree who saw the aftermath of the atomic bomb. In the story, a girl sings a lullaby to a little boy under the tree. The little boy cries for his mother, and the girl tells him that she’s his mother. As she sings, the little boy dies in her arms, and before morning, she dies, too.
I’ve gone through this chapter twice now (once last year, and now this year), and I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me so much. It’s a very sad story, certainly, but there was something about it that made me uncomfortable reading it to my students.
But I think it also bothers me because the story is only sad. It’s not insightful, and it doesn’t discuss what happened in a meaningful, productive way. The page after the story even has one of the book’s characters say “We should never make war again.”
…What? That’s what you’re taking away from this? Japanese people should never make war again?
One of the innocuous sentences in the story goes like this: “A bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima.”
“A bomb dropped”? What, it just fell out of the sky randomly? It seems wrong to me to paint over the fact that the U.S. dropped a bomb on innocent civilians. That seems like something we should discuss (especially given certain current events, which I’ll get to in a second).
A junior high school English classroom may not be the best place to do it, however. So I get it. But it makes me uncomfortable (and a little angry) that this sort of narrative is being forced on these kids. I hope they’re learning more in their Social Studies classes. (Probably not.)
I actually asked one of my Social Studies teachers if I could sit in on his class when he teaches about the atomic bomb. I told him that I knew what the U.S. thinks about it (according to the narrative they present to us in our textbooks), but I want to know what Japan thinks about it. He said he’d teach me.
I talked to my elementary school JTE about it, too. I told her that I want to learn about how Japanese people feel about it. She took the safe route at first and said simply, “Yes, it’s very sad.”
But then I told her how I feel.
“I think the U.S. made a mistake,” I said. “And I think we need to admit our mistake and apologize.”
And then she agreed. I felt like I got an honest answer out of her, so I’m glad I shared mine.
The narrative presented to us in the U.S. is that we had no other choice. It was either bomb Japan, or the war would go on and on, and more people would die. It was a necessary evil. It would save more people than it killed.
Honestly, I’m a bit tired of that “logic.” We did have a choice. And we chose to murder innocent civilians. Civilians, as we Americans should know very well after 9-11, do not wage war. We do not want to be a part of it. Hell, most of the time, we don’t even want it. And yet it comes to our doorstep. It falls on our heads. And then our governments wash their hands of us and go on waging their wars.
We had a choice. We did. And we chose murder. We chose a war crime. We chose genocide.
So you know how the U.S. was threatening to bomb Syria over their use of sarin gas? You know how people were saying that we had to bomb Syria, because it would save a lot of their citizens? You know how people were saying that we have to bomb Syria because if we don’t it will make the U.S. look weak (shades of North Korea there, don’t you think)?
So tell me, what’s going on with Syria? Have we bombed it yet?
OH, WHAT? WE USED DIPLOMACY TO SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS? AND THAT WORKED? YOU’RE SHITTING ME.
I know the situation with Syria now is different from our war with Japan over 60 years ago, but I think my point still stands. There is always another choice. Diplomacy.
Talking your problems out like reasonable adults.
Congress could take a lesson from that.
Hiroshima and America’s Crimes of War on Japan by Yuri Tanaka
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum website
The Mushroom Club, a film by Steven Okazaki.
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a film by Steven Okazaki
A Side Note: Why I’m Interested in Japan’s Opinion
I’ve told a lot of people now, but if you haven’t heard yet, I’m really interested in how Japanese popular culture (mostly anime and manga) have appropriated the image of the atomic bomb/mushroom cloud. I’m actually working on a big project about it, and to start, I want to know what they think about what happened. What do they think about the U.S.? How has the atomic bomb effected the culture of their daily lives? How has it effected the way they think about themselves and others? Stuff like that. So that’s why I started talking to my JTE about it in the first place.
I’m also interested in what Japan thinks about the U.S. in general, because Code Geass, that’s why. Oh my God, Code Geass. That anime is pretty much all about hating the U.S./the West. And it’s friggin’ brilliant. Like The Crucible, only instead of Communist witch hunts, it’s about the West’s colonization of Japan. Awesome.
Anyway, that’s for my anime blog. And that entry won’t be for a while anyway.
Another side note: My JTE also said that if more women were in leadership roles, there would be less war, because women can use their goddamn words. Let’s make it happen, girls.