At the center of the maelstrom was the atomic bomb exhibition planned, and later abandoned, by the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
In late 1993, the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bomb museums consented to a request from the Smithsonian Institution for the loan of atomic bomb-related exhibits. The National Air and Space Museum subsequently produced a draft script, but as soon as this reached the eyes of American veterans' organizations it was condemned as revisionist and over-sympathetic to Japan. The uproar caused a storm of debate among historians, politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens in both the United States and Japan on questions such as whether or not the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war and how many people might have died in an invasion of the Japanese main islands.
Negotiations between museum officials and their opponents meanwhile resulted in a number of significant changes including the addition of a new section on the Pacific War and the deletion of a large portion of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima exhibits and photographs.
Five of the fifteen exhibits originally planned for loan from Nagasaki were deleted from the list at this stage. These were: a melted rosary, a statue of Mary, the dress of an infant killed in the bombing, a set of torn clothing and the "radiosonde" or scientific device dropped by parachute at the time of the bombing to collect data on the force of the blast, the level of heat generation, etc.
Although the veterans' organizations insisted upon these deletions as necessary to reduce the emotional bias of the exhibition, the choice was revealing because it showed the reluctance of many Americans 1) to look at the human suffering caused by the atomic bombings (children's clothing, etc.), 2) to allow a blurring of old battle lines by the introduction of items close to the American heart (Christian artifacts), and 3) to consider that their government had any other purpose in dropping the bombs than to bring the war to a quick conclusion (radiosonde).
The persistence of old attitudes was clearly demonstrated again when the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to issue a 1995 commemorative stamp featuring a picture of the atomic bomb mushroom cloud with the caption "Atomic bombs hasten war's end." The stamp was eventually canceled in the face of Japanese protests, but it was too late to put the cover back over the enormous disparity between American and Japanese attitudes toward the atomic bombings.
After an interview with a journalist on November 28, 1994, former Nagasaki Mayor Motoshima Hitoshi was quoted in a widely published article as saying that "Pearl Harbor was not as cruel as the atomic bombing. The atom bomb wiped out everything: people in church, children in kindergarten, even their dogs and cats. Pearl Harbor was terrible, but not as bad as that." The article provoked a flood of letters from American citizens, almost all angry rebuttals. Wrote a World War II veteran from Michigan:
I was outraged to read your view of the bombing of Nagasaki! When the Japanese assassins bombed Pearl Harbor, your ambassador was in Washington bowing and smirking, assuring my government that Japan wanted to be friends and would do nothing to cause trouble. Before the A-bomb was dropped, your government was warned many times to surrender or be bombed. It was not a sneak attack.
Pearl Harbor must be an act of great shame to all of Japan. Nothing could ever excuse it. 140,000 were killed by the A-bombs. Had they not been dropped, the estimated death toll in the invasion of Japan would have been much greater.
Since 1935 your country has lied, cheated, copied and stolen from America. Has never kept a promise, or honored a contract. Japan is the prime example in depicting dishonor and deceit...
It is the belief of most Americans that Japan owes reparations to America of hundreds of billions of dollars. When do you anticipate you can begin this payment?
The letters were still coming in January 1995 when the National Air and Space Museum announced that it had drastically reduced the exhibition and would limit its display to the restored fuselage of the Enola Gay (the B29 that delivered the Hiroshima bomb) and a short video on the crew.
The fires of argument flared again on March 15, when the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki spoke at a luncheon of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. The event was one in a series held by the club to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.
Said Mayor Motoshima Hitoshi after describing the horrors of the Nagasaki atomic bombing:
History followed a course from Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910, passed through its war with China and involvement in the Pacific War, and then culminated in defeat after the Nagasaki atomic bombing. I reflect gravely on Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. I reflect gravely on its aggression in Asia and the atrocities it committed in Asia and the Pacific. But do you tell me that, because of this aggression and these atrocities committed by the Japanese, there is no need to reflect upon the fact that an unprecedented weapon of mass destruction was used on a community of non-combatants? ...I think that the atomic bombings rank with the Holocaust as the greatest crimes against humanity in this century...
The last statement seemed designed to provoke American anger, and sure enough the Washington Post and other newspapers around the country reacted immediately and paid the statement special attention in their subsequent reports on the addresses by the two mayors. Within days, letters of protest were once again filling the mailbox at Nagasaki City Hall.
Wrote the national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.:
Your linkage of the Nazi-inflicted Holocaust which took the lives of six million innocent Jewish men, women and children, purely because they were Jews, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is worse than tragic. It cheapens the singularity of Hitler's dedication to the extermination of all Jews, their history, religion and culture.
The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not meant to eradicate the Japanese culture and people from the face of the earth. Though thousands died in those attacks, Japan was able to rebuild its cities, and its people rebuilt their lives to the extent that your nation is now an international economic superpower. Whole generations of Jews died in the Holocaust. For them, and their heirs, there was no rebuilding. A piece of Jewish history was summarily destroyed, never to be returned. For the Jews of Europe, there was no rebuilding or reaffirmation of life. For the six million, there was only death.
The atomic bomb was not used, as you so callously claim, to justify the U.S. expenditure of $2 billion that the weapon cost to develop. It was not, as you also claim, used to demonstrate U.S. military power and block Soviet expansion in the Far East. The atomic bombs were dropped after Japan's repeated refusals to sue for peace, Japan's continued atrocities perpetrated against prisoners-of-war and its intent to fight to the death to defend the home islands.
Most of the other letters similarly condemned the mayor for his recklessness in comparing the atomic bombings with the Holocaust and his audacity in criticizing the United States while the Japanese government has still not come to terms with its attack on Pearl Harbor, its aggression in Asia and its savage treatment of POW's. Many of the letters are unprintable.
However, the author of one handwritten note from North Carolina took an entirely different approach. He did not even mention the mayor's statement about the Holocaust, nor did he rehash any of the standard arguments about the events of World War II. The following is the complete text of the letter.
I have been concerned about the attitude of some Americans regarding the bombing by the U.S. of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs during WWII.
It is not possible for me to know the reasons for the war. Bias and cultural differences make full understanding for any of us very difficult. The easiest answer is that war is part of human nature. I hope that is not true. Perhaps preventing war is human nature. I'm sure most Americans and Japanese prefer peace.
I do not speak for the government of America. I write as an American who feels deep sympathy for the loss and suffering of Americans and Japanese during the war.
There were Americans and Japanese who acted with great honor during the war. I can not take credit for the heroism of others. I can admire that and feel proud to be human when I learn of those acts of bravery and compassion.
And, some Americans and Japanese were cruel. Cruelty often goes with war. I can only deplore such cruelty and hope that I would not be a cruel person in time of war.
My main reason to write is this: I don't want anger from the past to cause our society and yours to focus on blame. I want to say that as I love my family I know that the Japanese love their families. As I love my friends you love yours. The bombing of the two cities was a terrible event. Families and friends suffered greatly. I can only feel deep sadness for all the pain and suffering for both Americans and Japanese.
The entire world was diminished by the losses. I am sorry for the suffering of those families who lived through the atomic bomb blast. As an American I would fight to my last breath to defend my country. As a human being who sees all humans as brothers and sisters I would do all that I can to protect my children and yours from such horror in the future.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Communication on the basis of a shared commitment to peace is clearly the only way to ease the grudges and to bridge the gap in attitudes between the United States and Japan. Confrontation and condemnation will only lead to greater confrontation and fiercer condemnation.
The 1995 issue of CROSSROADS was complied in the same spirit as the above letter. We open with an article on Fred Olivi, who as a 23-year-old second-generation Italian-American was one of the pilots that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. While believing that the bomb helped end the war and save the lives of American soldiers, Olivi regrets the fact that the bomb had to be used in the first place and prays for continued good relations between Japan and the United States.
The second piece is a photo essay surrounding ten little publicized U.S. Air Force photographs taken shortly after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. About half are of the atomic mushroom cloud, while the remainder depict the destruction on the ground, especially in the area around the Urakami Catholic Church.
The article that follows describes the unusual fate of the torii arch at Sanno Shinto Shrine and its haunting significance today.
The next two articles relate the atomic bomb experience from the standpoint of the people who were under the mushroom cloud. One is a verbatim account of the explosion and its effects on the life of an elementary school pupil named Shimohira Sakue, who is now one of Nagasaki's most outspoken peace proponents. The other is the testimony of the late Nagai Takashi, the Nagasaki physician and internationally renowned writer on issues related to peace and the atomic bombing.
Even for the residents of Nagasaki who managed to avoid injury in the atomic bombing, life after the war's conclusion still brought anguish and sorrow. One of the most famous cases in point is that of Kuraba Tomisaburo, the British-Japanese son of the Scottish merchant Thomas Glover who survived years of harassment by Japanese military police only to commit suicide days after the end of the war.
The next piece focuses on Colonel Victor Delnore, the young second-generation Lebanese-American who headed the difficult task of supervising the reconstruction of Nagasaki during the Occupation period after the war. The commander of the American Occupation Forces from 1946 to 1949, Delnore brought a vision of fairness and democracy to his assignment that served the residents of Nagasaki well.
The issue concludes with an examination of the reasons behind the failure of the Smithsonian exhibit, and problems associated with other fiftieth anniversary commemorations. The real losers in the commemorative disputes are the children in Japan and the United States, who have once again been denied the opportunity to learn the lessons of history from World War Two.
We are confident that the articles, without pointing a finger at anyone or anything but the horror of war, provide important insights into the Nagasaki atomic bombing, its aftermath and the people whose lives it affected. And we hope that, in conjunction with the various other commemorations being held on both sides of the Pacific, CROSSROADS will open new avenues of communication and help to ensure that the fiftieth anniversary is remembered, not for argument and blame, but for discussion and reconciliation.
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