Many of my Japan-side readers are no doubt celebrating their Bon holiday, if they get one. So this post might be a bit late for them.
August 9, as you know, is the anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bombing–the one that must have really established that the Pacific War was a no-win project for the Japanese imperial army.
A lot of people, for some reason, don’t know this, but most of Japan was firebombed into oblivion before the atomic strikes of August 1945. The firebombing of Tokyo, which took its worst hit on March 9/10 of that same year, caused more damage and (estimated) more deaths. But it was over an entire night, not just in a few seconds.
We people of today on the allied side can appreciate the moral ambiguities of wiping out a city’s population in an instant. When I was in Japan, I visited Hiroshima, and that thought really weighed on me. When the device struck, it was indiscriminate and took away the lives of anyone within its range. You can see that such an attack would generate a lot of controversy over the years, even where the overall war lacked the same moral ambiguity.
Some scholars and commentators debate whether the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were necessary. This goes on, particularly around these dates, every year. The further in time we are from the mid 20th century, the more the details around World War II are forgotten, and the bombs are taken out of their context. That context, bluntly, was escalation of a firebombing strategy to force Japan to surrender and withdraw its military from conquered lands.
I think it’s fair to let the people whose involvement in that war was only under the force of a dictatorial regime have their say about being a victim of the awful side of war. All wars end badly for one side, and, in some ways, for both.
I was happy to hear that the Ambassador showed up in Hiroshima last year, and equally satisfied that he did not appear at these ceremonies this year. If the United States ambassador made an annual appearance at the site, it would say something about the American involvement in World War II that is different than what history has laid down. Japan has its share of revisionists, of which Toshio Tamogami was only one prominent one. There are countless hundreds of Japanese who think just like Tamogami. Why encourage it?
Instead, blogger and Charge d’Affaires Jim Zumwalt made the trip to either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. I don’t see how much more could have been expected, and I feel that Zumwalt’s presence did the memorial an honor without putting the U.S. with an uncomfortable precedent.
It’s hard for contemporary Japanese to understand that, for those who know the World War II history, some feel that certain Japanese got off light. Tojo war machine Japanese did not pay the price for the horrible things that they did. They underpaid, and, in many cases, got off free. Other members of Japan, instead, overpaid for the decisions of the people with the jackboots to their throats. Many overpaid, but some underpaid; and some not at all.
This is why the anniversaries of the atomic bombings are received as they are in other parts of the world. In these places, you cannot separate the victims from the victimizers (i.e. the Japanese Imperial army and those who supported their inhuman notions).
In the towns that were victims, though, you can.