Seventy years ago today, and of “the most terrible bomb in the history of the world”, via Hiroshi Sawachik, a 28-year-old Army doctor then working in Hiroshima:
“The smell was quite strong. It’s a sad reality that the smell human beings produce when they are burned is the same as that of the dried squid when it is grilled.”
Japan marked the anniversary this morning at 8:15, supposedly when ‘Fat Boy’ ignited over the geographical center of Hiroshima, killing nearly 80,000 people near-immediately, 140,000 within six months; total people killed, 300,000.
As a sixth-grader (1960), this was my American history: ‘Instead, Americans were told a sanitised narrative of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: that a great scientific endeavour had brought quick victory, and saved hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides.’
(Illustration: ‘Hiroshima,’ by Maxime Taccardi, found here).
And that self-same sixth-grader could not have grasped the US had historically practiced genocide, with a brutish touch of slavery. The warped sense of pure Americana is pure bullshit, and the war crime at Hiroshima is not excluded from that reality of real history.
Able to focus that reality better than I, Christian Appy, author of “American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity,” and professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, explains the naivety in a detailed piece from Tuesday at TomDispatch.
We’re exceptional only in denial — key note:
In 1988, for example, after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 passengers (including 66 children), Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running for president, proclaimed, “I will never apologize for the United States. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
It turns out, however, that Bush’s version of American remorselessness isn’t quite enough.
After all, Americans prefer to view their country as peace-loving, despite having been at war constantly since 1941.
This means they need more than denials and non-apologies.
They need persuasive stories and explanations (however full of distortions and omissions).
The tale developed to justify the bombings that led to a world in which the threat of human extinction has been a daily reality may be the most successful legitimizing narrative in our history.
Seventy years later, it’s still deeply embedded in public memory and school textbooks, despite an ever-growing pile of evidence that contradicts it.
Perhaps it’s time, so many decades into the age of apocalyptic peril, to review the American apologia for nuclear weapons — the argument in their defense — that ensured we would never have to say we’re sorry.
If you’re open to the truth, read the whole thing — pretty-much old news. Any half-serious digging reveals Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t militarily required, other than a sharp-poke at the Soviets.
On the Hiroshima ground, though, it was a nightmare. Sunao Tsuboi, 90, was a 20-year-old college kid, and now a ‘hibakusha‘ (atomic bomb survivor) with a memory — from the Guardian this week:
Tsuboi remembers hearing a loud bang, then being blown into the air and landing 10 metres away.
He regained consciousness to find he had been burned over most of his body, his shirtsleeves and trouser legs ripped off by the force of the blast.
“My arms were badly burned and there seemed to be something dripping from my fingertips,” said Tsuboi, who is co-chair of Nihon Hidankyo, a nationwide organisation of atomic and hydrogen bomb sufferers.
“My back was incredibly painful, but I had no idea what had just happened. I assumed I had been close to a very large conventional bomb.
“I had no idea it was a nuclear bomb and that I’d been exposed to radiation. There was so much smoke in the air that you could barely see 100 metres ahead, but what I did see convinced me that I had entered a living hell on earth.
“There were people crying out for help, calling after members of their family. I saw a schoolgirl with her eye hanging out of its socket.
“People looked like ghosts, bleeding and trying to walk before collapsing. Some had lost limbs.
“There were charred bodies everywhere, including in the river. I looked down and saw a man clutching a hole in his stomach, trying to stop his organs from spilling out.
“The smell of burning flesh was overpowering.”
Good-old Americana filled the history. In the horrifyingly-hypocritical words of Harry Truman: ‘“The atom bomb was no ‘great decision.’ It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness.”‘
And so opposed to Lui’s emoting: ‘“But what else can a tourist do but weep!”‘