Super Jayhawk (super_jayhawk) wrote,
Super Jayhawk

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The Hiroshima Club

I've been meaning to post this for several years now, but I keep getting busy or don't have the words to write about it. But this time I need to, for it presages a number of other things that I need to talk about. So here we go.

Friday August 6 was the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, the first nuclear attack on a populated city in human history, and ushering in the frightening nuclear age that we live in now.

Grandmother is no longer with us, so I must tell her story now, as she told it to me over 30 years ago. She always said that the cancer from the Hiroshima bombing would get her, even when I was a kid.

File:Atomic cloud over Hiroshima.jpg

My grandmother was born in 1923 in Hiroshima, and her family had been there for a few generations. Her parents were schoolteachers and her father decided in his 40s to go to medical school and become a doctor. They lived a pretty hardscrabble life in Hiroshima during the 1930s and it was even worse by the time the war started.

I have had certain bigoted people before tell me that my grandmother and her family "got what they deserved" due to Japan's atrocities in China, Korea, and the entire Pacific, but realize that none of them were in the military or supported Imperial Japan's aggression to the world. They were just ordinary folks trying to make a living and keep food on the table, and send my Grandmother to medical school.

So my Grandmother was home for the summer from Medical school after having survived the firebombings of Tokyo (which over 100,000 people were killed) when the air raid sirens went up and she got under the stairwell with her mother. My great-grandfather was outside and ran into the house just as most of the house got knocked down. Fortunately the stairwell was still standing, and they were lucky to have all survived, as they were a few miles from the hypocenter of the blast.

So my Grandmother and her father walked into the center of Hiroshima to try to help. She never would tell me what she saw, saying, "I'll tell you when you're older", but I got to see the next best thing. She took me to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where I got to see all the pictures, artifacts and stories of those that were there. I got to see the shards of glass pulled out of people's backs during the blast, and see horrific pictures of the burns, the death, the devestation of the atomic bomb that were incomprehensible to me at age 9. I had just finished the fourth grade.

My Grandmother taught me many important lessons, but the big one was that war is a terrible thing, the worst thing one society can do to another, and it's usually perpetrated by greedy and foolish people at the top that don't have anyone to stop them. I asked her if anyone opposed the war in Japan back then, and she said, "You were taken away and never seen again" so it wasn't like they could just go to the protest rally. Getting by with the famine from the blockades was hard enough. I asked her what the Japanese government was telling everyone about the war, and she said, "We were told it was a war for our own defense and survival, and that our way of life was under attack". Later of course I found out that the Japanese government had been taken over by a right-wing military faction that led Japan into war. Instead they brought only disaster and devestation.

Every nation, especially ours, should learn from that cautionary tale.

So my grandmother and her entire family became hibakusha, stigmatized by their own society due to something that they never asked for, just by the happenstance that they were in one of the two cities the Americans decided to nuke. There was a lot of fear and severe discrimination at the time due to the lack of knowledge about radiation. People thought that radiation sickness was contagious, or even hereditary. My mother was born in 1949, less than four years after the blast.

My grandmother got a double helping of discrimination, for being a survivor of the atomic bombing that wasn't her fault or doing, and for marrying my Grandfather, a classmate in Med School from Taiwan. For the crime of marrying a gai-jin she was subsequently kicked out of the family and written out of the will. In 1961 she and her family emigrated to America in a cruise liner and arrived at one of the piers in San Francisco. I know, I've seen the pictures. She decided she wanted very badly to be an American citizen, and gained her citizenship in 1974. I asked her years later why she wanted to be a citizen of a country that had nuked her. She said, "I wanted to be a citizen of a country that actually wanted me to be a citizen".

My grandmother, the hibakusha. How many survivors of an American nuclear attack actually became American citizens? I have no idea.

My grandparents came to Kansas City and were doctors at University of Kansas Medical Center, and my Mom subsequently went to University of Kansas where she met my dad. I was born nearly 41 years ago on the campus of the University of Kansas Medical Center, which is why I can lay claim to being born on campus as a Jayhawk. When I was born, my mother told me she checked all my fingers and toes to make sure they were all there, as our fearful legacy from Hiroshima now two generations later.

World War II shaped my Grandmother's life-- she was defined by it. Growing up as a kid, if there was a plane flying overhead she would grab me and dive under a table, waiting for the bombs to come.
She would lecture me about eating every grain of rice from the bowl because in the famine in Japan during the war, they didn't have rice. And of course she told me about the cancer from The Bomb that was going to kill her.

I can tell you that growing up up in the midwest as a Japanese American was no picnic. There was a lot of extremist and annihilationist rhetoric that was very alive and well, as well as old-fashioned racism. Only 25 years before I was born, "A 1944 opinion poll that asked what should be done with Japan found that 13% of the U.S. public were in favor of the extermination of all Japanese, men women and children."

I got beaten up more than a few times over World War II and Pearl Harbor, events I had nothing to do with (and the kids beating me up weren't there for those events either). This was preschool, I was four. I cried to my Mom about it, and she told me, "They're just jealous, because you're so beautiful", but I could see she was crying too.

When I was in kindergarten, she was teaching me the Japanese alphabet, the hiragana and the katakana. I had a workbook where I would learn the stroke order. One of the kids in kindergarten grabbed it from me and said that learning anything about Japanese was "wrong", and threw it out the window in the rain. By the time I got downstairs, all the ink had run and the workbook was ruined.
I asked my Mom to stop packing me Japanese style lunches with onigiri rice balls, as the kids kept taking my lunch and throwing it against a tree.

And their message was clear : Your culture has no value. You should just die. You have no right to be here. Go back to where you came from, you goddamn slant-eyed Jap.

People, hate is not something we're born with. As babies straight out of the womb, we have no idea who anybody is. Hate is instilled by those unhappy people that lust for their own power and satisfaction at getting to step on somebody else so they can feel better.

It is wrong, and we as a society should understand and beware of hate. It gets us wars, kills millions of people, more than any other disease known to man, and accomplishes nothing. It galls me to see the same scowling rednecks that hated me for being "Oriental" scowl and call Arabs and Muslims the same kind of ugly epithets they heaped on me growing up ever since 2001. It gains us nothing, and only causes more darkness in the world. Just as most Japanese were not OK with Tojo and Yamamoto bombing Pearl Harbor, most Arabs and Muslims did not support the horrific events of 9/11 either.

My father is a caucasian from Arkansas that grew up in Kansas, so I'm actually half-white and half-Asian. That doesn't matter in the Midwest, where I'm nonwhite because I have "one drop" of non-white blood in me that apparently still gets me scowls and strange looks. As much as I love my homeland of Kansas, it still angers me when people say, "Welcome to America!". Because of course, since I'm not white, I couldn't possibly have been born here. I have to grin when I tell them I was born in Kansas City.

At least they don't ask me what Chinese restaurant I wait tables at any more. That one really pissed me off.

So folks, hatred and racism are wrong. They give us wars where innocent people get the crap bombed out of them with firebombs or worse yet, the ones with mushroom clouds. We should not only ask, but demand of our leaders and governments that they do the right thing and not engage in wars that bomb the hell out of innocent civilians. Maybe try to give some diplomacy, monetary power and "soft power" a chance again. And maybe realize that race is something none of us get to pick, but are born with. It would be like the blue-eyed tribe having a war with the brown-eyed tribe. Who the hell gets to pick the color of their eyes?

When I got into the School of Engineering at University of Kansas in 1987, my Grandmother made me promise that I wouldn't work on any weapons of war. I had the chance to with a potential job in Leavenworth, but I turned it down.

I first found out I wanted to be a superhero when I was four years old, after seeing the 1960's Batman TV show and of course Underdog back then in the early 70's. What really broke my heart was when the kids that beat me up in kindergarten told me that I could never be a superhero because I wasn't white. All superheroes were white, of course. All I could be was one of those bucktoothed Japanese villains with glasses in the World War II propaganda cartons they still played on TV back then, like "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips".

But now we live in an age where Superman from "Lois and Clark" is half-Japanese, originally born with the last name of Tanaka. And I have to laugh when I see white kids congregate at anime conventions, fascinated with Japanese culture and actually wanting to be Japanese. My, how the world has changed.

My Grandmother died in 1999, in more delirious pain than I had ever seen. Her doctor said that most people usually just gave up and died, but the cancer had spread way past that point with her. It was the first time I'd ever seen someone die, complete with the death rattle. We had the funeral she wanted at St. Joseph's Cathedral and Basilica, right across from The Fairmont where FC 2010 was, and were left with her legacy and her stuff. My Grandfather was so consumed with grief that he went back to his home country of Taiwan, where he died in 2008.

And I look to my cousins, my aunt's kids, also grandchildren of my grandparents that survived World War II. They have no memory or understanding of the war, and they don't really consider themselves Asian-American. In this day and age and in California, it's no big deal, and you're just kind of whatever. Let's hope for the future that it doesn't matter what race you come from, and everyone can understand and appreciate the good things that the tribes of humanity can bring to each other. Those kids that threw my Japanese riceballs against a tree and beat me up when I was four years old? They probably wait in line for sushi and drive Japanese cars now.

The world changes, as it must. And we all must find a way to live together, if we are to be truly free.
Tags: hiroshima japan hibakusha
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*gives you hugs* just cuz I can't even say anything.. but, I feel for you.

Having thought the same thing of the germans, who all get blamed for the hitler reich, which, not all supported..

Same here in america tho.. Other countries look at americans as to fault for issues over seas (irag, etc) however, not all americans are supporting what our leaders are doing. We vote.. but even that doesn't always solve the issue.. Left or Right presidents, we are still in Iraq..

I almost like the idea of the European union, which is starting to break apart those hard borders or discrimination..

Why should I get branded "evil" just because of where I happened to be dropped out of the womb. It isn't anyone's fault for being in a third world country, but are treated with less respect by developed countries..

makes me wonder what would happen in all "borders" country, state, county, etc were eliminated, and everyone was in the same political soup..

*hugs* and thanks for your reply, I didn't know how people would receive such a heavy message. August has become the month of Heavy Shit, starting with Hiroshima, and I look to my friends for their understanding and help.

I can understand completely the whole thing about having to worry about the German thing during the war too-- I actually have a German last name (which really makes people give me a double-take when they look at me).

More than anything else, what spot you happened to be born on this planet and which parents you happened to have are completely accidental things that are no one's fault, but we still live this silly lie of Calvinistic "Predestination" that we really need to get over.

People should realize that more than the color of your skin or what you look like, the important thing that means everything is what you can do and the talents and skills that people can bring to benefit everyone.
Had this country locked up everyone with a German name like they did everyone with a Japanese name, we wouldn't have had the contributions of Dr. Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, and later most people that got us to the moon, like Wernher von Braun.

I think we're getting closer every year to a place where borders matter less and less and it's more of a world where megaconglomerates matter more than individual states-- William Gibson predicted this in his epic Neuromancer in 1982. Not sure if this is a good thing, but I can see it heading that direction. You can REALLY see it in Japan.

I think everyone needs to understand that everybody is equal. Not just Americans, not just Europeans, everyone. We unfortunately still live in a world where "Some people are more equal than others", and this will eventually change over time.

I didn't know how hard it was to be born Asian in the US. When I was a kid, I used to be really envious and fantasized about being born as a US citizen and get to do all the awesome crazy stuff kids do on TV shows. I was unhappy with where I am. XD

The world changes except for the Chinese and Koreans. :3 Old hatred from the WW2 atrocities is hard to let go of. It's something I have mixed feelings on and often avoided.
Good read, would scare me if I had relatives that survived the Hiroshima bombings. That had to be a very scary and surreal scene.

And I agree with hatred and racism being wrong. No matter what nationality we're born with, we're all human. I was always against racism... even though I'll admit that I've slipped a bit myself on that because all of my neighbors where I live are Mexican/Puerto Rican and I'll get to the point where I feel their mistakes are based on their nationality. It's the same mistakes I can make as well.
*hugs* Thank you for sharing, and giving a lot to think on.
*hugs you tight...* thank you for sharing this story with us...
Thank you for writing this. Added to memories, because the stories of our elders should not be forgotten.

When I was in junior high here in California, I got called "Nazi" because I had a German last name - in the 1970s, by kids whose parents were probably not even school-aged in WWII. My family has been in the US for several generations, and is typical US mutts.

In the midwest, the discrimination is much, much, more against "non-whites".

Hate is carefully taught, apparently.
VERY-VERY well written. I had a very dear friend that was born/raised in Hiroshima. He was 9 years old when the bomb was used. He was moved out of the city (90 miles) just prior to the dropping of the bomb. He remembers seeing the cloud in the distance. He did not know what it was but it scared the living daylights out of him. His Father was in the town and survived thanks to a wall falling on him. He also relayed of how bad the times were during the war.

I really like your last part of this story:

"Those kids that threw my Japanese rice balls against a tree and beat me up when I was four years old? They probably wait in line for sushi and drive Japanese cars now."

*How ironic.

"The world changes, as it must. And we all must find a way to live together, if we are to be truly free."

*How TRUE.

I thank you for sharing your past and family history with us my friend.


Thanks for sharing. I look forward to a color-blind society. As for a world without war? I doubt it'll ever happen unfortunately.
Thank you for the first hand perspective and the attitude adjustment for how to commemorate the event. It would've been interesting hearing her commentary on Barefoot Gen and manga/anime of the bombings.
What a touching and thought-provoking post, Jay. I suppose I could count myself lucky that my looks belie my heritage--people are shocked when they discover both my parents were born in México--but you bring up a good point: hate is not inborn, it must be taught. And sadly, I've witnessed it being taught to those past their childhood.
Here's hoping people will just get a clue and realize it just doesn't do any good. *hugs*
Thank-you for sharing this. I understand a lot more now. This post should be shared with more people, especially the prejudiced jackasses in the midwest who made you cry when you were little.
I'm glad I came back to this and gave it a proper read when I had the time to spend.

I suppose things were better over here, from that point of view. I remember, when I was at school (about 4th year of primary school, I'd guess, which would make me 7-8 years old, so it would have been about 1982) a Korean (as far as I remember) boy joined our class. He didn't speak a word of English, so our teacher spent quite a bit of time with him pointing at stuff and saying the words. He learned rather quickly from what I remember, and ended up being just like anyone else in the class... except for physical appearance, obviously.

I don't think I ever talked to him myself but was somewhat fascinated by how someone could be so different they didn't even understand any English. As far as I know, there was no racial prejudice or dislike involved from anyone. Makes it all the sadder to hear what you went through.
Happy birthday!

I found it annoying too when people asked me which Chinese restaurant I worked at. One fellow even said I should date the girls at the Chinese restaurant, which is not a bad thing but it's still presumptuous and none of his business. The funny thing is I got that kind of treatment mostly from other minorities who should know better, given that they've probably gotten it themselves.
Do not know about you all, and I loved it. Someone may say that there is nothing special about fasting is not that these - hundreds, that information is not new, and so on. And I say in response - if you do not wonder why or comment? To me, the post just perfect - I am pleased to not only honored, but also recounted the contents of colleagues.