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Obama and Hiroshima: Revisiting reconciliation in an age of lingering hatred

25 Comments
By Brent Bowers

U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Hiroshima later this month evokes mixed feelings regarding the nuances of violence, war, victimhood and the use of world-destroying weaponry. However, there is a context to this visit that is unspoken, but every bit as powerful and necessary as the direct message of nuclear disarmament: that historical woes can — and should — be overcome.

Continuing on the well-established meme that “anything regarding Asia-Pacific directly or indirectly relates to China”, it is worthy of note the ramifications of Obama’s planned visit not only in the context of geopolitics, but narratives of discarding historical hatreds in favor of the potentialities resonant in reconciliation and international friendship.

China regularly harps on Japan for what is referred to in general as “historical grievances”, referring to the brutalization of the Chinese populace under Japanese colonial and wartime rule. Indeed, the Chinese national anthem refers directly to resistance against the Japanese, with the much of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party and modern Chinese experience related to the defeat of the villainous Japanese in the past. Korea too (both North and South) derives enormous domestic political capital from vilifying Japan.

The narratives associated with historical woes goes far beyond merely the regional hatreds, however. Imagine the degree of hatred one must possess for an enemy to sacrifice one’s life in the aims of killing even just one of the hated “other.” Indeed, this was the official policy not only of the well-known kamikaze squadrons, but was in fact a tactical reflection of Japanese military ethos – that it is better to kill yourself and take out the hated enemy with you than to subject oneself to the shame of surrender and imprisonment. The Emperor was your god -- and you are to kill, and die, for your god.

Imagine too, the severity of hatred that must pervade your mind and culture to knowingly inflict nuclear annihilation upon an enemy. A hatred so powerful that, not satisfied to merely destroy the enemy under strategic bombing of industrial centers and end their capacity to fight, one conceives and develops a weapon so terrifyingly powerful that its use can very literally inflict the complete destruction of entire populations, nations, and indeed the entire world should one see it fit to do so.

Such was the degree of hatred between Japan and the United States, and the certitude toward which we pursued the conflict with each other. The Japanese, utterly convinced that a spiritual fervor pursued upon a national scale, to the degree that individuals would passionately sacrifice their bodies in pursuit of destruction, could overcome an enemy as overwhelmingly powerful as the United States. The United States too, passionately inflamed by hatred, invoked the full power of science and innovation endemic to its populace, could devise a weapon so horrifically powerful as a nuclear bomb, and then actually used it. Hiroshima, and Nagasaki to follow, were the result – with the horrific bloodshed finally coming to end shortly thereafter.

With the war ended, what of the hatred? Did it linger? Did we carry it with us on for generations? Did we predicate our societies, our religions, or our futures upon the preservation of these hatreds?

No. We didn’t. We cast aside the hatred and even became, unwittingly enough, the closest of friends. How? By promoting the latent energies of mutual economic gain -- those which far outweighed the gains of political opportunism to solidify a glorious origin story. The details of this narrative are, of course, complex – but the result has doubtlessly yielded both Japan and America net gain over the past several decades.

And such is the benefit of Obama’s visit to Hiroshima — to commemorate this narrative of reconciliation at a historical site of extraordinary hatred, in a contemporary time of extraordinary hatred. We live in a world today were individual and societal hatreds of such degrees stand to paralyze and overwhelm our globalized society. Hatreds between countries, cultures, religions – with citizens and devotees every bit as convinced and certain of their glorious postmortem destinies today as they were in the Pacific war – consume our geopolitical and security concerns at every border crossing and dominate our news cycles.

While Americans banter over the morality and historical context of the bombing, and while the Japanese struggle in the malaise of a perceived destiny of tragedy, a fresh retelling and highlighting of this arc — from hatred and destruction to friendship and gain – is a worthy tale of visitation.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

25 Comments
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As technology progresses, so too might the alliances of differing cultures.

Although there is many imperfections that have not been worked out between the two nations, I personally believe that Japan and the US shall continue to have a very promising future working together. Both countries breed wonderful scientists, and our collaborations continue to shape mankind.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"We cast aside the hatred..."

This can't be serious. Half of Americans are still fighting the war.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

domtoidiMAY. 12, 2016 - 08:50AM JST Half of Americans are still fighting the war.

The question to ask is which half? What attribute unifies the group of people who insist on perpetuating a conflict that ended half a decade ago and rejecting any notion that America's participation in it was morally complex?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Imagine too, the severity of hatred that must pervade your mind and culture to knowingly inflict nuclear annihilation upon an enemy.

Is it hatred?

Broad hatred is created by the press and other media.

The decision to drop the bomb is insanity. War is insanity.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

BertieWoosterMAY. 12, 2016 - 09:59AM JSTThe decision to drop the bomb is insanity.

Real insanity is JIA from 1930-1945. Ask your Chinese and Korean neighbor.

1 ( +5 / -3 )

@domtoidi Can you please explain what it is that makes you believe half of the US is still warmongering towards Japan?

As somebody who was born and raised in the US, I can assure you that there is no significant group that perpetuates an anti-Japanese agenda. If you were to sit down and ask your modern US youth what they thought of Japan, you would see that it tends to conjure images of high-tech innovation, anime culture and strict schooling. It may be ignorant in some light, but its certainly not hateful.

As far as I can tell, the US has been fine with Japan since the 90's.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

wristwatchMAY. 12, 2016 - 10:46AM JST @domtoidi Can you please explain what it is that makes you believe half of the US is still warmongering towards Japan?

The US-Japan Security Treaty did not constitute an alliance of a kind comparable to what, for instance, the member countries of NATO had entered into. To be precise, it was essentially a base lease agreement; one from which there was, for all practical purposes, no exit for Japan. The ‘status of forces agreement’ has not been reviewed since 1960.

Neither European countries nor Japan can, under current circumstances, engage properly with their gigantic neighbors. For a variety of reasons the powers that make a difference in the U.S. have demonstrated that they are comfortable with a reignited Cold War. The U.S. military, which maintains bases surrounding all of China’s coast, is not prepared to share power in the the Western Pacific, and Japan plays an important part in all this, even extending to current PM Abe’s reinterpretation of the famous pacifist clause in Japan’ constitution.They add up to a picture of a self-proclaimed order keeper with the right to ignore sovereignty and the right, or even the duty, to set things straight in other countries that just might in future develop a genuine challenge to its own mastery over the planet. The Chinese wonder to what extent they are indirectly talking with Washington, when they share a negotiating table with Japanese.

The point is that Japan does not function as an independent sovereign state. To find a proper term for the U.S.-Japan relationship is difficult since there has been nothing quite like it in history. The unequal arrangement used to come with formidable advantages. The Japanese have not been required for half a century to produce political leaders capable of thinking strategically and dealing independently with a transforming world. Noticeably less so, even, than has been true for the Europeans. The readiness with which the U.S has extended economic favors to Japan, to the detriment of its own global economic position, has been extraordinary. Japan would not have become the industrial power it remains up till today, had the U.S. not tolerated its structural protectionism, and allowed full-speed one-way expansion of Japanese market shares in the U.S. to the considerable disadvantage of American domestic industry. I cannot think of any other instance in history in which one large country has had it so easy in its diplomatic and economic interaction with the world, simply by relying on the power, goodwill and strategic calculations of another country, while at the same time itself remaining politically outside the international system. Other countries gradually became used to Japan’s near invisibility on the world diplomatic stage.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

With the war ended, what of the hatred? Did it linger? Did we carry it with us on for generations?

Yes. The Japanese got the worst end of the stick after WW2. This is why they still hate the Chinese and Koreans. This is why the politicians visit Yasukuni. This is why they ommit and deny wartime atrocities from national textbooks. This is why they always play the victim card.

0 ( +3 / -2 )

Wc626 MAY. 12, 2016 - 10:57AM JST Yes. The Japanese got the worst end of the stick after WW2.

What did you expect?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Can you please explain what it is that makes you believe half of the US is still warmongering towards Japan?

It is impossible to know the nationality of people posting comments to JT articles but a large fraction of them are blatant Japan bashing. I see the same thing in other news venues. It is not just JT.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

bullfighterMAY. 12, 2016 - 12:53PM JSTIt is impossible to know the nationality of people posting comments to JT articles but a large fraction of them are blatant Japan bashing.

Japan bashing? If you look at the actions of IJA from 1930-1945 and the new government implementation, do you really call it bashing? Not much has changed. Compare German government to Japanese government after the war. Anybody bashing Germany? Wonder why?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Sorry BF we aint bashing, being truthful is more like it, the only one bashing Japan since the 80s is JAPAN itself!

Although many seem to think its posters such as myself, its not, just being truthful is all.

Of course Japan can quite easily change all this but IT chooses NOT too, cant blame me & others who point this out for bashing because we aren't!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

GWMAY. 12, 2016 - 01:20PM JST Sorry BF we aint bashing, being truthful is more like it, the only one bashing Japan since the 80s is JAPAN itself! Although many seem to think its posters such as myself, its not, just being truthful is all. Of course Japan can quite easily change all this but IT chooses NOT too, cant blame me & others who point this out for bashing because we aren't!

If you look at the history after end of WWII, Japan spent basically from 1950's through mid 1990s under the same conservative LDP government. There was no change in thought or attitude. At best, the Japanese government was able to buy off the Chinese and Koreans, providing loans and grants while those governments kept nationalistic sentiments tamped down. When the LDP hold was toppled in the 1990s, the coalition government was so weak that even though it began reconciliation with a formal apology, it couldn't make much progress before the LDP came back to power one year later. Japan needed a strong center-left party to lead the way. Unfortunately, Muruyama and the Japanese Social Democrats were simply too weak. Japan's delay in the process has only made it more difficult for any real reconciliation. Had they done it back when Japan was at its peak, Chinese and Korean nationalism were somewhat under control and Japan had bought some goodwill through economic aid, they might have gotten their message across more smoothly. Instead, now you have Japan in a weak position, China and Korea ascendant, and both those nations experiencing near-rabid nationalistic sentiments, it'll be much harder for all involved to come together.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Lingering hatred towards the Japanese ? Not from the Americans nor the Europeans but there is still plenty of animosity present in Asia I wonder when it will cease?

1 ( +1 / -1 )

As much as the Internet has grown into the monster that it is (that's not a bad thing, IMO), thinking that bloggers & message board commentators are representative of anything of an REAL significance is laughable at best.

Sure, there are some very serious opinions made out there (some are even INFORMED opinions), but when push comes to shove, posting your opinions on blogs & message boards amount to very little in the grand scheme of things.

Being able to type words (or text) & make opinions known on the Internet seems to have "empowered" many individuals into believing that their opinions (and like I said, even the INFORMED opinions) count. They do not.

Makes for interesting debates (sometimes), but that's about it.

Some people need to ground themselves (and I don't mean by their parents... although that's not such a bad idea!).

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Now, PM Abe, please visit Pearl Harbor and the Arizona, please.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

wristwatchMAY. 12, 2016 - 10:46AM JST As somebody who was born and raised in the US, I can assure you that there is no significant group that perpetuates an anti-Japanese agenda. If you were to sit down and ask your modern US youth what they thought of Japan, you would see that it tends to conjure images of high-tech innovation, anime culture and strict schooling. It may be ignorant in some light, but its certainly not hateful.

Expats online may not represent a "significant group", but there is definitely a vocal portion of them who are re-fighting the war over and over in their own minds because that's the only thing they can feel good about vis a vis their relationship to Japan. It's why you can't even bring up this visit without some expat jumping online to condemn the apology that no one is making and no one in the government has asked for.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

sfjp330,

Real insanity is JIA from 1930-1945. Ask your Chinese and Korean neighbor.

You're right. This was insanity also. It happened. Blame, and regret for what has happened in the past doesn't help those who suffered. The thing is to stop doing it.

War is insanity. The opposite of war is peace. So the opposite of insanity is sanity, understanding, logical reasoning. Not hatred or greed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This can't be serious. Half of Americans are still fighting the war.

Seems allot of Japanese are as well. I, for one, would like to move past it, but seem to be defending myself from an onslaught of Japan this, Japan that, at every turn and corner in Japan. I didnt care nothing about the war before, now it seems I know way too much about it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

great oped. who is brent bowers and who does he write for? the article carried no attribution. oversight? mods?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Problem with Obama is that everybody knows he's just a puppet.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This can't be serious. Half of Americans are still fighting the war.

considering that approximately 88% of the current u.s.population was born after 1945, this seems unlikely

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Such was the degree of hatred between Japan and the United States, and the certitude toward which we pursued the conflict with each other...Hiroshima, and Nagasaki to follow, were the result – with the horrific bloodshed finally coming to end shortly thereafter.

There's the old moral equivalency argument. I'd like to ask the Mr. Bowers if he really believes had Japan defeated the US, whether we two nations could have arced "from hatred and destruction to friendship and gain."

And, because the answer is no, was there really, in the end, the same degree of hatred operative, and whether the degree of hatred may not be the only factor to consider when trying to make sense of what happened and why...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Black SabbathMAY. 13, 2016 - 05:19AM JST There's the old moral equivalency argument. I'd like to ask the Mr. Bowers if he really believes had Japan defeated the US, whether we two nations could have arced "from hatred and destruction to friendship and gain."

Let's not be so naive as to pretend the bond between Japan and the US was a product of anyone's morality, as opposed to the US's need for an ally in NE Asia to support our wars against communist regimes. The biggest factor to bring the US and Japan together was probably the Korean War.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Katsu

"Moral equivalency" does not mean what you think it means.

The biggest factor brining the US and Japan together was the US defeat and occupation of Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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