On Hiroshima, 65 Years Later


Categorie: Asia, Japan, Kyle Mizokami, Nuclear |
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Kyle Mizokami

A-Bomb Dome. By Kyle Mizokami.


Friday was the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. I was out fishing. Oops. Anyway, Hiroshima may be a bit out of the realm of this blog, but I still thought I’d say a few things.

Hiroshima has never been that far from my mind, for many reasons. My grandmother’s family was from Hiroshima, or rather a town just outside of it. I read the appalling and gruesome Barefoot Gen when I was in the fifth grade, and it colored my view of nuclear warfare appropriately (i.e., flaming horses, people burning alive, and the horror of sudden hair loss). I knew another Japanese-American kid whose grandparents had emigrated to the U.S. after the war. The grandfather had been on a train August 6th, 1945, traveling through the countryside when he suddenly saw a bright flash of light from behind a nearby hillside. That was Hiroshima.

Sixty-four years later I was also traveling through the Japanese countryside on the Hikari RailStar line, reading The Manhattan Engineer District’s Report on the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on my Kindle. I was headed toward Hiroshima. I was not really going there because of the history; my wife and I were taking a long vacation in Japan and needed to break up the long shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Fukuoka. Hiroshima more or less fit the bill.

My wife and I visited all of the bomb-related sites. We took in the museum first. We saw the dioramas illustrating the blast effects on the city, horribly disfigured mannequins staggering out of the rubble, the melted relics, and the shadows burned into masonry by people who were reduced to ashes. I was surprised and heartened that the museum fully blamed Japan for starting what it called “The Pacific War” and didn’t go look for sympathy for anything other than the A-bomb’s civilian victims.

We also took in the A-Bomb Dome, the Children’s Peace Monument, the Cenotaph for Korean Victims and several smaller memorials. I stood in front of the A-Bomb Dome and wondered how a brick-and-mortar building could withstanding being directly underneath a 12-kiloton atomic explosion. It was a pleasant October afternoon and in-between memorials I tried to get a glimpse of everyday life at the original Ground Zero. I watched teenagers hang out on the banks of the Ota River, playing guitar and picnicking, and marveled at small fish schooling under the precise spot of the detonation.

I waited for “it.”

I thought I would feel some kind of remorse or guilt, some gusher of emotion over the fact that my country had caused so much suffering. I didn’t. Instead I thought of the brutality of the Imperial Japanese military, and how it had probably killed enough civilians in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma, Singapore, the South Pacific and China to eclipse Hiroshima many times over.

At least the bombing of Hiroshima had a point: to force Japan to surrender. Much of the killing of civilians the Japanese military did was utterly pointless, and occasionally done as sport. And if it weren’t for those atrocities, Hiroshima would never have happened in the first place. I felt terrible for the civilians, but bad things happen when you let idiots run your country.

I thought I would feel such an abhorrence for nuclear weapons that I would want them abolished from the face of the Earth. I didn’t. Instead, I thought that while we lived with the remote possibility of all the cities of the world ending up like Hiroshima (or far, far worse), nuclear weapons had in fact kept the peace and prevented exactly the kind of destruction that I saw in the museum. Mutual Assured Destruction is an obscenity,  but there is a logic to it, and the clarity of the logic was never more obvious than when I was in Hiroshima. I once read that “nuclear war has only two data points: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” And I felt with a certainty that the only reason there had not been three or 6,000 data points was because of the existence of the first two.


Perhaps ironically, my wife and I found Hiroshima easily the friendliest city to Americans we encountered during our five city trip. A young boy gave me this origami crane. “I want you to have this,” he said in fairly good English. He’d done kind of a half-assed job with it, but being a dutiful Japanese-American, I knew how to complete it.

Two middle-aged working class men saw us walking through the Peace Park and asked, conversationally, “Are you having a good time?” To which my wife and I simultaneously thought, “We’re Americans who obviously just came from the friggin’ A-Bomb museum, how do you think we feel?”

“We are hoping that you are to have a good time,” the chatty one said, without a hint of irony or sarcasm, and gave me a double thumbs-up. We smiled awkwardly and thanked him and went in search of dinner.

Originally published at Japan Security Watch.


8 Responses to “On Hiroshima, 65 Years Later”

  1. Prestwick says:

    I went to Nagasaki when I was in Japan in May and visited the peace park there. It started out as awkward but funny as there were lots of school parties all there for a visit. I had a shirt saying “Otaku” in Kanji upside down which caused everyone to point, laugh and wave.

    Things went downhill from there and the mood become gradually more and more somber as we toured all the donated statues from across the world. We noted the rather obvious absence of a British or Western European entry although to be fair New Zealand’s statue only really arrived very recently.

    Then after a while you descend some stairs and go walk up a street before coming across the hypocentre which was where Asia’s largest Cathedral once stood and there everything is silent and calm and collected. I was pretty numb looking at all this as my Grandfather was in 1st Airborne Division and later moved to 6th Airborne who were being moved to the Far East to take part in the inevitable invasion of Japan and the odds were that very few of the lads would come back alive.

    So I’m in the perculiar situation where the bomb was needed for me to be alive today. Its a tough proposition to stomach so in the end I declined the invatation to visit the museum and instead enjoyed the sunset at the waterfront instead. Best to enjoy what Nagasaki has to offer now than endlessly focus on the past.

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  3. Chockblock says:

    Good job. For all the ‘placing in context’ many on the left try to do, they gloss over the staggering casualties from Operation Olympic.

    The pacifist Japan we know today is a stark contrast to the high command that wanted to overthrow the emperor rather than surrender.

    The Cold War never became WW III because of those images.

    Fun Fact: the many of purple harts issued by the DOD today come from the massive lot printed for Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet

  4. This is an excellent and well written post. I was in Hiroshima on my way to the Seoul Olympics in 1988 …. and I had the same experiences and thoughts then that you have successfully and clearly explained in this post. Again, this is a post that is well done.

  5. mareo2 says:

    This is like preaching to the converted. Do you tried to talk it with a japanese or just with american friends looking for approval? I can’t agree with the “I know that killing civilians is bad but they committed war crimes, so I don’t feel any regret at all”. I disagree with your feeling, because it was soldiers who committed the war crimes not civilians. Strategic bombing of cities: London, Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki, was wrong because it aimed to force the surrender by killing civilians, that is state terrorism. Explosive, incendiary or atomic don’t make a difference. If it was military targets I don’t complain at all. But don’t worry, as long as J need the US market 90% of the japanese is not going to say much. Like Okinawa, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have few support, in fact that was so long ago that in my opinion the complains of the okinawans are more important.

  6. Woodenhausen says:

    The justification for the bombings were quite clear and prevented massive losses of life on BOTH sides.
    I don’t agree with your lumping together all actions against civilians as being comparable. The bombing of Hiroshima had the purpose of reducing the slaughter and bringing and end to the war quickly and helped achieve that purpose. How does that stack against the Rape of Nanking whereby the Japanese army slaughtered by hand, a defenceless civilan population for no strategic or tactical gain?

  7. aditya says:

    MAD has a stability- instability paradox which we are witnessing now in India as Pakistan carries out terrorist attacks in India with impunity.

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