Friday, August 6, 2010

6 August 1945-2010 65 Years Since Hiroshima: history, memory, commemoration

The anniversary of the first use of atomic weapons is always a time for reflections of widely ranging perspectives and quality in the press.

Whether it is mainly a matter of the passing of time or the change of administrations, this was the first year that the US officially took part in the commemorations in Japan, a topic of many press reports and opinion pieces (see the list at the bottom of this post).

In other coverage, the Spiegel's contribution, "Hiroshima Fights to Keep Memory of Nuclear Attack Alive," puts forth the view that not just the outside world, but Hiroshima itself is in danger of forgetting the event, a thesis that seems at once plausible—to the extent that generations change and any event recedes from the lived past into the historical—and exaggerated. It quotes a woman whose grandmother survived the attack:
The exhibits at the museum are very moving, and that is important to Niiyama. "We cannot forget the past," she says. "Of course we must also remember the crimes that were committed by our own military during World War II." Even 65 years after the end of the war, Japan still has a hard time coming to terms with its own history.

It's a problem, however, that isn't exlusive to Japan. Niiyama learned that during a year abroad, when she studied at a college in the United States. "To me, Hiroshima's message is not an indictment, but rather a warning for peace and against the nuclear bomb," she says. "I would have really liked to have told my fellow students in the US a lot about my hometown and its history," she says. But she says people had little interest in those stories.

Niiyama said her experience was that America's telling of history comes through overblown movies like "Pearl Harbor." She says she found there was a lack of any real discussion about the dropping of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "We will probably have to wait an eternity for an objective Hollywood film about the victims of Hiroshima," Niiyama says, sounding a little bitter.
The reporter does not challenge the latter assertion, which certainly seems at odds with my sense of the way that US history education has evolved in the last generation or two. It would at the least have been interesting to pursue the issue, given that Germany has in many ways been so frank in confronting is own wartime past.

Over at Open Democracy, Daniel Bruno Sanz looks at the relation between past and present from a slightly different angle, asking how postwar apocalyptic science fiction influenced our visions of the future, and perhaps explain our fears today:
A spectre is haunting the United States: the spectre of nuclear attack without nuclear war. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Iran, Pakistan and North Korea, capable state and shadowy non-state actors contemplate flattening an American city with a device smuggled into the United States at one hundred possible ports of entry. It would have no return address. The scenarios of holocaust are many and multiply with the advance of technology and the information age. What will this lead to? (read the rest)
The piece uses as its main example the film, "Five" (1951; trailer included there).

further reading:

• the 2008 post on this site
• Greg Mitchell, Special Report:  "Atomic Film Coverup:  Key Footage from Hiroshima Buried for Decades," The Nation, 12 August

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