Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last year.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the altar of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

Talking about the uncomfortable

A few weekends ago, my partner and I were rearranging some things in our house. This included–to my delight–bringing two bookcases filled with my books out of the study and into a main room.

My partner joked with me as he surveyed the all three bookcases (the third must remain in the study).

(This is a paraphrase.)

“I can just imagine someone coming to our house, browsing your books, and saying ‘You have a lot of books about the Holocaust and Shoah.'”He paused for effect.

“‘Um, especially for someone with blonde hair and blue eyes. Nope, no Nazis here.'”

I laughed a little. I do have blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. It was a joke in my “Philosophy in the Wake of the Holocaust” course that I was the only “Aryan” in the room. I’m used to others joking uncomfortably about this topic. Genocide is a heavy topic (quite the understatement) and makes people uncomfortable.

When people are uncomfortable, they joke. They also will avoid that which causes the discomfort.

But I have always been fascinated not just with the Holocaust and Shoah, but with all genocides. My books on the Armenian genocide (sorry, Turkey, but that WAS a genocide), the Japanese genocide during WWII, Rwanda in 1994, and early 90’s Yugoslavia don’t attract attention. My guess to explain this phenomenon is that many people aren’t aware of the above mentioned genocides, aren’t aware that as I write this and you read this, there are genocides being carried at this very moment.

Let me be clear: I don’t “like” genocide. It is a sick act of sheer cruelty with no possible explanation that would make it somehow permissible. But as someone who prides herself in human rights advocacy, knowledge of the depravity humans are capable of is important to me.

The philosophical implications are important to me. And honoring those who were victims of genocide by not forgetting and trying to learn their stories–that’s of the utmost importance to me.

Not reading about rapes, murders, not talking about these atrocities, and any other act that fits this definition–that doesn’t make them go away.

There is no eraser or magic wand.

If anything, it’s terribly harmful to not discuss these terrible acts throughout history (including now).

Please do me a favor. Read a memoir of a survivor of genocide. Remember the millions of people who have and still are suffering. Talk about it.

With genocide, silence and avoiding the topic because it’s “uncomfortable” is deadly.