Eight years, three months, and six days before I was prematurely born, an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later another was dropped on Nagasaki, and the Second World War was essentially over.
All my life I have heard stories, seen pictures, and watched movies about this catastrophic event, read and listened to explanations of why it was necessary, and felt like Americans were reasonably justified in using “the bomb” to defend freedom and rid the world of tyranny.
Although this bomb was specific to Japan’s fate, I classed Japan right along with Germany (we were taught the Japanese were even more vicious than the Germans), and viewed this as the good old U.S.A. finally giving them the varnishing they deserved.
When I turned 50 many years ago my family took me to Austria, and while there we visited a work camp where Jews were tortured and exterminated (Mauthausen); it was a sobering and unforgettable experience. I felt compelled to ask our 20-something Austrian tour guide how he felt about the atrocities and the part some of his ancestors played in the tragic deaths of so many Jews there. He said he saw his work as a “mission” of sorts.
That response fit my view of things, and I was most appreciative of his perspective.
But just a few weeks ago I got into a conversation with a Japanese man as he was visiting Stone Mountain Park. We discussed the American Civil War, and he commented to me that one of the informative films we show at the park (regarding the Civil War in Georgia, narrated by Hal Holbrook) ends with some poignant words. In fact, he had recorded the audio of the film and then typed out the final paragraph; the words were that meaningful to him.
Not because of his interest in our Civil War; rather, because he saw great use for the words “. . . but out of the ashes there arose a new Georgia . . .” as they might relate to his mother country, Japan. In truth, he uses these words even now as he teaches Japanese visitors to the U.S. about their own native country, to instill pride, and to give new perspective to a people who are tempted to see themselves as a beaten and guilty populace, a shameful nation.
Do you think he does this by explaining that the atrocities of World War II are behind them, but that they have “risen” from the proverbial “ashes” and become a nation of economic strength and political power?
If you think this, you would be . . . wrong.
On the contrary. He teaches them that the goal of colonization they had in that war was identical to the practice of colonization by Britain; there is no difference whatsoever. It wasn’t that Japan acted wrongly in the war; only that they were beaten.
And it is not shameful merely to be beaten. Unfortunate perhaps, but not an indicator of wrong. Their failure to succeed in no way reflects on the moral nature of their quest.
I have never had a conversation with someone from Japan who upheld that nation’s role in the war. I was intrigued.
Perspective is everything, I suppose. Vantage point is most telling.
You can never assume you are seeing things the same as another. What is crystal clear to you my escape them entirely. Or they might conclude something in diametric opposition to what you have concluded. What is crystal clear to them escapes you completely. Perhaps even after an open discussion about it.
In our modern day wisdom we often conclude that this is evidence of how truth is relative, and how each person must decide for himself/herself what is true for them as individuals. And then we just learn to live together peacefully, cohabiting in the midst of our varied points of view, all of which are RIGHT to us, but which may differ remarkably.
I think not.
What I DO think is that it is evidence once again that, as someone recently put it, “the winner gets to write the history.” We tend to think that the prevailing point of view must be the correct one, even though we know from the history of the world that isn’t so, and that new ideas find it hard to get footing, much less prevalence.
And it reminds me, too, that people tend to perceive things in way that is palatable with their emotional life experience; our reason usually takes a back seat to how safe we feel.
What is an honest thinker to do?
Keep thinking, I suppose. Keep looking. Keep considering. And keep on keeping on.
There is no Plan B.
Our perspectives will change as we grow in understanding. Things that were sacred to us at one point in life will find their way to the dumpster. And things we undervalued or disdained may, in the end, find a place of high priority in our lives.
There is no shame in timely change. Only in refusing to exercise it.
Each of us engaged in a pursuit of truth is regularly rising from the proverbial ashes; we are never finished. And we must never give up.