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The American narrative of Hiroshima is a statue that must be toppled via Counterpunch

By Robert Jacobs and Ran Zwigenberg

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The American telling of the nuclear attacks focuses on the astonishing accomplishments of scientists involved in developing the weapons, on industrial manufacturers producing the weapons, politicians “deciding” what to do with the revolutionary technology, and the highly trained military personnel who “dropped” the bombs (always a passive construction) on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seems that every year someone finds another way to tell the story that celebrates the inclusiveness prioritized in modern American narration. Some tell the story of children expressing pride in their parents involvement in creating this weapon. Others find “inspiring” angles of inclusiveness such as gender, or of minority racial groups, leaving unmentioned the enforcement of Jim Crow style discrimination in employment practices in the Manhattan Project production workforce. But the central players in the story are Americans, there are no Japanese people in the story. Japanese people are included only as statistics: how many dead; how many wounded. It is a story of the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of human beings in which those murdered are a footnote. No Japanese person is named.

This is a continuation of the war time erasure of Japanese humanity. In its practice of “urbacide” the US military turned human urban settlements, which were full of innocent civilians, into “kill zones,” “target areas,” and “workers dwellings,” or simply equations or statistics of burned area and bomb tonnage. Hiroshima was the culmination of a campaign that saw up to 350,000 civilians bombed, burned and strafed by the US 20th Air Force. Yet, we treat the people who executed these raids as tortured souls who hated what they were doing. That is if we think about them at all.

The fire raids are completely obscured by the A-bombs in American and Japanese memory. Historian Mark Selden called these, somewhat provocatively, a forgotten Holocaust. The comparison with the Holocaust is problematic for contemporary Americans. Even obscene. But, this was not always so. Already in August 1945, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Felix Morley, not exactly a Marxist firebrand, wrote “At Nazi concentration camps, we have paraded horrified German civilians before the piled bodies of tortured Nazi victims…It would be equally salutary to send groups of representative Americans to Hiroshima. There, as at Buchenwald, there are plenty of unburied dead.” We still have not heeded Morley’s advice. We are still refusing to look at the crimes we committed during our last good war. If Morley could say this in 1945, right after the liberation of the camps, American patriotism at its highest point, we should be able to think about the implications of the comparison now.

But we rarely do. The American narrative of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—which are by definition, war crimes—focuses entirely on the perpetrators. When it is being recounted by experts, it often obsesses over them. Who said what to whom on what day? What materials were moved from place A to place B on what day? How were the weapons of mass destruction assembled? Who did what? The American narrative of the nuclear attacks is an obsession with the killers, and with their weapon. To the degree that the war crime itself is discussed, the focus is on the physical effects and dynamics of the weapon. The presence beneath this process of thousands of schoolchildren is unnoted.

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