Human history spans eras of wars, conflict, and poverty. In fact, our current time period is considered to be the most peaceful mankind has ever experienced. The pages of our history are splattered red with the blood of billions, and the most recent conflict on the global scale is of course, World War II. That is not to say it was the bloodiest, but it sure was a mess.
World War II is iconic because of the introduction of atomic bombs. Harnessing the power of the miniscule atom, mankind cracked opens the surface of their planet and littered the skies with radioactive waste. In World War II, Japan received two nuclear strikes on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Almost 75 years on, that incident is still remembered today as one of the darkest acts our species has ever carried out against itself.
Why And When Were The Nukes Dropped?
The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August, 1945. The second one was dropped on Nagasaki only three days later, when the horror of the first one still hadn’t quite sunk in. The first bomb was named “Little Boy”, and the second one was named “Fat Man”. The effects these bombs had was devastating; levelling the cities and leaving behind shadows burned into the walls. Shadows of people whose last moment was spent in a confusing, blinding flash of light. While dozens of thousands died immediately, thousands more died later of radiation poisoning. It is stated that people had their skins melting off their bones as they staggered around, screaming for help.
Nagasaki wasn’t ever even in the list of cities to bomb. In fact, the city of Kyoto was to be nuked instead, as it was the country’s ancient capital. Last minute however, the US Secretary for War Henry Stimson persuaded President Truman to not bomb the city, as it was too valuable culturally. It is claimed however, that Henry Stimson had a soft spot for the location, having had gone there for his honeymoon. The city of Kokura was selected instead. However, because of thick clouds over the city, Kokura was aborted and Nagasaki took its place. A very bad turn of events for the poor people of Nagasaki.
The importance of nuking Japan is still debated today. Some claim there was no other choice; as Japan refused surrender and an estimated 1,000,000 American lives would be lost were they to invade Japan. Others say that Japan was very close to surrendering, and that the US rushed the bombing to establish dominance in the world immediately following the war.
US-Japanese Relations Post World War II
After Japan’s Emperor announced the country’s surrender over a radio broadcast, the United States led the Allied Forces and occupied Japan. In the coming weeks, many new reforms were enacted. War crime trials were held, and the Japanese military was disbanded, with the right to wage war being revoked from the country in the process. Land reforms were passed that put the lower class at an advantage, and relinquished the hold of the elite that had pushed for war for so long.
A capitalist system for a free market was introduced and Japan’s largest conglomerates lost a lot of hold over the market. The Emperor was reduced to nothing but a traditional figure head, while a parliamentary system took his place. Women also benefitted from the transition and received more rights.
The Japanese People Today
Though views on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still vary, it is quite common to find Japanese citizens today that agree with the bombing. They believe their newfound freedom, civil liberties, and advancement in technology and healthcare can be traced back to that pivotal moment in 1945.
Before the bombings on Japan, the country was a fierce Imperial nation. Japanese soldiers themselves committed many war crimes on prisoners of war and conducted inhumane experiments on them as well. They were probably just as bad as the Nazi regime when it came to the treatment of enemy soldiers and citizens of occupied lands. This has led to many Japanese people believing their ancestors actually did deserve to be destroyed.
World War II In Japanese Schools
Most of what Japanese citizens learn about the war is from their own research after they mature a bit. Anecdotal evidence from Japanese individuals tells us that Japanese schools still like to teach history as Japan being a victim. Though Japan’s educational system views the Kamikaze program as evil due to the Japanese lives being thrown away for a war long lost, Japanese atrocities are mostly censored and not taught about.
Japanese Citizens’ Views On Americans
Many Japanese citizens today think the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified. They believe that Imperial Japan had no value for life, and did not expect such retaliation for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They are also hateful of the fact that their ancestors committed so many atrocities, and feel ashamed for it. Leaflets dropped by American planes warning citizens to evacuate before a bombing run were considered a crime to be in possession of. Citizens were even encouraged to jump off of cliffs before the “barbaric Americans” got to them. The rape of Nanking is also glossed over in schools.
Despite all these mixed feelings being thrown around, the Japanese believe the Americans to be friendly and open people. They are fascinated by Western culture to an extent, though they still manage to hold on to their rich culture as well. The United States is viewed as more dangerous than Japan (a fact backed up by numerous stats), but it is still an interesting country to visit for the Japanese. Overall, almost no animosity exists between the two countries, especially not amongst the youth.
The current alliance between Japan and the United States can teach us an important lesson about how we’re only at our best when we stick together as a species, and not when we’re warring for ego and land. It’s nice to see that these two countries were able to grow, mature, and move past the past and bury the hatchet. Hopefully, we get to see more of this sooner rather than later.