Theme park atrocity: visiting Hiroshima
I’ve visited Hiroshima several times, both for business and pleasure. I guess it’s seen as obligatory for foreigners. The city itself lies at the heart of a beautiful tourist region. But I’ve never enjoyed it — and my Japanese wife hates the place.
I don’t want to get into a discussion on the rights or wrongs of the Pacific War here. Whether Japan was goaded into attacking Pearl Harbor or not, it’s hard to warm to a country that treated its neighbors as despicably as Japan did, and which still refuses to express genuine remorse for its actions.
You should, however, wonder whether you’ve ever heard a word of genuine American remorse for its very own Nanking in the Philippines in 1900.
But regardless of the events up until the atom bombs fell, there is no doubt that Japan really was the victim of that particular atrocity. And whatever else you think about America, you can’t escape the fact that in the 70 years that nuclear weapons have existed, it is the only country to have shown a willingness to drop them on human beings.
Nobody, I guess, is now under any illusion as to why Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two cities at the western-most edge of Japan (the part closest to the Russian mainland), were targeted for destruction by atom bomb.
The clue lies in the fact that both were civilian cities that had escaped largely unscathed until then. As virgin territory, they were excellent test subjects — America’s very own version of Unit 731.
Whatever else it was, the war against Hitler was a sideshow in the far greater war of the 20th Century, that of capitalist governments attempting to stamp out socialism using any and every tactic open to them.
One of the reasons America delayed entering the war was because it believed Germany and Russia would wipe each other out. All it needed to do was provide armaments to both. If it entered at all, it would be in the closing days of the conflict, when it could march in through the ruins, planting flags everywhere. That strategy had served it well in the previous World War.
Since so much American industry (including Ford, GM, Dow, and IBM) was actively supporting the Nazi regime, while the Red Menace was vilified at home, it was embarrassing to say the least to have to reverse all its propaganda, if only for the short time it took for the war to wind down.
And let’s be clear: America did not win the war against Germany. The war was won thanks to the ten million soldiers that perished in what became known as the Soviet Union. We owe our freedom to them, but I’ve never seen a monument to the Russian dead anywhere in the west — have you?
Hitler’s war was already all but over when the British and Americans firebombed the civilian city of Dresden in February 1945. The most persuasive reason why we destroyed Dresden is that it sent a message to Stalin, then making steady progress into Germany, that the Allies would limit his post-war pickings in Europe. If he didn’t halt his advance and let the Americans grab a little, we’d do to Moscow what we did to Dresden.
Six months later, with Japan on its knees, the Americans dropped their newest incendiaries on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to send Stalin exactly the same message in the East. Russia would be allowed no part in the post-war pickings in Japan.
For all their horror, it’s wrong to think that the two atomic bombs ended the Pacific War. The Japanese already knew the Americans intended to wipe their country off the face of the planet. It didn’t matter if it was achieved with hundreds of conventional bombs, or a handful of the new type.
No, it was Russia’s entry into the Pacific War that ended it. Russia had already decided to invade. Japan had been clinging on to the forlorn hope that they might be able to surrender under favorable terms. Now the Russians poured in, and with their arrival the Japanese knew their last hope was gone.
The irony in this is that one of Japan’s reasons for invading China had been to try to stem the spread of Communism into South East Asia. Japan was afraid that a Communist China would soon extend its influence into Japan itself, the most capitalist of all Asian countries.
Instead, the country’s defeat enabled Mao to surge across China — Allied and Japanese troops were soon fighting side by side against him — and put into place the entire sorry business that would characterize the Far East for much of the rest of the century.
The cataclysmic destruction of Hiroshima wasn’t the worst single event of the Pacific War. More civilians were killed in the conventional firebombing of other Japanese cities like Tokyo. But it heralded in an era of nuclear terrorism that we still live with today.
Nuclear sensitivity is high in Japan, which makes it doubly absurd that this country peppered its volcanically and seismically active coastline with nuclear power stations, all since shut down thanks to the Fukushima disaster.
Japan is understandably outraged that the American military bases have secretly placed nuclear weapons in its territory, something the country forbids.
But my feeling is that there’s more happening in Hiroshima than meets the eye.
It is right that the Peace Memorial Park commemorates the immense death and suffering caused by these hideous weapons, and that we must never forget the victims.
It is right that we file somberly through the Museum, as I’ve done every time I visit (usually surrounded by American tourists), and come away chastened and distressed (at least I do, I can’t vouch for the others).
It is right that we marvel at a country’s commitment to peace given that it was used as a human sacrifice in a war fought between other countries.
But we should be under no illusion why the Memorial Park and the ruins of the Industrial Promotion Hall (the so-called ‘A-Bomb Dome’ as in my photo above) and all the other attractions in Theme Park Hiroshima exist.
They exist for exactly the same reason that Hiroshima was bombed in the first place.
Hiroshima’s primary purpose is not to mourn the victims. It is to uphold the horror.
Theme Park Hiroshima is preserved not as a monument to the dead, but as a symbol of ultimate power. The gorier and more explicit its exhibits, the more it does its job of shouting to would-be aggressors against America: “Think twice! Or this will happen to you, too.”
Hiroshima glorifies the very thing that destroyed it.
It is a visible symbol of the triumph of arms, of the perpetuation and proliferation of weapons of terror. The peace it talks about is the peace enforced by a country with its hand ever ready on the button. The peace of eternal fear.
It wants you to feel shocked and afraid. That’s the very point.
I come away from Hiroshima, as I said, chastened and distressed. My wife comes away furious. We may be geographically on opposite sides of this divide, but I can certainly understand her hatred, and we both can’t wait to get out of there.