Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hersey's "Hiroshima" and a Curriculum for Confronting Nuclear Danger

Hiroshima injuries
We had a long car ride last week, and that gave us the opportunity for a long conversation. One of the things we talked about was the problem of nuclear weapons.

One of my sons said, "The thing is, they're just too horrible to contemplate, so it just has to be that they will never be actually be used."

And that led me to think, "That's right, the thing we really don't want to do is to actually confront what nuclear weapons really do."

1945    Hiroshima    Nagasaki    2015

Under the shattered structures amidst the excruciating flames.
Parent left child, child left parent,
husband left wife, wife left husband.

Nowhere to escape to.
Figures fleeing in all directions.
This was the Atomic Bomb.

In the midst of this, how eerie--
Mothers' loving arms shielding their babies from death, dying themselves.
There were oh! so many.

From “Mother and Child”, 11th of The Hiroshima Panels by Maruki Iri and Toshi

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A few years ago we did a commemoration of Hiroshima in Chicago, and at that time I re-read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey, together with some other materials.

Each time one reads Hiroshima, one has this shocked and sickening feeling of remembering reading the words before and wondering how one could have possibly forgotten them. In the moment it feels like they should be seared into our memories.

Account (with illustration) by
survivor of Hiroshima bombing
Around that time I studied a book of images created by survivors of Hiroshima. I thought at that time, "It's not enough to remember this just once a year; it's not enough that we make a single book -- Hiroshima -- required reading, and never go beyond that. There should be a whole canon that people study progressively, year by year, to grasp and retain the horror of this."

There is a somewhat better understanding of this in Japan. People who have survived the atomic bombing and now carry the witness of that event in their bodies are distinguished by a special term: hibakusha. At the same time, I wonder if even there it is possible to avoid the natural urge to put the reality of nuclear war out of view.

What would it take to motivate us to do what we hate to do -- to confront the reality of nuclear war?

And how could we do it without falling prey to abstraction?

Is even a word like "danger" too abstract? (Are we talking about "risk"? About "odds"? Or about burned and destroyed bodies?"

When will we stop taking about it like a game . . . and start seeing the fire and blast?

Hiroshima: after the fire and blast

Related resources

Resource list for teaching all ages -- including diverse formats -- at Exhibit - Remembering Hiroshima: Working for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World

Related posts

Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )


It is the combination of the fire and the fact that it is a couple of children that are up against it that makes the reality of Grave of the Fireflies so undeniable.

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

I don't think Alanna and I ever talked about what it must be like to be trying to escape a shower of sparks and hot ash. But she seemed to know that the sparks and hot ash are too important a part of the picture to be left out.

(See The Children Are Waiting )

We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

There are many books proffered to children that provide justifications for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The discourse on the use of atomic weapons is certainly a worthy topic of study for young people of a certain age. However, there is a distinction between critical reading of atom bombing history and passive receiving of atom bombing dogma. I am wondering about how this can be effectively broken down.

(See Approaching Hiroshima: A Challenge for Children's Literature and Peace Education )

There are so many people to thank . . .

Through the visual arts ... photography ... film ... teaching ... activism ... publishing ....

So many people are making a difference in eliminating nuclear weapons . . . . 

(See GRATITUDE: People Are Making the Difference in Eliminating Nuclear Weapons )

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