Honouring the Dead
Watching a recent ABC news report on Hiroshima Day ceremonies, I’m mildly irritated at the way that such an occasion can be co-opted. I guess it depends on what lessons you learn from the Hiroshima bombings.
Some say that Hiroshima should remind us all that civilian casualties are unacceptable in any conflict. And the relevance to the situation in Lebanon is all too apparent.
Others say that Hiroshima should first and foremost be a warning against the dangers of nuclear weapons. The relevance to nuclear energy proposals is less apparent.
Another group says that Hiroshima should inspire us to "Smash Imperialism", as phrased on a banner clearly visible in the ABC news story. Which is kind of an odd sentiment, because dropping the bomb on Hiroshima was smashing imperialism, and I'm not sure we should be celebrating it.
Anyway, Hiroshima obviously serves as a clear and present warning against the dangers of nuclear weapons and the brutality of civilian casualties. But I don’t think this should be the main lesson we Australians should be learning.
It is vitally important for us to remember that we were complicit in Hiroshima. The blood of all those civilians is on our hands.
It’s all very well to wash our hands of this blood and say that the bombs were necessary to end the war. I’m not saying that the bombs weren’t necessary, or that it wasn’t the right decision to drop them given the facts at hand. Historians can better judge this than I can.
But surely we need to face up to what we did? We call ourselves a civilised society. If that means anything, surely it means that we take responsibility for our actions. If we do bad, even in the pursuit of long-term good, we need to face up to it.
We need to honor the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to apologise, even if America won’t.
Australians cannot defer total responsibility across the Pacific. Whilst it was obviously America that ultimately made the decision to bomb, we undoubtedly share at least some of the responsibility of this decision. Japan was our enemy. We were fighting them in alliance with the Americans. Would Menzies have authorised the bomb, had he been asked? I’d bet he would have.
The Japanese atrocities in WW2 are often mentioned in the Australian media. Typically each story will mention the horrendous hardship endured by Australian POWs, and the issue of Japanese apology is often mentioned. That there is a long list of apologetic statements from various Japanese government figures seems only to detract from the story of a reticent, possibly defiant, Japan.
But how can Australia expect an apology from Japan unless we apologise for crimes of our own?
The real lesson of Hiroshima day is for Australians to wake up a finally face up to what we did. Maybe then we can face up to what we continue to do, 60 years later.