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BC's Tales of the Pacific | 75th anniversary of Hiroshima

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THIS week is a solemn occasion, for it marks the 75th anniversary of the world’s first atomic attack, ushering in the nuclear age. 

On Aug. 6, 1945 the United States used an atomic bomb to devastate the major part of Hiroshima, Japan.

This is a major news story with significant historical import, yet it passes virtually unnoticed.  Why?  Back in May this column discussed the anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe and how it too went nearly unheeded.  Back then, we were in the midst of the Covid pandemic and the lead stories around the world were all about the emergency.  Like politics, all news is local.  So, can we dismiss this dismissal as another victim of the Covid and social protest-consumed media?  Could there be something else?

Important as they may seem to historians, 75th anniversaries of things often pass without much fanfare because most of the people who were involved in them have passed away.  There is a kind of generational memory loss at work.  We tend to see events during our lifetime as more important as those that came before because we experience them.  Listen to the way broadcasters describe every Superbowl as the greatest of all time.  They said that last year, and the year before that.  Are they really the greatest every time, or is this hype?  Or is this the human tendency to see historical events as less important than current ones?

Part of me thinks it is good that we forget the hatreds and violence of the past.  Japan and the United States are the best of friends today.  Indeed, many young people would find it incredible that their grandparents hated each other to the point of such intense violence.  Do the school children of today comprehend the layers of emotion and meaning behind Banzai Cliff?  Perhaps it is best that we do not talk about those difficult years.

But no.  The historian in me says we must remember these things, uncomfortable as they are.  We grow wiser and more able to prevent future trouble if we not only know about but comprehend those times and what led to them.  How did the relationship between the two countries deteriorate to such a morbid level?  How can we prevent it from ever happening again?  If you get in a car crash, you study your driving habits to determine where you went wrong and correct it.  The same is true of nations.  We can look at the Second World War as a global multi-car pileup and it is good to study the driving habits of everyone involved to keep it from happening again, wouldn’t you agree?

I find hope in the fact that we hardly remember there are nuclear weapons.  Occasionally it gains mention when North Korea rattles its saber, but I think it is worth noting how little it comes up.  The biggest story in international affairs these days is the growing competition between China and the United States, yet we never hear about the nuclear angle, even though both nations possess thousands of such weapons. 

Not that long ago, the streets of Washington, Moscow, and New York where the United Nations resides, hummed with throngs of anti-nuclear protesters. Signs and slogans were everywhere.  Presidential candidates spoke about their views on nuclear weapons and what they planned to do about them.  Has either candidate spoken on nuclear weapons this year?  In the past twenty-five years?  I find that remarkable. 

The anti-nuclear crowd was convinced that the human race would destroy itself in a radioactive holocaust.  Does the fact that we are still standing and further away from a nuclear war than ever say something about us?  I think so.

 

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.

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