We Must All Be Peacemakers: Remembering Hiroshima
There's an inside joke in the academic field I trained in about analyzing a person through the lens of their PhD dissertation. Mine was on the atomic bomb. I lived for a year writing about it in Hiroshima, Japan and experienced a strange sense of homecoming to a place where I was joined by blood to both the victims and the perpetrators. The intimacy of that fault line wasn't something I consciously thought about too much until my grant-aunt told me (in our half Japanese, half English conversation style) that my grandmother and my grandfather argued about the atomic bomb non-stop throughout their courtship in Tokyo. This news stunned me. Neither of them had ever once mentioned the atomic bombing to me. I had asked my grandmother about it once and she just shook her head and said how horrible it was. Then she added that a classmate of her's lost her entire family.
I sometimes catch a glimpse in my mind's eye of my grandparents as young lovers arguing about the ethics of the atomic bomb. It puts everything else that would come later in their lives in context. They never stopped arguing and it was passed along as a trauma inherited by their children and grandchildren. Conflict and violence isn't just something I've studied, trained, and worked in -- it's something I was born to. The reckoning of that breach is in my bones.
Today is August 6th. It is a day that will forever be a solemn day for me. The day the American government released a weapon of mass destruction upon a civilian population that would forever alter the way we understand ourselves and our existence on this planet. It's a day in Hiroshima where the remaining few victims (hibakusha) gather to be honored, a day where young people and activists stage die-ins, a day where people come from all over the world to be reminded of what happens at the most extreme level when fighting becomes a permanent habit of mind and action.
What might Hiroshima mean for us? What might it mean for those of us picking up the pieces after a year and a half of crisis? What might it mean for those who have come of age in a sickened national political environment where the language and the mentality of fighting seems to be the only way to achieve anything? I have had several conversations now with young people who are pulled towards my city council campaign to unify Ward 10 (and our city) around progressive ideas that are principled and practical. But they're angry. They aren't sure we can make change without "burning it down."
Sitting here, reflecting on August 6th reminds me of the common argument used to justify destroying Hiroshima itself. After all, the Japanese had sided with fascism and were conducting a ruthless campaign of violence in China and Korea. They had to be destroyed, we said. By any means necessary, we said. Just take a look at what that kind of "ends justifies the means" thinking did. This is what was left of a city filled with human beings, many of whom became nothing but shadows scorched onto whatever crumbling walls were still in place.
Finding another way is not easy. But everything I know -- from the books and from my bones -- tells me this is what we are here to do. Across this city, look for those who are running campaigns built on the values of compassion and consensus-building. When you find them, support them. Reject the political climate of our day and vote for the peacemakers.