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