Thursday, May 31, 2018

Nuclear Danger: Three Ways of Talking About the Unmentionable

Unable to get nuclear weapons out of his mind: unreasonable?
(from I Live in Fear by Akira Kurosawa)


How do we talk about something that has been branded "impossible to talk about"?

After profiling a list of films about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I've begun to think this is the fundamental problem of nuclear danger. Akira Kurosawa tackled the problem in his film, I Live in Fear (1955).


Courtroom drama

People love crime shows, police procedurals, and courtroom dramas. Wouldn't it be great if we could put nuclear weapons on trial?

Kurosawa does the next best thing in I Live in Fear: he sets up a court case pitting a family against a father, Nakajima, who is so terrified of the possibility of another nuclear blast that he is acting in ways they fear will tear the family apart. They bring a case in family court to have him declared incompetent so they can get control of the family finances.

The court is thus required to answer the question: Is the man's fear of nuclear weapons rational or irrational?

Nested within the court proceedings -- i.e. the activities of the three people acting as family court mediators and the family members who are parties to the suit -- we see several (ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to talk about nuclear danger, the failure of diverse forms of discourse.

The first form of discourse to crumble before nuclear danger is family deliberation. After decades of looking to the ever-practical father -- factory owner, business man, always planning, always weighing the risks, literally wearing belt and suspenders -- the family members become unable to understand what he is thinking. They singly and collectively just can't wrap their heads around his concern about the risk stemming from nuclear weapons, fallout, and radiation.


Family council in I Live in Fear.


And so the matter goes to court. As the court mediators carry out their careful, logical deliberations, it's clear they all consider Nakajima's concerns valid . . . up to a point. But ultimately they conclude "he's grappling with a problem far too big for any individual," and rule against him.

One of the mediators, the dentist, remains troubled, and goes in search of facts. (He is, after all, a scientist.) He reads the book, Ashes of Death, about nuclear weapons and radioactive fallout, and is so stunned by what he learns that he tells his son, "If the birds and beasts could read it, they'd all flee Japan." And yet . . . he goes along with the decision to declare Nakajima incompetent.

Conflict escalates and Najakima collapses. Near the end of the film, a doctor in a psychiatric hospital reviews the records of the case and the condition of the patient and muses, "I feel anxious. Is he crazy? Or are we, who can remain unperturbed in an insane world, the crazy ones?" Significantly, it is Nakajima who ends up locked in a cell.


Religion ("Hell")

Kurosawa offers an alternate tool for communication in I Live in Fear. At many junctures he reminds us that we have in "hell" a ready metaphor for what nuclear weapons threaten.

As you watch I Live in Fear, you can practically feel the heat as everyone in the film wipes the perspiration induced by the summer weather from their brows, and Nakajima frenetically rattles his fan. Nakajima's complexion is oddly dark, as if his skin has ashes rubbed into it. The family business is, it turns out, a foundry -- a scorching site of molten metal and noxious fumes -- and one that, in fact, finally goes up in flames near the end of the film. In a confrontation with the dentist in the street, Nakajima says, "I'm out of my mind with fear. I keep thinking about the H-bomb, but there's nothing I can do. It's a living hell." Nakajima describes the man who offers to provide land in Brazil as a safe haven for the family as "a Buddha come to save us from hell." In the film's penultimate scene, a now maniacal Nakajima cringes before a blazing summer sun and warns, "The Earth is burning!"


"The Earth is burning!"
(from I Live in Fear)


Suggestions of fire and heat aside, I wonder if the real hell Kurosawa wants us to remember from  I Live in Fear is Nakajima's inability to communicate with his family about nuclear danger. His frustration is palpable as he calls a family meeting and throws himself on the floor, begging that they join him in leaving Japan.

The film ends with the dentist descending a ramp towards indistinct lower levels of the psychiatric hospital . . . while Nakajima's mistress walks up the opposite ramp, cradling their infant child in her arms, toward the light-filled upper stories.

It is perhaps a sign of the authenticity of this film that it doesn't suggest the solution is easy. As reported by Donald Richie,

Kurosawa himself finds confusion in the film. "When we made it, the entire staff sensed our confusion. No one said very much and everyone worked hard and it was very hard work indeed." He kept remembering, he says, [collaborator Fumio Hayasaka's] words: "The world has come to such a state that we don't really know what is in store for us tomorrow. I wouldn't even know how to go on living -- I'm that uncertain. Uncertainties, nothing but uncertainties. Every day there are fewer and fewer places that are safe. Soon there will be no place at all." (Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, p. 112)

Which brings us to Fumio Hayasaka . . . .


Friend-to-friend

The part of the story of I Live in Fear that I find most interesting is the way it came to be made, and the interaction of the actual people involved.

The idea for the film came out of conversation between Kurosawa and his long-time collaborator, the composer Fumio Hayasaka. Kurosawa describes a visit to Hayasaka:

[Hayasaka] was quite ill . . . and just before we had had word of the Bikini [H-bomb] experiments. When he said to me that a dying person could not work, I thought he meant himself. But he didn't, it turned out. He meant everyone. All of us. The next time I went to see him, he suggested we do a film on just this subject. He was quite taken with the idea and that is how the film began. (Richie, p. 109)

In other words, I Live in Fear was the result of two close friends who asked the question, "How can we create something that really matters, considering the danger nuclear weapons pose to the world?"


Hayasaka and Kurosawa


The film's lead is the frequent star of Kurosawa films, Toshiro Mifune. When I see him in this film playing against type -- i.e. not playing a strutting samurai as in Yojimbo or Seven Samurai, but a stooped and scared old man -- I imagine him putting everything he has into the mission set forth by Hayasaka, and taken up by Kurosawa.

Similarly, every time I see the film's dentist character, played by Takashi Shimura, I can't help thinking of the role played by Shimura in Ikiru [To Live] -- an ordinary bureaucrat who learns he will soon die and so determines to do one small thing to make a difference.

And so, one by one, a wider and wider circle of friends and colleagues took up the problem. After production, another cast member said: "Well we worked hard, didn't we? But from now on living our parts will be the more difficult." (as reported by Kurosawa Richie, p. 112)

And so here, as in my previous post, I propose that "We need powerful stories . . . and conversations!"


Which way?
(from I Live in Fear)


See also: more films and resources about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Power of TV to Illuminate Nuclear Danger

I had chatted with almost everyone after the church service on Sunday when friends came up to me and said, "We thought of you when we watched the latest episode of Madam Secretary the other night. It's all about the US president ordering a nuclear strike!"

I'm not a regular watcher of Madam Secretary, but, by coincidence, the show had come up at dinner at the home of other friends a few days earlier. Now . . . it had my complete attention . . . .


Madam Secretary: What's your decision, Mr. President?


Sunday evening we sat watching Season 4, Episode 22, of Madam Secretary, "Night Watch": "Elizabeth and cabinet members brace for the fallout at home and abroad as President Dalton prepares for a retaliatory nuclear attack on a country that has reportedly just launched missiles bound for the U.S."

I was stunned to see the many ways in which this episode precisely conveyed the very real predicament we are in with the thousands of real nuclear weapons poised for quick use:

* the rush by the president to make a decision - a matter of seconds

* the role of dumb luck in averting disastrous use of nuclear weapons

* the fact that the government insiders know all about similar close calls in the past

* the fact that the government insiders know all about species-threatening nature of a nuclear exchange and subsequent nuclear winter

* overkill - the refusal of the defense establishment to reduce the most risky threats despite massive redundancy in the ability to kill with nuclear weapons (e.g. nuclear-weapon-armed submarines each capable of destroying an entire country)

* the fact that the current decision makers are all on a list to be whisked away to safe bunkers in the event of impending nuclear strike

* the importance of telling the truth to the public, and getting citizens demanding and supporting change

The show evidenced not just a command of detail. It represented a grasp of the overarching story -- and a talent in telling it -- that made me feel enormous respect and gratitude.


The Power of Story

Ever since I read a book about Harriet Beecher Stowe and the effect of her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, I have been on the lookout for the medium that will communicate the story we are trying to convey about the danger of nuclear weapons and related concerns. (See Creative Resistance 101: Uncle Tom's Cabin.)

That's why, for instance, I am so focused on the story of Hiroshima, and the efforts of many writers and artists and filmmakers to tell that story. (See On Tanabe's "Message from Hiroshima.")

That's why I am so grateful every time activists stand up to explain the threat these weapons pose right now, like the event at Harvard a few months ago and the people who worked to bring it to a wider public via all kinds of media. (See Virtual Roundtable on Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons.)

That's why I applauded the Senate Foreign Relations committee for focusing on this very issue in a public hearing in November. (See the November 14, 2017, Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons.")

And that's why I am especially excited about what has been accomplished by Madam Secretary.

To reiterate what I wrote about earlier in my post about Stowe, the lesson for me in Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America, is that change can be catalyzed by popular entertainment, because it reaches a lot of people and engages their attention.

(For Madam Secretary, "a lot" means something like 6 million people.)

Having had a few years to digest that message, I would now also add: (a) the forms of popular entertainment are changing rapidly, so we need to be open to a wider and wider range of possible formats; and (b) we don't get to know in advance which version will succeed in really reaching people, so we need to try lots of them.


A warning

What's not to like about 6 million people?

I think a very good thing happened with Season 4, Episode 22 of Madam Secretary. But it also contained within itself a warning. When the Secretary of State is informed that the nuclear exchange is imminent and that she should hasten to the bunker, she chooses instead to remain with her family. As it happens, they are at an entertainment arcade. Apparently she reasons that it is all over anyway; they may as well enjoy what pleasure remains to them in the moments available. And she surrenders to the blinking lights and artificial sounds of the video games . . . .


Madam Secretary: Take one last look.


We are in a race against time. Our proliferation of entertainments lulls us into anesthesia.

Which brings me back to that conversation after church. I wouldn't have known about this show unless my friends had told me. And they wouldn't have told me if it hadn't been for an earlier dinner conversation about my work on nuclear disarmament. And I wouldn't have told other people about the episode -- much less written this post -- if my friends hadn't shared it with me so enthusiastically. All of which leads me to think, "We need powerful stories . . . and conversations!"

So: who will tell the story? and where are the conversations happening?


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Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Hiroshima Mon Amour" and the Horror of Forgetting

Have you ever noticed people have
a way of noticing what they want?
 - from Hiroshima Mon Amour


In the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, a Japanese man asks a French woman, "What did Hiroshima mean to you in France?" She sets out six propositions:

The end of the war. I mean completely.

Astonishment that they dared do it,

and astonishment that they succeeded.

And the beginning of an unknown fear for us as well.

And then indifference.

And fear of indifference as well.

No simple answers. And it just gets more complicated from there . . . .


Scene from Hiroshima Mon Amour


Hiroshima Mon Amour is a provocation. It challenges us to wrestle with the real possibility that we will only eliminate nuclear weapons when we invest our whole personalities -- our hearts and our souls -- in the project.

In recent days I have been profiling a list of films about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

So now we come to Hiroshima Mon Amour. It is a film jointly produced by French and Japanese studios, set in Hiroshima, with a French director, a Japanese leading actor (who himself starred in an earlier Japanese film about Hiroshima), a French leading actress (playing the role of an actress in a movie-within-the-movie set in Hiroshima), featuring a long opening sequence about the atomic bombing of Japan, and continuing with a tale of forbidden love set in Nazi-occupied France, all in the the context of an affair fated to lapse in a matter of a few hours . . . .

If you are an anti-nuclear activist, you might be forgiven for objecting to the way that the tragedy of Hiroshima may seem to be elbowed into the background by not one, but two, compelling love stories in this film. I know I certainly struggled with such feelings when as I first watched it.

Later as I listened to several interviews with the director, Alain Resnais, I began to warm to his approach. What I heard him saying was: providing the facts about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to people is necessary but not sufficient; to have an impact, we must deal with people as complex, feeling beings, beings in a perpetual whirl of sensing, forgetting, and remembering.

Put another way, people are, at every second, electing where to direct their gaze. That face? The tale of irrational love? (Yes? Never?) Do I like this? Abhor it? Don't ever want to let it go? Will I feel what I want to feel? Or what I should feel? Will I think what I don't want to think?

Real. Genuine. Sordid. Artificial. Forced. Noble.

I can forget it all if I want to.


Hotel room scene from Hiroshima Mon Amour


The film scholar François Thomas speaks of "interlaced combs" - the way past and present intertwine in Hiroshima Mon Amour, the way remembering and forgetting intertwine, and ultimately the way personal trauma and global trauma do, too.

In the opening sequence, we hear a woman's voice recount what she has learned about Hiroshima and the atomic bombing, telling about museum exhibitions, victim photographs, newsreels, and other evidence, testifying over and over, "I saw it" -- alternating with the a man's voice contradicting, "You didn't see."


Museum scene from Hiroshima Mon Amour


Having recently visited Hiroshima, including the exhibits at the Peace Museum which are explored in detail in the course of that opening sequence, I can begin to understand both the forcefulness of her testimony and the immediate assault of that voice challenging, "What? What have you seen?"


I will carry two statements from Hiroshima Mon Amour with me:

First, the simple plea of the Japanese man, in his elementary French, to the woman:

Reste á Hiroshima avec moi.

Second, the woman's avowal:

I tremble at forgetting such love.


See also: more films and resources about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Are We All "Children of Hiroshima"?

Return visit to the destroyed city in Children of Hiroshima


At a time when the momentum is growing for the elimination of nuclear weapons, it is worth asking what it is to be "children of Hiroshima."

In recent days I have been profiling a list of films about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Today I want to talk about Kaneto Shindo's film, Children of Hiroshima (1952).

I have been struggling with what to say about Children of Hiroshima. Certainly the film makes the point that nuclear weapons, and war, are bad. But it does a great deal more.


Beauty

Children of Hiroshima tells of a visit back to the city by a young teacher, several years after the bombing of Hiroshima. The film contains extensive footage of the destroyed city, including of iconic locations such as the Industrial Exhibition Hall (with its distinctive dome) and the Peace Memorial (under construction at that time).

There is much in the film that is very painful to look at.

But there is also beauty -- people, landscapes, and the quality of the cinematography itself.

Children of Hiroshima is one of the films that made me a lover of filmmaker Kaneto Shindo's work, and part of that is the beauty that he shares with us.

Certainly Shindo does want us to work against nuclear weapons and war, and one of the ways he empowers us is by giving us the kind of beauty that helps us want to go on living.


Hope: "I love these shoes!"

There is a moment in Children of Hiroshima in which a little boy exclaims about a new pair of shoes he has been given, "I love these shoes!" -- and it is at once so ancillary and yet so authentic that I have thought about it over and over.

It occurs in the midst of an episode of enormous moral and emotional complexity. The visiting teacher has discovered a former employee of her father; the employee is now horribly scarred by the bomb and reduced to begging, and his entire family has been wiped out except for a grandson in an orphanage. The teacher proposes to take the boy back to the distant community in which she now settled, to live in a real home together with her and her aunt and uncle. She urges the grandfather to come, as well. The grandfather knows he cannot go, and for a long time cannot bear to part with his grandson, either. Ultimately, the shoes - pristine white sneakers -- are the grandfather's parting gift to his grandson.

Throughout this episode, I found myself arguing with the teacher: "Why are you making it so difficult for the old man? Who are you to interfere with the way things are?" 

And I found myself arguing with the filmmaker: "What do you accomplish by showing the relatively minor trials of individual people trying to make a new life -- a building being rebuilt, a marriage proposal to a woman with a damaged leg, one couple allowing their fifth child to be adopted by another couple? Shouldn't you be focusing on the big question of making sure nuclear war doesn't happen again?"

The minor trials of individual people trying to make a new life . . . making sure nuclear war doesn't happen again . . . . Is there really a choice to be made between the former and the latter? The more I thought about those sneakers -- a child's simple joy over new shoes -- the more I realized that you can't get the latter without the fierce hope involved in the former. They're all tied up together.


Remembering and forgetting

I also had an argument with the filmmaker about the number of places in the film in which people said, "I can't remember" or "I'm just trying to forget."  Shouldn't the point of the film be to say "Never forget!" . . . ?

It was only when I pondered this problem that I recalled that there are abundant examples of remembering in the film -- such as the improvised memorial that the teacher places on the ground at the site of her former home . . . or the pictures of parents that the bride reverences before departing to her new home . . . or the images of the son and daughter-in-law that the old grandfather informs, "Everything is done" . . . or the account that the little boy has recorded in his copy book at the orphanage -- or, in fact, the scars and semi-healed wounds and destruction that surrounds the people everywhere they look.

I guess I wanted it to be "either/or" but the truth is that it's "both/and."

Like beauty and like the topic of hope, the topic of remembering and forgetting is essential to the truth of the film, and to the experience of activists working to abolish nuclear weapons. We won't live if we can't manage to forget, and yet we won't live if we don't manage to remember.


The possibility for beauty and hope and remembering and forgetting to exist -- for all of us -- in the world after Hiroshima: this is, ultimately, the subject of Children of Hiroshima.

A year and a half ago, I returned from a visit to Hiroshima and began writing a series of posts by asking, What does it mean to say, "We are ALL 'hibakusha'?"

I would now add the question, What does it mean to say, "We are ALL 'children of Hiroshima'?"


See also: more films and resources about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


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Sunday, May 20, 2018

How Are Nuclear Weapons Like the Frankenstein Monster?

Mary Shelley
There are many voices contributing, in many ways, to the effort to extract us from nuclear peril.

Some voices come from the past.

For the past several weeks, I have been reading the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. It is marvelous and prescient. It was first published in 1818. I became interested in Frankenstein after it was singled out by Paul Johnson as a watershed cultural event in his book, The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830.

For me, as for most people, Frankenstein means the "monster" portrayed by Boris Karloff in the movies. But of course "Frankenstein" is the scientist, the one who imparts life to an assemblage of inanimate parts; indeed, the novel's full title is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and the story is really about this man.

Frankenstein is about a man who is so carried away with what he finds himself able to do that he is heedless of the consequences. It is, indeed, a fable for the modern era; as someone concerned particularly about nuclear weapons, I find over and over that the words of the novel bring to mind the dilemma that human civilization finds itself in because of the activities of some among us who are most brilliant and privileged.

This morning I read a portion in which Frankenstein sees in himself one

whose selfishness,
had not hesitated
to buy its own peace
at the price,
perhaps,
of the existence of the whole human race.
                 (Frankenstein, Chapter 20)

Can there be any more precise description of the nuclear weapons states?

Who is this Mary Shelley, who two hundred years ago could have so brilliantly summed up the predicament that we would face in 2018?

Just a few chapters of this wonderful book remain - I find myself rushing forward to the conclusion, while simultaneously jamming on the brakes so that I can relish every word.

How will I satisfy myself when I reach the end?

Two possibilities suggest themselves: The Last Man, another Shelley novel, about what happens when human society brings itself to the brink of extinction; and the great account of the Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer: American Prometheus.


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Friday, May 18, 2018

"Denuclearization" - A Graphic to Focus the Mind

ICAN logo
I've recommended an important article in the New York Review of Books.

I featured the logo of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in my post. The post (and the article it recommended) was not about ICAN and the nuclear ban treaty -- at least not directly. But I used the image for three reasons.


Ad hominem

First: I have a strong objection to the image that did accompany the NYRB article. Oh, I think the graphic is very artistic, with its portrait of a deathly pale Kim Jong-un flanked by skulls. But I object to the use of it in connection with this article -- which is, after all, about multiple nuclear weapons states. The suggestion of death is appropriate to any discussion of nuclear weapons, but it is false to focus on the deadliness of a person instead of the deadliness of the nuclear weapons, themselves, and the nuclear weapons architecture and the roles people play in it.


Kim Jong-un by Siegried Woldhek in the New York Review of Books


This is especially true at a moment when people in the US -- that is, many of the very people who make up the readership of NYRB -- are struggling to develop a fact-based understanding of Korea, its northern and southern parts, and the role of the US in negotiations about conflict and nuclear weapons there. That's why I wrote A Checklist for Critically Reading (and Writing) About North Korea and Can You Judge a Nuclear Confrontation by Its Cover?

(By the way: you could fault me for the many times I have used pejorative images of Donald Trump to suggest the danger he poses as the commander of US nuclear weapons. More to come on this subject . . . . )


"Denuclearization"

Second, one of the essential points of the NYRB article is that the term "denuclearization" is being used by both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, but the two mean different things when they use it.

Kim means, in essence, "we want a situation in which we're not threatened by your nuclear weapons and you're not threatened by ours."

Trump means "we want a situation in which you give up your nuclear weapons capability and we keep ours."

Anyone who is familiar with US nuclear doctrine to date understands why Trump thinks his version is the way things work.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of Korea understands why Kim is committed to his version.

And what results is a discourse. People get to dig into the issue, learn about it, try to understand it, and discuss it with others.

So: back to that graphic. I believe that the ICAN logo -- the image of a nuclear weapon being broken -- is an image that helps us focus on the core discourse: denuclearization.


A Proprietary Image?

It's debatable whether the logo of ICAN is fair game for the Korea Spring and denuclearization. ICAN is not a party to the talks, and the talks are not connected to the central project of ICAN, the nuclear ban treaty -- directly.

And yet . . . .

The discourse on denuclearization is impossible to separate from the discourse on the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which has now become impossible to separate from the discourse on the global nuclear ban treaty.

Just as "Nature abhors a vacuum," people innately sense and reject inequity. The longstanding de facto architecture of nuclear weapons -- "some've got 'em and others don't get to have 'em" -- withers a little more each time another person comes to see it and think about it and understand it and talk about it.

And right now the Trump-Kim Summit is shining a bright light on the discourse of denuclearization and that inequity.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Denuclearization": Let's Get Serious

Symbol of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
(Why here?)


I commend to all the article by Jessica T. Matthews in the May 10, 2018, New York Review of Books, "Jaw-Jaw Better Than War-War."

The crux is found in these three sentences:


Former defense secretary William J. Perry, who has years of experience with arms control, including a failed effort in Pyongyang twenty years ago, believes that the very modest goal of a ban on further nuclear and missile tests and on the export of nuclear technology is all that can be hoped for. He argues that it would be impossible to verify even a freeze in the number of existing warheads, much less cuts. There is a stunning contrast between the modest goals that might be realistically achievable in North Korea and the stringent cuts and verification measures already in place and working under the Iran deal.

(The article is dated April 10 - before Trump de-certified the Iran Deal.)

Three thoughts on getting serious about denuclearization:

Serious analysis: It's important to advocate for broad goals; it's also important to participate in thinking about the details. How we as a species are going to "unlearn" nuclear weapons technology is a problem filled with devilish details.  (More to come on this subject . . . . )

Serious conversations: It's important to participate in conversations with all kinds of people. I'm particularly interested in the role of people like Matthews and Perry right now -- the kind of people who hold many views on security and international affairs that I don't agree with, but who do carry tremendous influence with respect to the task in front of us.

By the way, the expression "jaw jaw better than war war" -- a Harold Macmillan/Winston Churchill mashup -- expresses a kind of crude, patronizing attitude, the condescension of the warrior-reluctantly-turned-diplomat (there's an unspoken "I suppose" there . . . ) and perfectly encapsulates the idea that it's worth putting up with some attitude in order to get some dialog.

(More to come on this subject, too.)

Serious citizenship: Predictably, the daily ups and downs connected to the Korean Spring continue. There's an important role for ordinary citizens like you and me: to help the wide array of people we interact with day-to-day understand the larger arc of what's happening -- between the two parts of Korea, between the US and Korea, and with denuclearization broadly.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Marukis' Antiwar Paintings: A Lesson in Collaboration

Toshi and Iri Maruki


Yesterday I began profiling a list of films about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Today I'm continuing with thoughts on one of those films: Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima (Michael Camerini, 1986).

Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima is a beautiful portrait, above all, of collaboration. In it, we meet the husband-and-wife team, Iri Maruki (1901-1995) and Toshi Maruki (1912-2000). I have long been an admirer of their Hiroshima panels, and of Toshi Maruki's book for children, Hiroshima no Pika (The Flash of Hiroshima). But I wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was by the story of how these two artists work together.

One of the reasons I loved Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima is that it features long sequences of Iri and Toshi Maruki sharing a studio, working to complete their wall-sized artworks. Iri works standing, tracing figures onto the paper spread across the floor, using a brush with a long extension handle. Iri kneels, adding ink washes with a broad sweep.

The Marukis were trained in different styles -- traditional, expressionist, water-based ink vs. modern, realist, oil -- and in the film we get to see some of the ways they learned to synthesize their gifts and complement each other, and to do so without working at cross-purposes. We learn in the film that their shared vision sustained the Marukis, and that they concluded that, "If two people are alike, even oil and water will mix." What makes the film particularly interesting, however, is that in it the Marukis also tell us, very candidly, that they had to do a lot of hard experimentation, painting and re-painting over each other's work, before they found the right blend. Their successful collaboration came about despite a fair dose of "selfishness . . . stubbornness . . . dissatisfaction . . . ."

The film also describes another aspect of the Marukis' collaboration that I found instructive: their annual rhythm of devoting three seasons of the year to their respective art, and one season of the year (e.g. winter) to work together on a collaborative project.


from the Marukis' Hiroshima panels


The Marukis spent decades creating and promoting their panels documenting the terrors of war - Hiroshima, the Rape of Nanking, the Holocaust, and the atrocities on Okinawa. They did a lot of thinking about war and other types of violence, like the violence we do to our environment. "At a deep level, the violence we do in war and the violence we do in peace are the same," they say in the film.

Near the end of the film, speaking about their series of Hell panels, Toshi says that she and Iri came to understand that hell is not just a place for the great evildoers of history, like Hitler, but includes a very wide circle of people indeed. Ultimately, she concludes:

We are in hell
because we have been unable
to prevent war.

If all life on earth perishes
in a nuclear war,
no one will be saved;
we will all be responsible.

This brief film and the example of the Marukis is a powerful tool for all of us seeking inspiration for our collaboration with like-minded people to become able to prevent war, and to make sure life on earth doesn't perish in a nuclear war.


The story of the Marukis is also told in a book by one of the film's producers, the scholar John Dower: Hiroshima Murals: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki.

An animated video version of Hiroshima no Pika is available for viewing on Kanopy.


See also: more films and resources about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


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Monday, May 14, 2018

On Tanabe's "Message from Hiroshima"

Film series on Hiroshima on Filmstruck


There are five films related to Hiroshima featured on Filmstruck right now:

Children of Hiroshima (Kaneto Shindo, 1952)

Hiroshima (Hideo Sekigawa, 1953)

Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

Hellfire - Journey from Hiroshima (Michael Camerini, 1986)

Message from Hiroshima (Masaaki Tanabe, 2015)

I've raised the importance of lifting up the experience of Hiroshima (see list of links below) and it's worth emphasizing it again. I've decided to post some brief notes on each of these films (plus one additional film, I Live in Fear (Akira Kurosawa, 1955), also available on Filmstruck) to my blog. Today I'm starting with Message from Hiroshima.


Filmmaker Masaaki Tanabe as a little boy.
(Image from "Remembering Hiroshima Through Cinema".)


Message from Hiroshima

Having recently visited Hiroshima, and walked around the exact ground featured in Masaaki Tanabe's Message from Hiroshima, I was deeply impressed by his film concept and how Tanabe carried it out.

Tanabe's concept is to encourage the viewer to connect to the people living in the neighborhood around the epicenter of the bomb -- as people. To do this, he combines testimony of survivors, old family photographs, footage of the places as they appear today, and computer simulations of the neighborhoods before the bomb struck.

What Tanabe has done here is so important -- getting beyond the well-known photographs of the destroyed buildings of Hiroshima, and the statistics, and enabling us to think of the individual victims as they lived their lives.

A shoe store . . . a temple . . . people playing and fishing in the river . . . games of hide-and-seek around the big ginkgo tree . . . women shopping for kimonos . . . and wigs . . .

I thought of having a meal with people in Hiroshima at an oyster boat restaurant on the river . . .

I imagined myself weaving through alleys full of children playing marbles and menko cards . . .

 . . . past the barber shop . . . the movie theater . . . the seafood store selling clams and seaweed and dried bonito . . . the public bath that stayed open until midnight so the shop owners could visit after they closed for the night . . . the mom-and-pop candy store (the one that sold the model airplanes).

After an hour watching the film and listening to George Takei's narration, I have a much more powerful sense of what one of the speakers means when he says, "Many souls of the dead call out, "I'm here!'"

(Watch trailer for Message from Hiroshima.)

(Read more about Message from Hiroshima: "Remembering Hiroshima Through Cinema" on the Golden Globes website.)


Additional posts in this series

The Marukis' Antiwar Paintings: A Lesson in Collaboration

Are We All "Children of Hiroshima"?

"Hiroshima Mon Amour" and the Horror of Forgetting

Nuclear Danger: Three Ways of Talking About the Unmentionable


Additional links to related posts

The Fire and Blast of Hiroshima: Why Are We Still Hiding It?

Can We Confront the Fire and Blast of Nuclear War and Still Remain Human? (Watching "Grave of the Fireflies")

"People Will Find the Way to Eliminate Nuclear Injury"

An extensive list of resources on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on this AFSC event page.


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Friday, May 11, 2018

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: "Korea's Place in the Sun" by Bruce Cumings

US President Donald Trump and North Korea President Kim Jong-un have set their summit for June 12 in Singapore.

Some people think this event will be all about North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Others realize it is much bigger -- it includes the resolution of the war that has left Korea divided, and about the US nuclear weapons program, too.

On the nuclear weapons topic -- those of both North Korea and long-standing "nuclear weapons states" like the US -- I've previously told readers here about a vital resource: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: ElBaradei's "Age of Deception."

For the important facts about Korea -- facts that most of us in the US seldom really hear about -- the book to read is "Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History," by Bruce Cumings.

If, like me, you like to start the story in the middle and then spread out in both directions, you might want to dive right into the section describing "The Division of Korea," which starts like this:

In the days just before Koreans heard the voice of Emperor Hirohito for the first time, broadcasting Japan's surrender and Korea's liberation [from four decades of being Japan's colony] on August 15, 1945, John J. McCloy of the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC) directed two young colonels, Dean Rusk and Charles H. Bonesteel, to withdraw to an adjoining room and find a place to divide Korea. It was around midnight on August 10-11, the atomic bombs had been dropped, the Soviet Red Army had entered the Pacific War, and American planners were rushing to arrange the Japanese surrender throughout the region. Given thirty minutes to do so, Rusk and Bonesteel looked at a map and chose the thirty-eigth parallel because it "would place the capital city in the American zone"; although the line was "further north than could be realistically reached . . . in the event of Soviet disagreement," the Soviets made no objections -- which "somewhat surprised" Rusk. General Douglas MacArthur, the hero of the Pacific campaigns, issued General Order Number One for the Japanese surrender on August 15, including in it (and thus making public) the thirty-eighth parallel decision. The Russians accepted in silence this division into spheres, while demanding a Russian occupation of the northern part of Hokkaido in Japan (which MacArthur refused). (p. 186, 2005 edition)

This is just a taste. We who live in the US need to take much, much, much more responsibility for understanding how things got to be the way they are.

PS - I have previously referred to "Korea's Place in the Sun" - see Korea: A History of Living Under Nuclear Terror.

PPS - Bruce Cumings is one of a handful of scholars in the US who have, for decades, been urging a much more thoughtful approach by US people to the affairs of the countries of Asia - see A Checklist for Critically Reading (and Writing) About North Korea.


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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Seven Days in May (2018)

Movie poster for Seven Days in May
I have been quietly thinking about and awaiting the events of "Korea Spring" - particularly the meeting between the leaders of South Korea and North Korea, and the meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea.

"Korea Spring" has the potential to contribute substantially to global peace and denuclearization . . .

 . . . but only if sovereignty, diplomacy, and constitutionality are respected.

The news today that the Trump Administration has renounced the Iran Deal throws those values very much into question.

A few nights ago I watched a movie from the '60s: Seven Days in May.  It's about a US government effort to implement a peace treaty, and to eliminate nuclear weapons . . . and about an attempt to seize power by those who oppose those goals.

It is a worthy complement to the other film I recently mentioned here: Dr. Strangelove. (See Doomsday Machine: Same As It Ever Was . . . .)

Could something like this really ever happen? Well, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was concerned enough about who's taking orders from whom, and how our leaders interpret the US Constitution, that it held a hearing on these issues at the end of 2017:  "Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons," November 14, 2017.

Do you ever wonder who's running the show?


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