Subtle impact

Twenty years ago, most people would probably say that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was the single-most significant event of the last century. Five years into a new century and history is already writing a different story.

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. The event has received a great deal of coverage in weblogs, as well as other publications.

Among webloggers there were those who come out with a hearty ‘Well Done!’ in regards to the bombing; and those who deplore the event as barbaric and unnecessary. Most acknowledge that they don’t have any ready answer, as to whether we should have dropped the bomb or not. As to whether the act was a war crime or not, well, they say history is written by the victors. As Curtis LeMay said of his own part in the firebombing of Japan before the atomic bomb was dropped, if the US had lost the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.

The depth of knowledge about the atomic bombing varied widely among the webloggers. Some adhered to the rote view that “millions were saved” because of the bombs, a number and notion that has been largely discredited over time. I found one weblogger who talked about Hiroshima being in China. (I won’t embarrass him by linking–note: it isn’t.). On the other hand, Susan Kitchens has been writing a set of posts that details the events, day by day, leading up to the bombings, and the aftermath.

Some webloggers wrote empathetically of the bombing and the inhumanity of war. I found, though, that many people have a detached view of the event: they know it was a Bad thing for people to do to other people, regardless of whether it was necessary or not. But it was something that happened a long time ago.

One weblogger wrote the following, which says more than just the few words imply:

Yesterday was the 60th aniversary of the Atomic Bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, and on Tuesday is the 60th aniversary of the Atmoic Bomb being dropped on Nagasaki. This resulted betwen 50000 and 150000 deaths i dont know how many and i cant be bothered to check anyway remember the dead

Another weblogger who lives in Hiroshima wrote:

I did not know anything about sufferings that people who lived in Hiroshima back in 1945.

I watched a TV program on atomic bombing last night. I learned a lot, and realized that I really have not known about how much and how many people suffered from the bombing until now. I am not trying to victimize myself for just being born and raised in Hiroshima. My parents are not originally from Hiroshima, so I do not really have relatives who can tell me how it was back then.

Joi Ito was asked to provide his perspective on the event in an op-ed for the New York Times. I found his writing to be a frank, dispassionate, and unflinching look at the viewpoint of today’s younger, affluent, less traditional, and more future thinking Japanese:

WHEN people ask my thoughts on the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I always feel uncomfortable. As a Japanese, I know how I’m supposed to respond: with sadness, regret and perhaps anger. But invariably I try to dodge the issue, or to reply as neutrally as possible.

That’s because, at bottom, the bombings don’t really matter to me or, for that matter, to most Japanese of my generation. My peers and I have little hatred or blame in our hearts for the Americans; the horrors of that war and its nuclear evils feel distant, even foreign. Instead, the bombs are simply the flashpoint marking the discontinuity that characterized the cultural world we grew up in.

Joi has received some heat for his writing from those who think he didn’t display the ‘proper’ perspective on the event; I, personally, valued his honesty and insight.

Joi’s writing and his mention of the future leads, indirectly, to another August 6th anniversary: it is the Web’s birthday, as it was on this day in 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee released a set of documents detailing his vision for a “World Wide Web”. I could ask Joi and others which they consider the more significant event–the bombing of Hiroshima or the invention of the Web–but I think I know the answer: in Japan, and elsewhere, the lessons of the past must compete with the hope for the future, and hope can be a powerful force.

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