September 2006


Historical Perspectives

Last week, for the first time in ages, ICQ served up a random, interesting conversation, rather than its usual parade of “sexy” people who want me to click their links.

A teenager from Japan privated me. He was (is?) writing a paper about the Weimar Republic and found my ICQ profile, which lists “Weimar” as my residence. An interesting conversation ensued. At some point I clarified that I was an American.

Yoshihito: I don’t like USA very much.

So you can guess what I was expecting: a rant about US foreign policy regarding Iraq and how W has done wrong not just there but everywhere. And I was going to be forced to agree.

But no:

Yoshihito: USA did terrible things to us

Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback. I hadn’t expected to discuss the use of nuclear weapons during World War II. I took the bait.

Adam: I am not sure we can really debate that: Yes nuclear bombs were not good, but neither was Pearl Harbor
Yoshihito: died in Pearl Harbor hundred thousands of good people?
Yoshihito: women and children?
Adam: Many people died in Pearl Harbor, not as many as by nuclear bombs, but… Pearl Harbor is only a fragment of the map. Japan was hurting people in Korea, China, and all over Southeast Asia.
Adam: The USA is not good either — it has hurt people all over the Middle East, Vietnam, and other places
Yoshihito: but nuclear weapons?
Adam: I suppose not, but… for many of the nuclear victims death was quick and painless. Japanese soldiers were much less nice to people elsewhere.
Yoshihito: no
Adam: no?
Yoshihito: It was crime
Adam: the soldiers were not obeying orders?
Yoshihito: can you imagine, what gigantic murdering it was
Adam: There is a difference between murder (see Germany’s holocaust (millions of jews), Japan’s Nanking Massacre (300,000 people?!)) and something in the course of war. That doesn’t justify the nuclear bombs, but it does point out that few countries are not guilty.

We had a discussion about honor, the Japanese Emperor, the people of Japan and some other things before closing out for that day. The next time we chatted, the subject returned:

Yoshihito: With that USA committed a crime worse than anything that Hitler or Japanese Army did
Yoshihito: They destroyed a city in a second
Yoshihito: 270.000 people died in just a second
Adam: Hitler killed millions of Jews
Adam: put them on railroad cars—not passenger railroad cars, mind you, freight cars
Adam: took them thousands of miles and gassed them, then burned the bodies, after taking all the valuables (like gold) out of the bodies
Adam: that’s worse than a nuclear bomb?!
Yoshihito: no
Yoshihito: nuclear bomb is much worse
Yoshihito: it poisoned the land
Yoshihito: it killed with no select
Yoshihito: it killed anything
Yoshihito: it killed years after the war

The question of Honor picked up again:

Yoshihito: what do you feel when you see this?
Adam: I think you are lucky to have an emperor you respect. I wish I had a president I respected.
Yoshihito: Isn’t it disappointment for USA that they were not able to defeat the emperor?
Adam: No. And what’s more remarkable and unprecedented in history is that the US helped Japan rebuild.
Yoshihito: You want Thanks? Not in thousand years

Is my take on history really that out of whack? I’m not convinced that the second nuclear bomb should have been dropped, but it was war and I tend to think the war against the Japanese and the Germans was a just and good war as both nations were invading and hurting other nations, not just the United States.

10 comments to Historical Perspectives

  • koko

    I’m really shocked. In fact I’m disgusted. Perhaps I’m reading this completely in a negative light or with a more open mind or even with a little bit of a non-biased history education (history in general saddens me).

    I’m not a confederate flag waving ignorant fool. Ultimately, war happens and war never only attacks the guilty while avoiding the innocent. Living in a country doesn’t make one guilty or should it automagically make one’s beliefs what their leaders beliefs are. Of course nuclear bombs are awful, as your chatter said…it has long term effects on the land and people. But WHO IS HE/SHE TO SAY THAT ANY FORM OF MASSACRE IS BETTER OR WORSE THAN THE OTHER. I find that to be a clearly ignorant and self righteous way of thinking. I really wonder if he/she were in a different country and raise and educated in a different place what his/her thoughts would be.

    I’m not saying that what nuclear bombs are the way to go or that what the US did was right or wrong. I’m on the belief that any sort of mass killing is just down right terrible no matter if it was right or wrong. Is it really necessary to put all people of a certain faith, gender, or nationality in a camp only to miss treat them and kill them? Is it really necessary to drop a nuclear bomb? Is it really necessary to mass kill at all? I’m not going to say that it is right nor wrong to mass kill, I just think that it’s awful and it is what happens when countries are at war. Ultimately there is a reason for it, though it might not be right and it might not be wrong. There is no way of stopping massacre when there is a war or act of terrorism. It is going to happen no matter if you’re from country A or country B. If there is a war, innocent people are likely to die.

    I just think that it’s all embarrassing no matter what angle you look at it. I can’t justify killing lots of people no matter the way it’s done, it’s awful. I know there are “reasons” why it’s done but I don’t know if the “reasons” are right or wrong. It’s all sad…

    And this person is a teenager? I think he/she ought to realize that it’s done and over with…in fact it’s been done and over with for several decades. What was done was done and we cannot change that. No, it certainly doesn’t make things right but you can’t change things. Nor do I think it’s worth getting so upset over and being rude and hateful to someone from another country who had nothing to do with that decision or was that person even alive during that time!! (yes I felt like he was being rude and hateful towards adam). This child is obviously very much in support of his country but is it necessary to act like that? It really makes me wonder what they are teaching these kids in school. To have such a strong feeling towards something that is done and over with and cannot be changed…and so long ago. Yes it is awful but to still hate people over it seems to be a bit dramatic. I’m not saying his feelings are not valid, but geesh.

    Like I’ve said, I’m not a fan of any sort of mass murder (or murder in general) and it makes me sick to think of the things people have done over the years…but I don’t hold it against anyone who lives there or who is part of that country several generations later. I hate the fact that bombs are dropped, that people are killed because of their faith, race, or gender, or any sort of killing. And I am certainly not permitted to say what form of death is better or worse than the other because it is all awful.

    That’s just my point of view…sorry for the long rant. Perhaps my understanding and view points of history and morals are completely off the wall…but whoa. *hands over soap box*

  • I think you’re running into that Asian trait of never apologizing in the face of obvious error. They are right, the rest of the world is wrong. See, the USA isn’t the only country in the world ingesting that line of crap.

    What I found most appalling is that we are worse for using a nuclear bomb to HASTEN the death of what would have likely been a million+ US and Japanese soliders to put an end to that war.

    No, it isn’t just to kill indisciminately, but that young person in Japan certainly needs some perspective. It wasn’t right for Hitler to kill millions and it wasn’t right of Japan to kill hundreds of thousands in the quest for empire.

    Also, this kid is using revisionist history. We had no way of knowing at the time just HOW BAD radioactive fallout would be nor the long-term poisoning effect it would have.

    I agree, certainly enough blame to go around. *ugh*

  • Anonymous

    [..] “I think he/she ought to realize that it’s done and over with…in fact it’s been done and over with for several decades” […]
    oh, that is a bit too drastic and rash for me –
    regarding history, i think this is a surely wrong way of commemorating historical facts. there are theories which say, that it takes generations, until you can have a distanced view on your own history and according to that reveal its meaning. i truely believe, that history should never be just over. but maybe i am pointing out here my difficulties with my own history, since i am german, and nobody knows, when i finally will actually be “good” with that and lose the guilt i feel, because of my heritage and its history, regardless if i did not even live in that period of time.
    i think what yoshihito was trying to say, was his complications on the actual planning of the fall of the “little boy” – bomb, its further consequences and the verily knowledge about the destruction of everything – at that time and decades later, since it has been a dead land after the drop and it still is after so many years.
    and maybe he can speak like that, because he is sadly involved in that history like nobody of us would like to be involved.
    comparing one masacre to another is senseless, after all, i agree.

  • anki

    sorry, i forgot my name…

  • koko

    Anki, I’m not saying that we should forget history. But I feel that there should be a time when you realize that things cannot be changed and you can’t go around blaming people forever or you’ll be miserable forever. There has to be a time when you let history be history and you learn from it and deal with it as is. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have any feelings towards something so awful or that his feelings are invalid. Of course people have different feelings and emotions and rightfully so. I certainly think that all forms of massacre are horrific…but letting your personal feelings effect your rationality on stuff is senseless.

    I am both a German and US citizen. I have to look at it rationally. I can’t let myself be so overwhelmed with hate that it has an effect on my interactions with others. I can’t blame people who had nothing to do with some awful event that happened so long ago. History happens, learn from it.

  • Obviously the question of what “should have been done” to end the Second World War is a complicated one.

    But I agree with Koko that we should not be moral relativists when it comes to bloodshed. It is all horrible, and I could not possibly defend dropping a nuclear bomb, even to a country that may have massacred thousands.

    None of it is right in the end.

  • I don’t think that I can begin to do justice to all the thoughtful comments y’all have left.

    I do want to make a few overarching points about national guilt. It is unreasonable for anybody to hold the people of any one nation responsible for that nation’s past actions. That is to say that although the United States is guilty of slavery, massive civil rights violations, messing up Cuba, and an unjust war in Vietnam (to name just a few items), I am not personally guilty. The only thing I am guilty of is not campaigning hard enough in 2004 to defeat Bush.

    It’s not as if Die Bild’s headline “Wir sind Papst” is true: germans are not pope, an individual is pope.

    So, I do not think of Germans as guilty of the holocaust. Rather I look at history and think that we need to prevent the set of circumstances that allowed Hitler to gain power from ever happening again.

    What disturbed me the most with Yoshihito’s comments is that he fails to realize that Japan, like the US is guilty of bad behavior. I’m not an expert on the Pacific Theater of WWII, but my quick reading of material indicates that Japan caused as much, if not more, civilian death as Hitler did with the Holocaust.

    The civilian deaths caused by the US use of the nuclear bomb are a tiny fraction of those caused by Germany and those caused by Japan. This does not justify the use of nuclear weapons–that’s a different debate–merely I point this out for proportionality of the US inhumanity toward man.

    As for use of the nuclear bomb, I would tend to argue that the first bomb was justified. It is more difficult to ascertain if the second device was justified. As an individual who values life, I buy the arguement that the first nuclear bomb saved more lives than it cost. We know that the Japanese Military did not conceed defeat easily. War in the Pacific took a long time because it was difficult to take one island at a time and root out the Japanese enemy. Dropping a bomb might have instantly (and over time) caused 300,000 deaths, but at the same time that prevented the deaths of many US and Allied soldiers (a plus in my book) as well as many civilians all over Japan that would have died with the Allied invasion.

    I want point out, for the record, that I have, in the past, discussed Japanese internment during WWII on this blog. Japanese Internment was horrific and a terrible decision by the US government. It was one of the worst mistakes made by the United States during that war.

  • mikey

    What is interesting is that Japan itself was developing nuclear weapons during WWII. I wonder how ethically they would have used nuclear weapons if successful.

    Second, Japan was a few days away from killing all allied POWs before the bombs were dropped. The orders were issued and it was just a matter of a few hours before the murdering took place. In effect, the dropping of bombs saved thousands of allied prisoners from being murdered.

    Finally, the alternative was a direct invasion ala D-Day, which conservative estimates put allied casulaties around one million.

    Overall, I think that Japan got off very easy for the murdering bastards that they were. Yoshihito may only have one testicle now, but that is a small price to pay, IMHO.

  • I read this original post and had lots of things to say, then read the comments are realized it had already been said. Well, I can still say thank you for the thoughtful post and articulate responses.

    As a former active duty Marine, I have the utmost respect for the power and horrors of war. It sounds like your Japanese net-pal may be missing a bit of perspective and national introspection. (Much like our own Bush is missing now, but that is another post.)

    Thanks again.

  • I read this original post and had lots of things to say, then read the comments are realized it had already been said. Well, I can still say thank you for the thoughtful post and articulate responses.

    As a former active duty Marine, I have the utmost respect for the power and horrors of war. It sounds like your Japanese net-pal may be missing a bit of perspective and national introspection. (Much like our own Bush is missing now, but that is another post.)

    Thanks again.