Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2003 / 16 Kislev, 5764
U.S. owes Japan no apology at Hiroshima plane exhibit
There is a museum in
Tokyo dedicated to
Japan's ample history of
warfare. But if you visit
the plainly named
Military Museum, you
will find no reference to
the grotesque medical
conducted in World War
II or the sex slaves it
kidnapped. The Rape of
troops raped and
murdered hundreds of
thousands of Chinese, is
airbrushed into the "Nanking Incident'' and the facts are said to be uncertain.
Civilian deaths aren't mentioned at all until the Americans begin firebombing
Tokyo in 1944.
This is par for the course. In Japanese textbooks the relentless quest of
military domination that so marked that nation's conduct in the 20th century
gently morphs into a brave struggle for independence against a hostile world.
Nor is the museum a relic of the equivocating past. It opened just last year.
"The museum's jingoism begins in the very first room,'' wrote Howard French in
the New York Times. "There, a saber adorned with gold braid, an ancient relic
from the Imperial Palace guard, hangs, dramatically lit, above a block of text
glorifying 2,600 years of independence, secured by valiant warriors against
So it is irony of the most extreme sort that Japanese survivors of the atomic
bomb are unhappy with how the Smithsonian Institution is displaying the Enola
Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb used in war on
Hiroshima, in its new Air and Space Museum annex next to Dulles Airport.
They would like photos of radiation burns and stats of the 160,000 who died in
the first atomic blast next to the airplane.
"As victims of the A-bombs, we can't bear to have the Enola Gay, which killed
thousands of Hiroshima residents, on public display without including details of
the destruction it wrought,'' said Terumi Tnaka, the Japan Confederation of
A-Bomb and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization's director.
This is not an obscure issue of museum policy. History is an argument a
war, so to speak. The battles of the past continue in the present in symbolic
form, as academics, survivors, and regular people struggle to decide how a
thing will be remembered.
It is a war, I'm sad to say, that America is losing. Most nations make their
history into a flattering story they tell themselves. Japan isn't even the most
extreme case history in North Korea is a fairy tale honoring a madman. And
we all know what kids learned in school in Iraq up until last spring.
WE LIKE BEATING OURSELVES UP
The United States, however, is different, possibly unique, with the arguable
exception of Germany, in how we view our past. Because of our standards and
sensitivities, we paint a picture of ourselves that is extraordinarily bleak. Not
only have the Japanese complained, but some American academics argued
that the Enola Gay should not be displayed without slapping ourselves around.
This fits perfectly with the standard public school version of America: a
nightmare of slavery and broken treaties, relieved only by the unsung bravery of
pioneer girls and Indian fighters, who are the true heroes of our history, as
opposed to dead white males such as slave-owner George Washington and
whoremonger Thomas Jefferson.
Such a skewed dismissal is as bad as Japanese self-glory. History should not
be a whitewash, but it shouldn't be self-flagellation either. The United States
has made mistakes, but those missteps need to be put into the greater story of
the miracle that is our country. We need a balance otherwise our children
grow up needlessly abashed, just as Japanese children grow up with a view of
their country that enormously diverges from both fact and the perception of the
rest of the world.
CALLED 'GOOD WAR' FOR A REASON
The United States does indeed have things to be ashamed of. But World War II
is not one of them. Shameful chapters such as the internment of our own
Japanese citizens must be compared to the unchecked brutality in much of
the world at the time. Before we honor the victimhood of others, we should
honor our own. Before some group of A-bomb survivors guilts the Smithsonian
into kneeling on a rail over the atomic bomb, I wish a delegation of Bataan
Death March survivors or men maimed at Pearl Harbor would whisper their side.
Perhaps the Enola Gay should be displayed next to that photo of a Chinese
baby wailing in the rubble of a Japanese bombing, as a reminder of how the
Japanese had very methodically removed themselves from the pale of humanity
over a period of years before the bomb dropped. Perhaps the Enola Gay should
be shown next to photos of kamikaze planes and descriptions of how
surrendering Japanese would pull the pins on grenades, or next to tales of Iwo
Jima and Saipan and all the miserable chunks of rock that U.S. Marines died
trying to pry away from the Japanese death grip. Harry Truman, a haberdasher
from Missouri, perhaps the most ordinary American ever to serve in the
presidency, was absolutely right to drop the bomb. The Japanese nation earned
the Enola Gay's visit. The rest is just present day politics and the posturing of
those not in any position to complain.
JWR contributor Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His latest book is Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea . Comment by clicking here.
© 2003, Chicago Sun-Times
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