I’d like to take a break from the catch-up to talk about something that’s currently going on.
Synopsis: Japan’s Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma is being forced to resign, after commenting that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “couldn’t be helped.” The comment came from a speech in which Kyuma said, “A countless number of people were victimized (by the bombs). But it helped end the war. I think it couldn’t be helped.” This caused an uproar, especially among bomb survivors/relatives of those affected, and politicians. With pressure rapidly mounting against him, Kyuma had no choice but to resign.
August is generally not a good time to be American in Japan. The Japanese commemorate the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you are American, Japanese people around you may ask you what you think about the bombings. Brace yourself for a look of awkward displeasure from your Japanese friend if you say anything other than, “I think it was terrible, truly awful, and the Japanese are so pitiable to be the only country on Earth ever subjected to a nuclear attack.”
The “was it justified?” debate has been done to death and back. There are all sorts of factors that come into play. A defeated nation, perhaps willing to fight to down to the last man, woman and child. The US wanting to flex her muscle in a show of strength to Russia. A decisive end to a long and bitter conflict. The simple truth is, the true reasons why the bombs were dropped, and what might have happened if they weren’t, are long since buried in the past.
I also took courses on Japanese culture and history to go along with the language classes in university. These courses allowed me to look at the war and the bombings from a Japanese perspective. While I was in America, I was never quite sure what to think about Hiroshima. Was the A-bomb really, honestly necessary? Might Japan have surrendered? However, after four years of living in the country, and seeing the war/bombings from a truly Japanese point of view, my stance now is–yes. The bombing, while terrible, did ultimately end the war early and possibly save lives.*
*This is my opinion, and it’s not really subject for debate. If you want to debate about it, might I recommend some other Japan-related venue. The Outpost Nine Forums already have a thread or two about this subject.
I arrived at my conclusion looking at events like The Battle of Okinawa where, despite being in a losing situation, the Japanese fought down to the last man, and civilians participated in mass-suicide to avoid the “monster” American soldiers. The firebombing of Tokyo was actually more devastating than the nuclear attacks. And I also take into consideration Japanese attitudes towards the war, both then and now.
The war is largely regarded in Japan as–“there was a war in the Pacific, and then we got A-bombed.” That’s it. Japan’s involvement with Hitler and the Axis Powers is rarely ever mentioned. Their imperialistic marches into China and Korea are given a footnote at best in historical textbooks. And Pearl Harbor is also little more than a fleeting thought. If you talk about WWII in Japan, the conversation goes straight to the A-bomb and how pitiable Japan is.
I don’t mean to play down the bombings, not at all. They were horrible, tragic losses of human life. Even if one wanted to say “the ends justify the means,” these means were indeed truly horrendous. We should hope that such an event is never repeated in human history ever again.
But that sentiment doesn’t just go for the bombings. It goes for all of the terrible things that happened in that war. Of which, the Japanese participated in quite a few.
However, when it comes to any of Japan’s faults during the war, their tune suddenly changes. The Rape of Nanking “wasn’t that bad,” or “you can’t prove all that stuff actually happened.” Other horrible atrocities committed in China and Korea are also flat-out ignored. Some politicians would have you believe that the Japanese were over there “helping” their Asian neighbors. Japan forced thousands of women into sex-slavery during the war; some of these survivors and their descendants have been trying unsuccessfully to get recognition/compensation from the Japanese government about this. The government’s response? “You can’t really prove that the government sanctioned this,” (despite there being proof otherwise), or “You girls weren’t slaves, there was no coercion.” Some will even go as far as to say that America forced Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor.
Textbooks are altered to completely gloss over these things. Recently, the government moved to strike any reference to the Japanese military forcing civilians to commit suicide in the Battle of Okinawa. Of course, anything else–the comfort women, the atrocities in China and Korea, are nowhere to be found. These things don’t seem to matter that much. If you’re Japanese, all that matters about WWII is how poor Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed.
It’s annoying to me, and I’m only American. The worst Japan did to America was bomb Pearl Harbor. I can’t imagine how angry this must make the Chinese/Koreans. It’s like having the bully next door come into your yard and literally beat the shit out of you, but then when a bigger kid pushes the bully down and breaks his nose, suddenly all the bully can do is cry foul about the broken nose.
Again, I don’t mean to belittle the A-bombs. But I just don’t feel that it’s fair of Japan to constantly cry about the bombs and then turn around and blow-off or ignore all the bad shit that they did. Even with conservative estimates the damage done in Nanking was far worse than either of the A-bombs. And those people died much more horribly than anything a nuclear blast could have done to them. And Nanking is only a solitary example. All I want Japan to do is take responsibility for her actions. Admit her wrongdoings instead of trying to deny them. And then, they can complain about the A-bombings all they want. Or, if they want to continue with the “why dig up the past?” angle, then shut up about the A-bombs. It doesn’t work both ways. I feel that to constantly bemoan the A-bombs, yet fail to acknowledge why and how things got to that point, is of a much greater disservice to the victims than anything former Defense Minister Kyuma might have had to say. I feel that Kyuma getting canned just goes to show how stubborn and unwilling Japan is to admit any sort of fault in the war. Not only that, but failing to admit to the mistakes of the past, only leads the way to make the same mistakes in the future.
And that’s my two cents. I’ve sort of purposely avoided writing about this kind of thing over the past three years, but with the current stories in the news I couldn’t help myself this time around. This kind of thing has mildly bugged me during my time in Japan though. I’m not sure if the Japanese attitudes and ignorance towards WWII can be properly conveyed through a text medium. Like much else about the country, it’s one of those things you just have to see for yourself.