Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Monday, August 06, 2012

How I Came to Understand Hiroshima


Earlier this year I learned that one of my students (who is middle-aged) was raised in Hiroshima, so we decided to spend the next lesson talking about the bombing. I thought it would be interesting since I was raised with American education, and she was educated in Hiroshima. Not just in Japan, but in Hiroshima. Regular Japanese education naturally doesn't have the same degree of education about the bombing as in Hiroshima.

I let her speak first, and here are a few things she shared:

About education in Hiroshima: Many teachers took it as a mission to teach students to understand about war, so that they don't go to war (because vefore and during the war, many teachers encouraged their students to go to war).

How she first learned of the bomb: When she was little, my student saw a book about the bomb at home and opened it up. She saw the injured and burned people and was scared, but then looked at it with her grandfather. He lived in the countryside, but after the bombing he went into the city to search for his relatives.

Not good or bad guys: When she was growing up and being educated in school, she didn't learn that "Japan was bad" or "The USA was bad,"but instead she was taught that "war is bad." She learned that making good judgments is important, and that if people make bad judgments, then wars happen.

Visiting Nanjing: When she was in her 20s, she went to visit China, along with other Japanese students from around the country. When she visited Nanjing, it seemed as if many of the students couldn't understand it very well. But my student who was from Hiroshima, and another student who was from Nagasaki, they seemed to be able to better understand and accept the tragedy of what had happened there.

*****

After she finished, it was my student's turn to interview me and ask the questions:

When did you first learn about the bomb?
Did you study about World War II in school?
What did you learn about it?


How I first learned about it:

I can't remember precisely when I first heard about the bomb, but I'm almost sure that I must have learned because of figher planes. When I was little I loved airplanes and often visited the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. I made models of WWII planes and fighter jets and borrowed books from the school library (and sometimes the public library) just to read about them. We went to air shows, too, and once I even twisted my father's arm to take us up to Tonopah, Nevada, to the corner of the Nellis AFB range to try and see if we could spot any stealth fighters.

I was interested in planes and the wars they were in because it seemed exciting. It was like Star Wars. These were the good guys, those were the bad guys. You cheer for these guys and defeat those guys. The reality of "war" was not reality to me yet. So just like you would buy a toy of the bad guy, sometimes I bought and painted models of Japanese or German fighter planes, too. I remember in 4th grade, I went through a phase where I liked drawing the symbols from the wings of the fighter planes next to my name on my homework and even if I did a math problem on the blackboard. Some of my friends remember I put a swastika up there and thought that I liked Nazis! I had no idea what I was doing. It was just good guys and bad guys to me. (And being raised in the Reagen years, well, the nation seemed to be on the same page.)

I read with excitement about America's success in winning wars. We were always the good guys. And we always had the best technology. We had the best planes, and if we didn't have the best at first, we improvised and developed the best. (If we didn't have the best stuff, we overcame through courage and fighting spirit because we were... were what? I don't know, somehow it was just our inherent right-ness and better-ness: we were the good guys.) When I first read about the atomic bomb, it was like a crowning achievement, an amazing piece of technology. We made something bigger and stronger, and won!

What I learned (and didn't learn) in school:

The effects of the bomb... I didn't hear about those until a bit later. As I grew up, I remember some of my elders saying that they didn't want to look at the pictures from the bombing because it was too horrible to look at. I can't remember how long I held onto the idea of how amazing the bomb was, but it was not for long. I read the story of Sadako Sasaki while I was still interested in WWII. As I think about it now, I realize that I must have been around 12 at that time—the same age as Sadako when she died. And maybe a year or two later, I wrote a letter to a missionary in Tokyo who then connected me with a student as a penpal. Though I didn't realize it at the time, the "good guys and bad guys" idea had been shaken and would never fully recover, even though I stayed interested in America's wars for many more years.

I can look back now and see that there was more to the story than I had been taught in school. I can't say that we learned "about the bomb"—instead we learned that the bombing happened. We didn't learn what it did to people or see pictures of it. We didn't learn about radiation or consider that it had been an experimental bomb (that is, we never considered that it was on the same level as chemical warfare). The good-guy versus bad-guy narrative was never challenged by the American education I received; if anything, it was encouraged and given "facts" to support it. The bomb was an amazing technological feat, a witness to the superiority of America and our march to greatness as a world superpower. The bombing was taught, but not any examination of the lives or manner in which they had died. And Nagasaki was almost a footnote. (For some reason, the whole mention of Nagasaki in my elementary school textbook—one phrase—became etched in my memory: "A second and more powerful bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.")

As I got older, I began hearing that some people fundamentally disagreed with the bomb, and I heard justifications and defenses for the bombing. In fact, it was almost as if it was wrong to mention the suffering that people experienced from the bomb. Someone always felt the need to offer the political justification, and everything centered on that. You couldn't talk about their suffering without someone trying to "balance it" by talking about Japan's bad deeds in the war. It was a matter of pride. To acknowledge their suffering was somehow threatening without "balance" ("balance" meant justifying the bombing). The main point was never suffering and humanity, but national or political arguments.

I can't remember offering the justifications for the atomic bombing, but I know I must have done so at some point. But even from an early time, something just rang hollow in the justifications, so generally I think I stayed quiet if the topic came up of whether it was right or wrong. In later years I got in touch with my own griefs and wounds, and learned about loving and forgiving people—not requiring people to be "right" in order to love them or be proud of them. Then, when I finally was able to visit Hiroshima, I could look at it squarely without having to worry about anyone's pride.

And I cried.

Today:

I watched the yearly Peace Ceremony on TV this morning. At 8:14, one minute before the moment of silence, I cried again. I can't wholly explain why. I explained a little of what was happening to my son, who was sitting next to me. I wonder how he's going to feel growing up, learning that people from Mommy & Daddy's countries fought and killed each other, and eventually learning that experiemental things were done to humans that should never be done...

And that even today there are people (on both sides) who don't want to face what happened squarely because of pride, and the desire to be right. Because somehow we can't be proud or love our countries if we aren't "right." Good guys never do bad things. God, I don't want to tell my son about that.

It's been a long process of understanding for me. I began enamored with the "good guys vs. bad guys" view that I had been taught. But through many things, and a lot of personal healing in my heart, God helped me understand and care about how other people feel, and I have never been able to go back to being that young child amazed by the bomb.

Here is a picture I painted last year:



"Nothing I Can Do" - click here to read about the picture

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