History can be can be contested, interpreted , and manipulated by each individual. But deep within all of us lies a Universal common to all men and women which transcends contemporary culture and current agendas. It is the responsibility of the historian , the writer, and the artist to stimulate this Universal, creating a resonance throughout the spirits of all persons. - Ken S. Ko, age 26
The events in history that render a nation , people, government and , on the smallest scale, render an individual helpless cannot be allowed to become forgotten. I am 37 years old mother of three who grew up in an age of maps drawn with the red lines of communism and classrooms atomic drills that plopped us to the floor . The threat of atomic really dominated our world. Now looking at today , a better future for my children at hand, I feel it is important that my children and their children know the important events of history - pleasant or unpleasant. For without this remembrance , and respect for the past, our children 's future is bleak. Thank you I enjoyed this exhibit. Cori Nagele, Spokane, WA.
My name is Paul Brunelle, aged 40 years. I feel if the human experience is recorded and presented truthfully, it transcends any attempts by governments or institutions to distort it or deny it. I have never accepted the use of Atomic Bombs in WWII, and feel that other options were available. I also feel, however, that it is difficult to place ourselves in the mind set of those who were responsible, as the decisions that led to the use of the bombs were many and complex. In other words, were I in their position, can I be assured that I would have made a different decision? My Prayers are offered for all those effected by this tragedy.
Vicente Diaz-Gonzalez B. M.D. I am 24 years old. I personally think that history is written in the personal point of view of the writer. I say this because many books that speak or try to explain chapters of the past, sometimes the description and characteristics of the environment, and the people involved are not accurate and the writer can create his or her personal villains and heroes and manipulate information that the public cannot access to in a very easy way.
Gilbert Hoxie. My undergraduate major was history. We best honor the past when we distinguish between facts and interpretation. About facts - there can be no contest, only deception. Interpretation is the realm of politics and religion not history. Uncompromising recording and reporting of the facts is what we must do. Subsequently people will interpret those facts in the light of their contemporary mores. The memorials would do well to invest in permanent displays of factual information allowing space for the fleeting interpretations of contemporary viewers and commentators.
History can be illuminated by an amalgam of many different individual stories and points of view but those are not history. We may weep over Anne Frank's story which is not history. However, her story gives gut-wrenching meaning to the historical fact of Nazi persecution and of the Jews. As a complement to history, personal interpretations and stories are indispensable. My personal concern is that we live in a time when politicians, academics, and the press casually cynically ignore the difference and use elements of historical information selectively to prove their point. The result unsurprisingly is public disbelief. A healthy society needs to trust its leaders and spokespeople. Let us try to honor that need with honest historical recording and reportage.
I'm a 46 year old Canadian inshore fisherman, David Harding. Shouldn't "thistory"or rather "ourstory" distill events in an apparatus of our common humanity? This would allow all of us to learn from it. As a child of a member of the occupation forces in West Germany after WWII, I was puzzled by the adults who didn't know about the ovens at Dachau (less that an hour's drive away) and who showed me postcards of a charming Hitler receiving bouquets from young girls. Trying to understand these things lead me to read at a young age "Scourge of the Swastika" and its companion volume "Knights of Bushido". Even now, after the Canadian government has apologized to our citizens of Japanese descent who were robbed and interned by the state, they do little to honor and assist the survivors of the Japanese Prisoner of War camps and death marches. I was allowed this information at a young age, but didn't learn about the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, and other German towns until I was in my late twenties despite the fact that I played with some of the children of the pilots that flew these missions. The only conclusion I can draw is that no information should be censored and that by their actions you shall know them. Peace.
I think the time has come to review modern history. I believe the most important thing of all is that one must overcome nationalism. One must be patient, tolerant, and sincere. We must avoid the stupid ordeal we saw in the case of the A-bomb exhibition at the Smithsonian. Hajime Ozaki, Journalist. Tokyo, Japan.
History is interpretation, but aren't the laws we live by also a form of interpretation of what is right and what is wrong. We interpret history and form our opinions often based on societal beliefs. Society, and most importantly Truman in 1945, believed that the only way to insure that the lives of, arguably 1 million, Americans would not be lost was to in fact drop a bomb that would in turn kill many "innocent"Japanese. In the case of a war, a world war at that, is it fair to "guess" leaders whose only intentions were to spare their own countrymen's lives? History is an amalgam of many different stories, but it is more so a question many different opinions and interpretations. And as we sit at our "monitors" attempting to diagnose and second guess all of societies actions we are in turn their inferior, able to question their actions unknowingly though unable to determine how we would act in their situation.
I am a 45 year old Canadian. My name is John McIsaac. It is best to try and represent as many views of history as possible. One must be careful not to allow revisionists with their own agenda to distort the lessons of history. Those who say the holocaust did not happen. If one does want to include that type of view then label it History - fiction. Do not be so silly as to think that the extreme views must be exhibited.
One night after dinner, during a visit to my wife's home-stay family in Japan, grandfather sat in his chair and began to talk. Ojiisan told about being a soldier on the Japanese home-island at the end of the war. His troop was in the mountains without food or medicine. Ojiisan began to cry. He told how happy he was to be captured by Americans instead of other Asians who perhaps would not be so forgiving considering their own war losses. Ojiisan thanked me the son of a man who would be dead if the bomb had not ended the war because he never could thank enough the Americans who captured and treated him with kindness and dignity.
Can we look at the event of the bomb without looking also at the honor and duty fulfilled by the American occupation forces? The strength of present-day Japan? The pictures and statuary of the Peace Park in Hiroshima testify to the horrors of the bomb. Those images will haunt me forever, may they rest in peace.
But I have also seen desecrated the monument to Koreans who died in Hiroshima. It took years to convince the city fathers in Hiroshima to allow a monument recognizing and commemorating over 100,000 Koreans killed by the bomb. Those Koreans had been captured and forced to build war machines in Hiroshima. The monument, not much bigger than a tombstone, was placed on small side street near the Peace Park. That is all the honor accorded it by the city fathers. On the 45th anniversary of the bombing, several Japanese kids trashed the monument with toilet paper and filth. While the children of Japan desecrate memorials, while the fathers of Japan belatedly acknowledge truth, the grandfathers of Japan cry. Have they not given their perspective to the children? Therein is the need for history. Frank, age 31.
Arturo de la Peña, 36, Mexico. We have to underdstand hystory and events roots to forestall repetitive wars. Mankind is complex and has no institutional memory.
Greg Peterman, 41. History is history and it should be depicted as it was, not how it is interpreted today. How can we not be proud of our history. I am proud to be an American and the Japanese got what they deserved for what they did at Pearl Harbor.
As an historian of Japan who teaches at a small, liberal arts college I truly appreciate your presentation. In a short space it distills many of the complexities of historical inquiry. Unfortunately, many of the responses in the "Discussion" section display an unwillingness to confront these complexities and instead parrot the myths and misconceptions about the decisions to development and drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To write, that it was "simply" a question of "saving up to 1 million American lives" (a figure Truman and Churchill purposefully inflated from the US Strategic Commands own estimates of 20,000 to 40,000 deaths in the case of an invasion of Kyushu--see appendices of Martin Sherwin's A World Destroyed); that it was "simply" a question of bomb or invasion (there were many alternatives and time between August and Nov. 1, the date set for an invasion); that these cities were "military targets" and targeted as such; and atomic bombs are, after all, qualitatively different from conventional--even fire--bombing; etc.
To recognize and explore these and other issues does not constitute an apologia for Japan's war of aggression--to say, "They started the war; they raped and murdered others; they deserved all they got" is an emotional, not historical response. Indeed, the Japanese Imperial Army committed some horrible atrocities. Does that at all diminish the horror of the atomic attacks on a civilian population? The kind of moral equations ("Remember Pearl Harbor!" etc.) that I've seen repeatedly drawn by Americans when asked to respond also belie emotional (and vindictive), not thoughtful historical reflection. Perhaps this is just a part of traditional American anti-intellectualism--an unwillingness to think. Frankly, it disgusts me, and it represents far more of an "agenda" than anything that so-called "revisionist historians" write. At least they are open to discussion and willing to think.
For anyone who is interested in being more informed before they spout off unreflective and unquestioned opinions (not knowledge) about the whys and wherefores behind the bomb, get a copy this weeks New Yorker and a copy of the Peter Jennings Special Report: "Hiroshima: Why the Bomb was Dropped?" that aired on ABC on July 27th. They are clear, accessible, and reflect more of the latest responsible research on the issue. For the more academically inclined, Vol.19 No. 2 of Diplomatic History has an excellent collection on essays on Hiroshima.
Finally, for all those respondents (even the self-proclaimed history major) history is certainly NOT some simple-minded reportage of some string of so-called "facts". "Facts" are never, ever, separate nor separable, from "interpretation". Pick up any history book ("official and nationalist" or "revisionist") and you will find that it is NOT a mere "reportage" of things that happened. You interpret when you decide what is a "fact", what to include and exclude in your history, and most especially when you try to connect "facts", thus implying that this caused that. That is all interpretation (politics and religion, as one respondent opined, do not have a monopoly on interpretation). To say: "The bomb ended the war" is interpretation to the nth degree yet war vets (and most American in general) state it as a "fact" pure and simple. There could be nothing further from the truth once one truly acts and thinks historically and examines the web of complex forces that brought about and ended the war. This whole "Fact vs. Interpretation" dichotomy is perhaps the greatest myth and misconception that has arisen amid the debates on the bomb at 50 years later. It really does reveal just how unreflective and uninformed most people are about the subject of the bomb and about the practice of history in general. And it's why I become so exasperated participating in discussions like this--most people just don't want to talk about history if it's too complex or goes against their beliefs (and belief is not historical knowledge)... Gerald Figal, Asst. Prof. of History, Lewis & Clark College
My name is Amy Hashimoto and I am a 25 year old neisei. I grew up in the U.S. but lived in Japan for a summer in 1989. One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Park. I had read up on the atomic bomb and its effects on the people of Hiroshima before I went. The most touching and memorable exhibit was the drawings made by the Hiroshima victims, depicting the events after the bombing. Most were simplistic, but all were very horrifying to me. Having visited other museums, such as the Holocaust Museum in D.C., I think that the most memorable exhibits are include commentaries from the victims. What struck me as particularly sad about the Peace Park was the indifference of some of the visitors. It concerned me that children could not understand the suffering that had occurred, and the very possibility of such an event occurring again. The rewriting of history, as seen by the recent campaign to distort history at the Smithsonian Museum, is disturbing. It shows that biased outspoken individuals are capable of controlling the history our children learn. Thank you for reminding us all that nuclear war has a very human face that extends beyond political boundaries.
Chee Woo Leong, age 33. Why is it that we must see through the darkened lens of today as we look to the past? We did it with Columbus and now we do it with WWII. There is so much talk today of not imposing values on each other and yet we willfully do it to history, imposing current values on yesterday' s actions and declaring them to be wrongheaded.
Of course, the interactive character of this site provides part of the answer to your question of how it may be possible to design exhibits that deal with conflicting views.
I suppose that stories told on an anniversary almost by definition must be told backward, starting in the present and ending in the event itself. Nonetheless, I hope many people will use the anniversary stories as a launch point to follow some of the threads further back, and to then follow some of the strands of the story forward again.
To be sure, the mere process of selecting well-supported facts to present in a history involves interpretation. But to admit the naivet of the Sergeant Friday theory of history ("just the facts ma'am") is not to concede that every interpretation has equal validity. Interpretations stand or fall depending on the warrant put under them. A distinguishing feature of historical (as opposed to purely sociological) interpretation, is that it looks to narrative discipline to constrain and inform discussion. In present-minded debates over single questions ("was dropping the bomb an immoral act?") there is a strong tendency to telescope time into a single point. Richness in both fact and interpretation is lost by taking so little account of the different strands that can be used to make the historical fabric...
Greg Estey, 36. Arlington, MA
Tiffany, 19, Sacramento. People tell me I am too young to comprehend what devastation WW II wrought on the world. I am not, I merely was lucky enough to be born thirty years later..I hear stories of how awful Japan was in our American history books, yet Japan hears how awful we are. Who truly is to blame? Where is the true history? How can one select group of people tell me what history is? One memorial touts the U.S. soldiers as "heroes"while another in another place labels them "killers". What are they?
So many older Americans have a sense of shame about the Bomb, even
though only a few men, now dead, participated in the decision to pursue
this course. I think that their overwhelming joy at the end of the war (and
then revelations of the horrors committed by several countries made them
wonder how life could go on. . . And they opted for consumerism and narrow
views) they wanted to be happy: be over the Depression and the horrible
war that left scars everywhere. They were not, therefore, a really good
generation to write the history. But are we, who are so removed and often
self-engrossed, capable of imagining their times. We want to show that WE
would NEVER drop the bomb. Would we have? Would we have stopped at Hiroshima?
Katherine Wilkins, 35, librarian/archivist
It is easy to say that mankind must not allow this to be repeated.
Hopefully we have learned something from the atrocities of WW2. I was not
present or yet born, however, it is not difficult to view our own "modern"dismisals,
abuse, human neglect etc. We are ultimately responsible for our own time.
There is a hope that such a devestation will not be a manifestation of our
time. This can not in any way excuse the horrors which have occured.
Mr. Kelly McCray, Toronto, CANADA
Rob Sandusky, 29. I was one of the small group of individuals who had the dubious honor of restoring Mr. Yamahata's photographs from their original films. I must say that after having seen these images on a daily basis for eight months it really changes the way one perceives history. The moment at which history occurs is the only moment of pure fact. To write about or discuss history by looking back with hindsight deforms the facts. You are no longer analyzing history at that point, you are manufacturing it. Since working on the project, I would have to say that I tend to take history with "grain of salt". Unless you experience the moment, history is just what people tell you.
Each day we say that we have become more civilised, each day we move away from the horrors of history, we should look at these images, as well as those of Belsen, Birkenau and realise that the study of history is also the study of the future which is just history with different names and dates. M Robertson
We must look at history as if we were living back those fifty years ago. Then, the need to stop a world war was the issue. My father was sent into Nagasaki two weeks after the bomb was dropped as part of the U.S. Marines occupation forces. He had taken part in the horrific invasions of Saipan, Tinian and the worst - Tarawa. Had the bomb not been dropped he might have been part of an invasion of Japan and his luck might have run out. He might have died there as would many thousands of young Americans. Mike C. age 39
From History class - no I am not old enough to have been there. I learned that it helped us defeat the Japanese after they when on a rampage through the Pacific Islands, China, and finally Pearl Harbor. I associate images of mass death and destruction, but then again that is the primay pruduct of War. Science and Technology have pulled us out of the fire more then once and I am sure will again. How we use the technology is the more important question. It is not the sceince that bombed the Japanese - it was people. Nope, MAD, as mad as it appears, was our saviour, WWII gave the most important demo in human history, no one was going to face global nuclear war after seeing what happened in Japan.
I am Bill James, age 38, and am a WWII buff who is sick of the revisionist history that makes us look like the bad guys. Un-balance presentation like this that present only one side, out of context History is worse then no history at all. It never ceases to amaze me how the net and other resources can fill their pages with the aftermath of the "bomb"and totally ignore the events that lead to it, and not just Pearl Harbor. I have not checked out everything here, but from what I have seen I doubt I will bother, seems like you folks already have the answers you want, why let hitorical facts and others opinions get in your way?
My name is Sara and I am 24. I did not live through the end of World War II, so I don' t have a point of comparison for my reactions to these photos. I lack the perspective to see how my perceptions of the war and the U.S. use of atomic weapons are colored by contemporary bias and culture. The closest that I come is in conversations with my grandmother who was 39 when the U.S. decided to use its atomic force. She was relieved that the war would be coming to an end. Rationing had crippled my grandfather' s business which depended on iron and steel. When I look at it from her perspective I can see why she is doesn't share my outrage. What I see in retrospect as a cruel offense against humanity marked the end of a long period of hardship for her. I still find the bombings abhorrent, but having learned about her experiences I am better able to understand the event in historical context. Having said this, I would assert that when covering such an emotionally charged issue as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the goal of a museum exhibit should not be an "unbiased"reporting of the "facts, "but instead a presentation of this amalgam of individual stories. It seems to me that in this case it is not the museum's job to definitively distill a single representation of history. By presenting a collage of stories and view points about a single event a museum would allow people to explore their differing perceptions of the same event in a very personal way without the need to decide which is the RIGHT way. I am no more correct in my perception of the past than my grandmother. It is only by listening to her story and she listening to mine that we can each gain a deeper understanding of such a monumental event.
After reading through a bit of this discussion, I'd like to add. Always question the truth, thus history - Not necessarily doubt or assimmilate the truth, but always question, and investigate it. Look at it from different perspectives, because truth IS perceived differently from different angles. Common American beliefs are that by A-bombing Japan, we saved countless American, and Japanese lives by averting an invasion. Someone wrote, "didn't Japan surrender after the first bomb?" Good question. Did they have a chance? Recent reports state certain figures in the military really wanted to "test" the bomb. Again. Kinda to see what the after effects held. The military certainly knew the destructive power from tests. So would not a show of power been enough to avert an actual bombing AND an invasion. Probably. Innocent women and children DID get massacred. And that does bring us down to a barbaric level. Would we have done the same thing in Europe. Probably not. We didn't. Will be interesting how history tells the story 100 years from now. To conclude, I just want to say that at 36 years old, I wasn't around and I am NOT a revisionist, just a truth seeker. John Gnotek, Michigan
ADRIENNE, PHOTOGRAPHER, ARTIST, 34 YEARS OLD, NEW YORK, NY. History consists of peoples' memories augmented by documentation (testimony, clippings, photos, mementos, etc.) created by individuals and institutions. It seems to me there is no way to DISTILL the experiences of a large group of people. Some will have to be left out, at the discretion of the curator or editor. Just like the remembrances, the person or institution doing the culling has a particular viewpoint which must be reflected in inclusion/exclusion of materials. Hopefully, those who are entrusted with the responsibilty of putting together historical monuments of any kind are chosen for their sensitivity and knowledge about the subject. It is also crucial that dissenting viewpoints be included (i.e., those who think an occurrence never happened) in order to present a fuller picture of all those involved--and to personalize the frightening delusions and actions humans are capable of.
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