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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It's Hiroshima day -- don't look away

By Marianna Torgovnick August 6, 2005

AMERICANS WILL be reminded today of the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Most likely, we will miss once again the true impact of this event,
not just for the Japanese who experienced it,
but also on us and on how we now live.

It's not, of course, that we don't know that Americans flew the planes that killed at least 60,000 Japanese, most of them civilians, in Hiroshima, and,

three days later, 40,000 more in Nagasaki (figures from the Avalon Project at Yale law School). It's not that Americans don't know that the United States remains the only nation ever to have used atomic weapons against civilian populations.

It's that the events, unlike D-Day, say, or the liberation of the concentration camps, place Americans in ambiguous, unpleasant, or even guilty roles.

It seems natural that, as a culture, we prefer to look away. It seems natural that we prefer to emphasize events that reflect how we like to think of ourselves, that show a face we like to show to the world.

So don't expect to see today marked by daylong ceremonies like June 6, the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

Don't expect to see President Bush fly to Hiroshima to make a policy speech there in the way that he and other presidents, most notably Ronald Reagan, have flown to Normandy.

Don't expect to see the crew members of the Enola Gay smiling or saluting into the camera, their faces marked, perhaps, by the weightiness of their deeds.

The anniversary is likely to be mentioned, but quickly, almost as a kind of stealth event, under the radar screen and under the claim -- always controversial and often inflated -- that the bombings prevented an invasion and saved, and were designed to save, millions of American and Japanese lives.

Hiroshima mon amour