Today, I had to craft a paragraph about Hiroshima for an international meeting that will be held in Japan this spring. Though it will be my first time in this country, I’ve long felt a kinship for its people.
As I researched the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, I felt myself swallowing hard, despite the fact that I’d already apologized. Once. To a young woman named Seiko.
In the spring of 2007, Seiko and I were among 25 students preparing for our Let Your Yoga Dance instructor certification in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
One steamy June afternoon, she and I strolled down the access road to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, beneath its canopy of foliage, each taking a turn talking and then listening.
On our way back, Seiko and I chose to pause at a resting spot beside a thickly-trunked tree. We took a seat on the bench there, and Seiko turned toward me, saying, shyly:
“Kelly, can I ask you a favor?”
“What is it, Seiko?” I said.
“Will you sing for me?”
I laughed and looked quizzically at my new friend, and she quickly explained that she wanted to practice her dance prayer but hadn’t been able to find a recording of the song she selected.
“Here?” I said, looking at the grass and the tree.
Seiko nodded, hopefully, her eyes shining.
I wanted to decline, to say that I’d help her find it online, but how could I turn down this soul, so earnest and kind.
Before I could meet Seiko’s request, however, I felt something bubbling up inside. Something raw and painful and necessary.
“I need to say something to you, first,” I said.
“What is it, Kelly?” Seiko asked.
My voice was trembling when I spoke.
“I want to apologize for dropping the atomic bomb… on your country.”
“What?” Seiko said. “I don’t understand, Kelly.”
Tears filled my eyes as I repeated those horrible words, and then Seiko took my hands in hers.
“Kelly. You don’t have to apologize for that. You and I weren’t even born.”
“I needed to speak those words to someone from your country,” I explained.
Seiko’s response was whispered through her own tears.
“No one has ever apologized to me for this before,” she said. “Thank you, Kelly.”
And there, under the arms of that magnificent tree in the soft grass of early June, I began to sing…
Somewhere Over the Rainbow…
and Seiko danced for me.
22 thoughts on “the apology”
It started in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Thousands of saIlors, soldiers and airmen were killed, many of them drowned in their beds that Sunday morning. The U.S. Navy was almost wiped out. The U.S. declared war on Japan and the next day Germany declared war on the U.S. We were now officially in WWII.
Since D-Day in June of 1944 the allies had been advancing across Europe. After a German counter offensive in Dec. of 1944 (the Battle of the Bulge, which sent the casualty rate skyrocketing)Germany had surrendered in May of 1945.
The war in the pacific raged on.They were fighting from Island to island heading for the Japanese mainland. Every island was a bloody battle with unbelievably high casualty rates of our military and allies, the Japanese and the civilians who lived on the Islands.
I was eleven years old that summer. I can still see the headlines: Midway, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Iwo Jima etc. etc.
The Japanese did not believe in surrender – it was not honorable. so they fought to the last man.
It appeared that there was going to be an invasion of the Japanese mainland, which meant saturation bombing beforehand ( How many three year olds would have lost their lives???) The Japanese would to paraphrase Churchill, fought on the beaches, fought on the streets, fought in their homes. It would have been a carnage.
When Truman was given the not easy choice to use the Atom bomb, he decided for it.
It has not been used in the 67 years since then. So not only did Truman’s decision save countless lives and end the war, but it also taught the world that nuclear weapons were not to be used.
It was a terrible thing and perhaps we should ask them for forgiveness, but we do not owe them an apology!!!
For me apologies are less “owed” than felt… deep inside… which is where this began… probably after I read the slim paperback, Hiroshima, dozens of years ago. It’s the same apology that rose up after watching Roots or Soldier Blue.
My mind can tell me that I wasn’t there, that it was deserved, that is was the lesser of evils, but my heart transcends right doing and wrong doing. It simply witnesses the pain of another, the loss, the tragedy. Whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan or New York City, my heart aches for suffering, especially that which we inflict on ourselves.
Of course, a nuclear bomb, though decisive and quick, is a “gift” that keeps on giving… in the soil, in the water, in the air. It’s the same with soldiers. The war may end, but it continues on… inside of them. If nothing else, their high rate of suicide is evidence to that.
It’s moving to read your account of that time, and I can only imagine how afraid and worried you must have been. (I have an eleven-year old.)
I can’t imagine how hard that decision must have been for President Truman, and I wouldn’t want to be in his position.
I wonder how far back we’d have to go to find the true “beginning” to any conflict. This reminds me of a wish my young son had when my sister and her husband were facing divorce. “I wish we could rewind to their first fight, and stop it from happening,” he said.
What is amazing about the heart is that it has no limits. It can easily feel compassion for Truman as it feels it for Japan. It can even apologize from its depths for something it never knew firsthand.
When I apologized to 20 year-old Seiko, I wasn’t asking her forgiveness, only her witness. It was a gift to me more than anything. Just as your connection here is a gift, even though our views appear to differ.
For those who are interested in world peace, beginning on the inside, may I recommend, Marshall Rosenberg’s work, Non-Violent Communication NVC). It is truly a practice of the heart. From the NVC website:
Since NVC’s foundational assumption that we are all compassionate by nature is not true, then their conclusions about what will solve the problem of verbal and physical violence must also be suspect. Since God tells us that the truth is that we are all sinners by nature and that the heart is deceitful above all things, it should not surprise us that there is “violence present in the heart.”
Man can never save himself or help himself, no matter how much credit we like to give ourselves for our intelligence and creativity in developing theories and methods to end conflict and achieve some kind of utopia here on earth. How can things like “authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connection”, etc, even be objectively measured? They cannot!!
King David cried out in Psalm 51 ‘Create in me a clean heart, O, God, and renew a right spirit within me!” “For all have sinned” writes Paul in Romans. Only God can provide a solution for our depraved hearts, and that is through the death of His sinless Son on the cross, laying on Him all our sins.
Our part is to come to Him in repentance and accept His “unspeakable gift.” Only then, can we as individuals begin to have the compassion that is required in our hearts. And because the world “receives Him not,” we won’t have world peace until the Prince of Peace comes. NVC cannot change the world. Only God through Jesus can.
Yes, Ruth, where we begin does make all the difference…
I begin with what I’ve found to be true, and it is easy to give God credit for that: that all human beings are created equal, that each is essentially “good” and worthy, that compassion is a natural state that is often or always corrupted by life.
I also know Jesus. “Christ-like” is very much aligned with the principles of Non-Violent Communication; but you are right, NVC isn’t a religion or a Savior. It’s a process, an orientation, a focus on the beauty of “needs”–the essential needs we all share: the need for love, for respect, for kindness, for safety, for belonging… and the list goes on.
NVC reminds us that needs are never in conflict, only strategies are, and as such helps point the way toward peace, inside first and then in our relationships. As a parent, I’ve found the practice just short of miraculous when it comes to my relationship with my teen.
I’m not sure how much exposure you have to others of differing views and faiths, but I can assure you that compassion lives and breathes in each faith and even in the most surprising places… in prisons; in war-ravaged communities; in the hearts of victims everywhere.
Will compassion change the world?
It does every day.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of propaganda that Americans were sold at the time, and which many still repeat to this day–not maliciously, I don’t think, but because they chose to believe it and not look further.
Documentarian Ken Burns offered a disappointing perpetuation of this fairy tale in his otherwise engaging film series “The War”. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the true horror of what we did to countless innocent civilians, a Pearl Harbor many times over–do we really believe a Japanese life is worth less than an American life? No more right than that awful day.
I’m always struck by remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I hear the US still rattling sabers with other countries that seek to become “nuclear powers”. The propaganda machine begins to churn again, that we cannot trust the “Axis of Evil” with nuclear weapons–we should be cautious of such rhetoric–if they are “Evil” for acquiring this type of weapon, what are we for having once gone beyond contemplation to turning Japan into our atomic weapons test site? Before contemplating atomic weapons, we contemplated chemical weapons use–the very things we conveniently consider barbaric when some other country uses them.
There was, in reality, negotiation already taking place between Russia and Japan. Japan had made the retention of their emperor a condition of surrender, but this condition was disregarded by the united states, in favor of exacting revenge. Japan was, in fact, contemplating surrender. Truman sought the counsel of his military advisers and others, then chose to ignore the counsel that was given–don’t do it. He had only the support of one; an admiral, if I remember correctly.
Others, seeing his determination to move ahead and try out our new toys, told him there was the option of making a display of the weapons capabilities without killing anyone, or informing Japan that we would bomb, naming three cities, but not revealing which, and giving time to evacuate civilians. We chose not to do that either.
The history of the world, our own history, is not for the faint of heart. It can take courage to look deeper. It’s important to find that courage so that we can truly live up to our idealized image of ourselves, so we can truly attain, in deed not just in word, the moral standing we claim to have. The highest form of patriotism in such cases as the bombings of Japan in WWII, is to be honest with ourselves.
Recommended reading: Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan
and for a glance at what others in government were saying:
“It’s important to find that courage so that we can truly live up to our idealized image of ourselves, so we can truly attain, in deed not just in word, the moral standing we claim to have.”
Always true, for every one of us.
Read a few personal accounts of what our young men experienced in the Pacific islands before you call for an apology or accuse anyone of propaganda. Judging history by todays standards is both naive and arrogant. Before I feel compelled to apologise to any Japanese youth , I will first say “Thank You” to every one of our own young men who gave there lives and their innocence to WWII.
Speaking for myself, I’ve read many accounts of WWII, from soldiers and historians. I’ve also had the opportunity in to speak to some WWII vets in person many years ago. Why do you seem to see those two actions as mutually exclusive (compassion for our soldiers and for the Japanese)?
One can be grateful for those who fought, and compassionate toward the Japanese civilians who stared true evil in the face as it came, indiscriminately crashing down on them, soldier and civilian alike. The use of such weapons is a war crime, plain and simple. You’d see that clearly if the situation were reversed. We have no moral high ground here.
The story the USA tells about our decision, pretending we had no other option, *is* propaganda, is a lie. We DID have other options. We chose to make the last resort option our first resort. You might not like to face that fact, but it doesn’t make it less so. It also doesn’t change the fact that soldiers in armies on all sides of the war, including ours, suffered a great deal. That doesn’t make what we did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki OK–*That’s* naive and arrogant.
One should be cautious in making such arguments, because they are the same ones used by those who would seek to do harm to the USA today—“our people suffer because of US foreign policy, so it’s our duty to attack US soldiers and civilians everywhere we can”. Essentially the same rationale. When does it stop? When do we start being honest about this, learn from our mistakes, and work toward making it stop? Refusing to do so; refusing to be honest about it or to apologize to anyone doesn’t make you more right. It just makes you stuck.
Blanche I can not get into a discussion with you, you have your facts and I have mine. But I never said or meant that a Japanese life was less valuable than an American life. I specified that the people that were suffering and dying besides our military and allies were the Japanese and the civilian inhabitants of the islands. If we went ahead and invaded Japan, we would have lost countless lives,as would our allies and the Japanese. To die they way they did at Nagasaki and Hiroshima was a terrible thing, but the young soldier and sailors who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor and from then to the end are just as dead as the Japanese. We were not at war when the bombed Pearl Harbor. We were decidedly at war when we used the atom bomb
I was twelve years old when my two brothers came back from the war in Europe, i talked to and listened to many others coming home from the pacific. There was no comparison. We hear a great deal about the crimes committed by the Germans in the prison camps , specifically to the Jewish people. We heard nothing about their brutality on the battle field. because there was no comparison between the way the Germans fought and the way the Japanese fought. Until the present day the idea of suicide killing of the enemy was not heard of until the Japanese started with their Kamikaze pilots who would crash into the ships in order to be sure they sunk them.. I really don’t think that we can be sure that we did not take the best way. You really need to have lived at the time and knew the situation as it existed. I can just imagine Truman saying “Let’s just get this over with. Let’s stop rewriting History!!!
Kelly, It seems that I offended you with my comments, truly not my intention at all.
I am glad that you know Jesus.I do have a question, then, if you don’t mind me asking. If you believe that mankind is created already good and compassionate, then why did Jesus have to die for our sins? If I might re-phrase it as “needs,” why do we need a Savior if we are already good?
And are you sure that needs are never in conflict?
Hmmm… I don’t feel offended, but thanks for checking.
Good question. It’s a nice fulcrum of awareness.
“Why do we need a Savior if we are already good?”
To remind us.
Am I sure that needs are never in conflict?
Well, I’ve been practicing NVC within myself and within my family for a handful of years now and so far they’re not. I’ll keep you posted.
I don’t understand you.To remind us of what?
I don’t understand you. To remind us of what?
Read your question again…
cool discussion…i have so many thoughts…history and religion are two of my favorite topics…I learned a cool word in college… an “anachronism” is when we judge the past with the bias of the present.
O my gosh we are so pompous to look back to wwII and act like we have some kind of moral superiority to truman, or people back then. I believe in non violence. I beleve that light is far superior to darkness. I think its cool to apologize to those in your life..just curious…did they apologize for invading the Philippines? Guam, Korea, China? The Rape of Nanking? Google it. you will weep.
I agree that forgiveness is the only solution..Love conquers all… I agree that America, Americans have done dreadful things because we are humans..are the Japanese different.?..were Native Americans never jealous, prideful, vain, ambitious…violent?
I have mixed feelings..of course. We are right to behave peacefully…we are changing at this very moment…the Atom Bomb…the Bomb changed everything. Do you realize that the Japanese, the Germans…uh…the jihadist suicide bomber was and is practicing “total war” which by definition is combat against citizens in order to demoralize the population so that they capitulate, surrender…give in?
Germans bombed English cities with moms and kids, ugh..Google the Rape of Nanking. Its miserable. I don’t feel guilty for Truman dropping the bomb, or for being an American….My “guilt,” which is profound, stems from my own refusal to love and to be loved.
I will attempt to pursue a life of healing and reconciliation. But I am not going to be naive about the nature of the human heart.
On a political level, it gets more interesting…I am hopeful, AND wary of the future. Expect the best, prepare for the worst.
The use of the Atom Bomb was a decision made in a point of history, and I’m sorry, it sucked. But that’s history. I have today.
So..you believe we don’t need a Savior because we are already good? Or, are you saying that Jesus died to remind us of..something,
Thanks Mark, excellent reply. I was born in 1933 – the year Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany. The week I went to First grade was the week that the Germans invaded Poland and WWII began. I am 78 now and I do not remember anytime in my life that there was not a war somewhere. I have often thought when there is a problem to be solved instead of sending young men out to be killed, why not have a soccer(football, baseball etc) game to settle it. Would make a lot more sense. I tend to blame it on the fact that men were in charge. B ut i wonder if it would be any better if women made the decisions? Thanks again Mark – I liked what you had to say!!!!
I think it was Madeline Albright who said (something like)… if you think the world’s problems would be solved if women were in charge,you clearly have forgotten highschool.
I think of Margaret Thatcher ( I guess you have to be Irish to let this bother you) When the Irish were on a hunger strike, basically what she said was They are only Irish, let them die!!!!
Thank you. Finally! a comment that takes us back full circle.
Even if I my name wasn’t “Kelly,” the Prime Minister’s comment would “bother” me.
Compassion, as such, transcends tribe and nationality; which is why “The Apology” to my Japanese colleague was not obstructed by history, politics or place.
May we all rest in peace 🙂
Reblogged this on Kelly & Lila and commented:
Two women. One apology. One heart. #hiroshima