Thursday, August 6, 2009

Japan and the Atom Bomb

Today is a day to remember.

August 6th 1945 was the first time an atomic weapon was used in war. For the Japanese military and citizenry it was a terrible day of death and destruction. For America it was a day that began the end of war.

The decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki was made by President Harry S. Truman. The argument for dropping the bomb was that it would save thousands of allied lives from a land assault on the islands of Japan.

By choosing to remember this anniversary we once again acknowledge what war can do to nations and to the innocent and what misguided leadership can bring upon its people. For me it also invokes a childhood memory.

I remember growing up in the early part of World War two reciting hateful rhymes against the Japanese and in particular emperor Hirohito. We were, after all, at war and our fathers and uncles were in harms way. I guess it was a child’s way of dealing with known adult frustration, fear and anger that filtered down to us kids.

The Japs, as we called them then, were the enemy. Today they are the Japanese and we are demonstrable friends and fierce competitors.

Emperor Hirohito was 88 when he died in 1989. For 62 years he ruled from the chrysanthemum throne and he became the longest reigning monarch of the world's oldest imperial line. He saw his homeland go from a super military power and crushing defeat, to a world economic power achieving in business what it could not do in war.

Hirohito saw his life go from being considered and treated as a living god, to a position largely ceremonial.

According to author Stewart Chase, the Japanese have a word "Mokusatsu." It is comprised of two characters. Moku, meaning, "to kill" and Satsu, meaning, "with silence". Mokusatsu has two meanings depending on how it is used. It can mean to "refrain from comment" or it can mean, "to ignore".

Toward the end of the war, after months of intensive bombing of sixty other cities, the allies issued the Potsdam ultimatum to Japan. It said, "surrender or be crushed."

The Showa regime apparently was ready to capitulate but wanted more time to discuss it internally.

The Japanese issued a policy of "mokusatsu," in response to the Potsdam ultimatum with the refrain from comment meaning. That meaning, however, was mistranslated somewhere in the sending or receiving of it and it read to the allies, "the Japanese government ignores the Potsdam ultimatum." To recall the inaccurate translation would be an unthinkable loss of face for the Japanese.

A few days later the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

One word misinterpreted.

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