Ways of forgetting, ways of remembering

Ways of forgetting, ways of remembering

Prof. John W. Dower’s 2012 book with this title teaches us that there are several ways of forgetting even the recent past: impressive is the lack of information, to say the least, about the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing in the months and years immediately following the end of WW2.  In Japan the allied occupants forbade publishing documentation on the health conditions of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and in the USA very few had access to scientific information on the situation of the people struck by the nuclear bombs of the two cities.

Unofficial censorship was at work even in 1994-5,

when the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum decided not to celebrate the end of the Pacific war by exposing the Enola Gay B29 bomber that carried the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima, because critics saw it impossible to celebrate the “heroic” deed of the plane, and the mobilization of science and technology expertize when taking into consideration the 200.000 or 300.000 victims (mainly Japanese civilian, but also Koreans, Americans, Europeans) and the horrors of what it left on the ground.

Public history is difficult to narrate,

because all history is laden with passion and empathy, and while soldiers at the front killed each other and fought to conquer this hill or that island, civilians on both parties suffered the loss of their men (and women) and the destruction of homes and of their future.

Masuji Ibuse, Black RainDr. Michihiko Hachiya was a civilian doctor who witnessed and suffered himself the devastating effects of the Hiroshima bomb on August 6th. He kept an eight-week diary in Japanese, which has become, together with Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain, a simple, objective narrative of the situation at ground zero after the “Pika-don”, or the flash and blast of the bomb.  He understood before others that everyone who stayed within one kilometre from the bomb’s hypocenter was dying for the radiations.  His diary was translated into English and it constitutes one of the best documentation on the local situation in the first days after the bomb in Hiroshima.

Let’s think of Anna Frank’s diary, and of the official history of those years.  It is difficult to forget the atmosphere of the diary, while we forget the numbers or the exact chronology of facts.  History is written by the winners, and the losers are forgotten.  In the whole world, the Jews are active in remembering the Holocaust, while almost all the other populations, including the Japanese, tend to forget the recent past.

The rapid change of attitude of the losers is another element of surprise: a few contacts with the occupying American soldiers is enough to have Japanese civilians change radically their perspective: from devils, the Americans become friends, perhaps more reliable than the Japanese soldiers that come home after long hardships sustained in the Pacific.

There are many ways of forgetting what cannot be anymore meaningful. The propaganda and the public opinion manipulation on both side of the Pacific constitutes an ideal field of study, and the book by Prof. Dower is a monument of balance and scholarship, useful in thinking what is truth.

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2 Responses to Ways of forgetting, ways of remembering

  1. miriamcleo 14 novembre 2012 at 23:00

    I’ve read Anna Frank’s diary when I was a little bit older than the age she died: it impressed me, astonished me and inspired me. I realized that nobody can escape pain, even after death. Another intresting fact is that I used to watch Japanese anime, catch, series on tv, like most of young people in the 80s in Italy: I perceived the strong value of a person in hardship that is one of the features of Japanese culture, and this impressed me, astonished me, inspired me.
    Both of people, i. e. the Jews and the Japanese, suffered for the worst holocaust along the WW2. But 2 different reactions happened: the Jewish people gathered and managed to create the Israeli state, giving the way of the middle-east tensions; Japan officially closed the eyes and heart to the million of deaths caused by the American bombs on a struggled and starving people. But art has a sincere heart and doesn’t forget: this led to cinema, visual arts and literature new branches celebrating the holocaust and the atomic era.
    Eventually, after high school I decided to quit Jewish culture (still very interesting to me) to deepen Japanese one, focussing on Asian art history. I have read Black Rain, as Oe’s profound feelings in Hiroshima Notes, watched 火垂るの墓 (Grave of the Fireflies).
    What happens when society forgets? That the blasfemy of lies and hypocrisy hurts our heart, which is the special feature that links us to one another.

  2. Kazuo Inumaru 14 novembre 2012 at 23:14

    Thank you! Forgetting is a way to lessen our responsibility, but in so doing we forget also about our true essence.


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