Monday, August 07, 2006

Forty-Nine Seconds

It was the time yesterday’s evening news had to spare to remind viewers that on August 6th, 1945, what counts among the most horrible crimes against humanity was committed.

August 6th, 1945. The day a light as bright as the sun's crushed Hiroshima. The day the US dropped a gift for hundreds of thousands of civilians living in that area. Oh, I know, it was war. A war that couldn’t seem to end, whose thirst for blood and death couldn’t seem to be sated. A war of madness, of insanity which manifested in atrocities committed by the Japanese army on Chinese and Korean soil. I know all that, and it’s very clear that the Japanese Army leaders were as evil as they were blind and crazy. War criminals, they were. Bloodthistry madmen who deluded themselves into thinking they could come back to the blessed times of the Tokugawa Dynasty. Before the black ships came into Kyoto bay.

Before the US destroyed a centuries-old status-quo and plunged the Japanese civilisation into a chaos that’s still plaguing it today. But then, if it had only been a matter of annihilating one’s enemies through conventional means, if it had been simple bombing of cities back to the stone age, it would have been…simple, classical acts of war, I guess. Like the bombing of Dresde even though Hitler’s Nazi Germany had already lost the war, if you want. Oh, yeah, war is nothing grand or noble or exciting. War is just ugliness, slaughtering, killings, people crying their souls and their guts out, agonizing for hours and days on end, wetting their pants and dying bereft of their humanity and dignity. Did you ever think otherwise? Ah, then you must be one of the morons who find Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Vandamme manly. Please, just go away, reading this will only confuse your deficient brains. Thank you.

But I digress.

So, Belgian TV news had only about forty-nine seconds to spare for an event that has shaped the world as we know it for scores of years, and is likely to continue shaping it for a long time.

The use of a nuclear weapon.

On a civilian target.

Because the US unleashed a terror nobody suspected, the world has lived under a shroud of dread. Because horror gained a face and a name, hundreds of thousands of faces whose skin started to come off even as they burnt from within and were vomiting blood, spitting out their guts without even knowing what was happening to them or why. Because that horror continued for dozens of years, accompanied by US military scientific personnel which came not to try to heal but to study those fantastic, unhoped-for guinea-pigs—to watch them agonize, to measure rates of this and that in their bloodstreams while they were dying, and clinging to the belief that the men in white blouses would somehow save them and alleviate their excruciating pain.

Because of that monstrosity, powers have watched themselves, eyed themselves without daring to move. Common analysis of the event says it spared us a nuclear World War III. It’s likely it’s absolutely correct. Common analysis of the event goes on to usually consider that, in that way, it was worth it. Because it served to silence the world, to strike it so hard that nobody ever dared repeat that oh-so proud feat of arms. I am sorry, but I refuse to rationalize that event—to view it in a positive light. I think, we can never fully apprehend the horror of what happened then. Of what all those people endured. Of unspeakable terror and suffering. But we can at least try. We can read manga like Gen of Hiroshima, told by a survivor of the bomb. We can refuse to close our eyes when the author starts drawing how people’s face started melting and coming off. And we can stop hiding behind easy rationalizations.

There is no excuse for using that weapon. Such things should be forbidden. Such things should be tried, and punished. It doesn’t matter that the enemy was criminally insane and cruel beyond depiction. It doesn’t give you the right to be like the enemy, to be the enemy. To descend at the enemy’s level. An eye for an eye. I know of nothing more barbaric than that. Becoming the enemy in order to defeat it is being defeated. It’s losing oneself and one’s values. There is no victory possible once you’ve gone down that road. None.

Sixty-one years later, I wonder whether we have learnt anything. Some people in Japan are arguing to leave the stance of peace Japan embraced when recovering from the war’s aftermath. Some in Japan advocate for regaining a “normal approach” to the army. That means, considering the use of weapons, of technologies which shattered Japan and tore through the very fabric of life.

Sixty-one years later, a mad fanatic in Iran dreams of getting his claws on a nuclear weapon so he can destroy Israel and dominate the Middle-East. But nobody is even tip-toeing in his direction. Oh no. They’re too busy destroying Lebanon, it’s so much easier…

Sixty-one years later, I wonder where the USSR’s nuclear arsenal has gone. I wonder if anyone in China or North Korea could make use of nuclear devices, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not impossible.

Sixty-one years later, the evening news on TV had about forty-nine seconds to spare for an uninteresting event that devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Not even one minute.

Forty-nine seconds

No comments: