Born After the War
(“Hiroshima Day”, August 6, is not much celebrated in the U.S., though I’ve been told that in Japan it is the occasion for solemn remembrances. In 2000, I had a chance to visit Hiroshima and see the A-Bomb dome, the Peace Museum, and the millions of paper cranes, symbols of peace and hope, sent there by school children from around the world. This musing was prompted by that visit.)
On its anniversary a decade ago, I gave a short commemorative presentation about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima–the first use of atomic weapons–on August 6, 1945. My audience was attentive. We all squirmed uncomfortably. After the subsequent silence, people began sharing their stories. Some older attendees had known A-bomb survivors personally. Most remembered exactly what they were doing when they got news of the bombing–like those of my generation remember the JFK and MLK assassinations, or my children remember the Challenger spaceship disaster.
I’ve sometimes felt both gifted and cheated by the timing of my appearance in 1947, when the worst of World War II damage was starting to be hidden beneath sprouting weeds and aid programs, although the aftershocks were felt in the growing belligerence among former allies that later came to be called the “Cold War.” During a 1950’s period of postwar U.S. uneasiness, hunts were carried out for Communists, domestic and foreign. Perhaps their existence would help explain why, after our recent great resounding victories, so many felt so empty.
One of my grandfathers, the Rebel one, was also born not long after a war, in 1869. His early childhood was spent in a house occupied by Union troops who’d temporarily expropriated a Southern landscape almost as desolate as postwar Hiroshima. As his brain softened with age, he sometimes relived that childhood, becoming again the scared white boy who dreaded the “n— down the road who carried a pistol for me.”
Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of those of us born after wars. We are often the pampered progeny of parents determined to keep us out of harm’s way. They don’t want us to suffer through what they did. Laudable as their efforts were and are, there are downside risks. Absent at least some suffering, we are all too apt to blunder through life, expecting all obstacles to be removed, planting the seeds of the next wars by blaming each other when stubborn boulders of prejudice, ego and ideology refuse to budge without great effort.