For most people in the United States, August 6th and 9th pass without recognition, slipping by as ordinary summer days. These days, however, are carved into the cultural identities of two cities in Japan. This year marked the 73rd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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Japan Times reports that 50,000 people attended the commemoration in Hiroshima, including the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, and representatives of nuclear armed states such as the UK and U.S.A. (Osumi). In the annual Peace Declaration, Kazumi Matsui, the current mayor of Hiroshima, stressed, If the human family forgets history or stops confronting it, we could again commit a terrible error (Asahi Shimbun). This assertion seems to parallel the common idiom, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it (Frost). In this case, a repeat of history would entail more dire consequences due to the increased number of weapons and refinement of nuclear technology. While nationalism is often innocuous, with regards to the 1945 attacks, its impact can be seen in how evidence of the bombing was suppressed, public opinion reflects value of national identity more than noncombatant lives, and in how some efforts to educate Americans on the damage of nuclear warfare have been opposed on the basis of patriotism. These reactions throughout history provide insights into how nationalism affects the current U.S. nuclear policy Following the conclusion of World War II, the American public had little awareness of what the after effects were of dropping the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was due to the Press Code enforced during the Allied Occupation of Japan which forbade, the release of information concerning war damage (Marc??n 1).
The Civil Censorship Detachment controlled publishing and had the rights to censor or refuse to publish any press writings and photographs (Civil Censorship Detachment). The result of censoring both professional and amateur photos was that for seven years, pictures from neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki could be published, nor could the suffering of the victims be recognised and properly discussed (Marc??n 1). Consequently, the wider Japanese and American public neither saw nor heard significant depictions of what had occurred to the communities living in those two cities. It is unlikely that there would be much of any photographic record if it were not for the individuals who hid their negatives in defiance of the ordinance to destroy all photos. After the occupation ended in 1952, evidence of the catastrophic damage began to emerge. Since then, approval of Truman’s decision to drop the bombs has decreased sharply in U.S. public polls (Sagan and Valentino). The significance of these polls is that it could indicate whether the public is likely to curb or embolden a president’s inclination to use nuclear weapons in times of crisis. In this way, polls that display a public increasingly opposed to nuclear strikes are a good sign that the people will discourage use of nukes. In contrast to these findings, Sagan and Valentino polled Americans in 2015 using hypothetical scenarios that related to Iran. The poll asked Americans which they would prefer: 100,000 Iranian civilian deaths by nuclear air strike or a ground war that would result in the loss of 20,000 US troops. A majority of 55.6% preferred a nuclear strike on Iran instead of losing Americans. The more shocking result was that when respondents were to pick between 2,000,000 Iranian noncombatant lives or 20,000 U.S. soldiers, 59.1% would still approve if the U.S. chose to use the bomb, regardless of whether the individual initially preferred it. These results would seem to indicate that most Americans would ultimately approve of a nuclear strike. Therefore, even if public opinion on Truman’s decision to use the bomb is less favorable than it was in 1945, the current U.S. public opinion reflects willingness to approve of its usage in future instances. It is apparent from these polls that national identity trumps the value of protecting noncombatant lives.
In addition to looking at how U.S. public opinion has been affected by the nuclear decision, it is important to consider how norms are formulated after traumatic world events and their impact on policies. Paul D’Anieri asserts that norms “spread across societies and then influence governments from the bottom up (397). Constructivist theory focuses on how these norms become the rationale for numerous decisions made by states. If there were an international norm against using nuclear weapons for any reason, it is less likely that this force would be used. In his book, Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, Jeffrey C. Alexander discusses how universal norms emerge after societal traumas, such as the holocaust. He posits that the holocaust has become perceived as an unacceptable evil in society due to its transformation, into a less nationally bound, less temporally specific, and more universal drama (228). In order for Americans to empathize with the tragedy of the Holocaust, the event had to be framed as an archetype of universal evil that expressed the message that evil is inside all of us, and in every society (229). Without equivocating the two events, parallels can be drawn between this interpretation of the Holocaust and the nuclear strike of 1945. The holocaust is looked on as unutterably tragic because of the excessive cruelty and loss of life. But does not the attack against Hiroshima and Nagasaki merit consdieration as a failure of modern societies to contain conflict and aggression within legal and ethical limits (Peterson 258)? It reflects the U.S. inability in that time to establish peace by means other than the profoundly destructive force of nuclear weaponry. When the attack was carried out in 1945, there was no nation in the world able to retaliate. Now, there is an estimated 14,485 nuclear weapons in the world (Kristensen and Norris).
If one nation chooses to deploy a nuclear weapon, other states can retaliate with like force. Rather than looking at the attack as an unfortunate event in Japanese history, it could become as Alexander puts it, a more universal drama if societies of nuclear armed nations looked at the attacks of 1945 as something that could happen to any community. Kiyoko Imori, a survivor of the attack, expressed, I’ve come to realize the reason I’m alive is to tell people what happened (Okazaki). Another survivor revealed places on his body that the bomb marred and said, I’ve shown you my wounds because I want you to know this can’t happen again (Okazaki). Many of the survivors have become activists who want to see a nuclear free world. Their stories and others are necessary if the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are to transform into international norms that will make nuclear warfare unthinkable. Several attempts made by nonstate actors to bring further awareness of the damage done by the atomic bomb have been curtailed by nationalistic pride attached to the war. For example, in 1995, Michael Harwit planned an exhibit in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum that sought to display artifacts and stories from the Japanese cities and express the view that the bombings marked a new era in which the human species was endangered (Miyamoto 18). This was met with such intense criticism that the exhibit was never opened and Harwit resigned. Many of those who opposed the exhibit were veterans, who did not want to see the Enola Gay hanging in an exhibit that they felt tarnished their service. From Yuki Miyamoto’s perspective, the atomic bombing was part of a sacred mission to save American soldiers and American values, even though it resulted in an unfortunate loss of non-American lives (21).
While American soldiers should be honored for their sacrifice, the response to the Smithsonian exhibit shows how the social climate in America obstructed honor for other victims of the war. In addition, by shielding the effects of the bomb from public display and debate, it increased the likelihood that generations after the war will not have an accurate concept of the total devastation that comes from nuclear war. Although atomic weapons have not been used for 73 years, they are still relevant in the current day due to non-proliferation efforts, such as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Nationalism may have contributed to the reasons listed by the Trump administration for its recent decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Notably, only a third of the issues were relevant to the nuclear program. The rest, according to NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel, have to do with things like sponsoring terrorism and supporting groups opposed to U.S. interests in the region. If preventing the development of nuclear weapons was the priority of the U.S., then these issues would be treated separately to not jeopardize the 2015 deal. It shows a lack of concern about how nuclear war could impact more than regional allies.
A 2013 study predicted that even a limited regional nuclear strike could cause a nuclear-war induced famine that would threaten well over two billion lives (Helfand 2). Thus, nuclear nonproliferation should be prioritized above national interests. In conclusion, nationalism’s impact on the interpretation of the bombings in World War II is evident in how censorship occurred during Allied occupation, public polling reflects value of American lives over many civilian lives, and how certain efforts to heighten understanding of the danger and destruction have been resisted due to accusations of being anti-American (Miyamoto 19). In a 1995 speech on nuclear disarmament, Nobel Peace Prize winner Joseph Rotblat reflected: In advocating the new loyalty to humankind 1 am not suggesting that we give up national loyalties We have to extend our loyalty to the whole of the human race (53). Nationalities are a substantial component of the beauty of humanity. Nevertheless, it is vital for citizens and politicians alike to acknowledge that nuclear warfare threatens all cultures and societies without discriminating between national borders.
Alexander, Jeffrey C., et al. Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, University of California Press, 2004. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/tridenttech/detail.action?docID=837285. Brumfiel, Geoff. Reimposing Sanctions Will Hasten End Of Iran Nuclear Deal, Some Experts Warn.NPR, NPR, 3 Nov. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/11/03/663442965/reimposing-sanctions-will-hasten-end-of-iran-nuclear-deal-some-experts-warn. Civil Censorship Detachment.The Kelmscott Press | William Morris, 26 June 2018, www.lib.umd.edu/prange/about-us/civil-censorship-detachment. D’Anieri, Paul J.International Politics: Power and Purpose in Global Affairs. Cengage Learning, 2017. Frost, Bob. Ten Misquotations and Misattributions From History.HistoryAccess.com, www.historyaccess.com/tenmisquotationa.html. Helfand, Ira. Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk. www.wagingpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/helfand_nuclear_famine_2.pdf. Nov. 2013. Kristensen, Hans M, and Robert S Norris. Status of World Nuclear Forces. FAS.org, Federation of American Scientists, June 2018, fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/. Marco?„, Barbara. Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Eye of the Camera.Third Text, vol. 25, no. 6, Nov. 2011, pp. 787“797.EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09528822.2011.624352. Miyamoto, Yuki. Beyond the MushroomCloud :Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima, Fordham University Press, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/tridenttech/detail.action?docID=3239599. Okazaki, Steven. White Light, Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. New York, N.Y.: HBO Video, 2007. On Aug. 6, Hiroshima Prays for Hibakusha, Flooding Victims???The Asahi Shimbun. The Asahi Shimbun, ????—??–°????‡?‚??‚???«, 6 Aug. 2018, www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201808060035.html. Osumi, Magdalena. Hiroshima Mayor Marks 73rd A-Bomb Anniversary with Indirect Call to Sign U.N. Nuke Ban Treaty.The Japan Times, 6 Aug. 2018, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/08/06/national/mayor-urges-easing-regional-tensions-hiroshima-marks-73rd-anniversary-u-s-atomic-bombing/. Peterson, Richard T. Human Rights: Historical Learning in the Shadow of Violence.The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 68, no. 1, 2009, pp. 253“272.JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27739768. Rotblat, Joseph. Remember Your Humanity.Social Alternatives, vol. 15, no. 3, July 1996, pp. 50“53.EBSCOhost, stacks.tridenttech.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=24227921&site=ehost-live. Sagan, Scott D., and Benjamin A. Valentino. Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think about Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants.International Security, vol. 42, no. 1, 2 Aug. 2017, pp. 41“79., doi:10.1162/isec_a_00284.
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