Creating the Glass Man: Hiroshima Anniversary

Today is the 65th anniversary of the American atomic attack on the southern Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.  For the first time, the U.S. government is sending a representative to the commemoration ceremony.  Liberation, the left-wing Parisian paper, has a worthwhile photo gallery on the subject:

Hiroshima Prayers -- click image for gallery, courtesy

The German press is of course also watching closely.  The Berlin Tagesspiegel carries a long testimony by a bombing survivor, a photo gallery of standard images, and a story with a critique from the head of the commemoration activity noting that American participation in the ceremony came “too late” (all links in German, sorry).  Sueddeutsche Zeitung carries an interview with a survivor as well (“Eyewitness to Apocalypse”), a photo of an American POW killed in the blast, and an interactive graph on nuclear weapons dangers today upon which North Korea stands out nicely.

However, probably the most interesting item on the Hiroshima commemorations to emerge of late in the German press (a press which has been much more focused on the meaning of 1945, perhaps understandably, than the American press in the past several months) is an editorial by Robert S. McKay, an American “old German hand”  and a skeptic.  His editorial appeared in the Berlin Tagesspiegel on June 30, foregrounding all of these commemorations with the notion that Japanese focus on war victimhood has clouded the country’s ability to honestly assess self-culpability in the wartime past, and criticizing the city of Potsdam for setting up a “Hiroshima Plaza” which coheres completely to the “Japanese as victims” point of view.  I’ve been meaning to translate this from the German for more than a month now, but as a concession to time, will link to the article’s original here and the horrible Google-translated version here, hoping that in the near future those German paragraphs will worm their way to the front of my translation queue.

Finally, take note of a new text published by my former northeast Ohio liberal arts college East Asian historian colleague Anne Sherif at Oberlin College, entitled Japan’s Cold War: Media, Literature and the Law (Columbia U. Press, 2009).   She writes to great emotional and intellectual effect about Hara Tamiki, the Japanese author who was, as she wrote, “a martyr of the age of fear and the first man to succumb to the full force of the Cold War” (p. 115).  Citing Oe Kenzaboro’s Hiroshima Notes, she states that “the bomb does more than give life and take it away” (p. 104), describing A-bomb literature, or genbaku bungaku 原爆文学…

Sherif offers a staggering analysis of some staggering literature by Hara Timiki (原 民喜), his story “Feet of Fire / 火の踵 / Hino kakato.”  (There’s another story here involving how I found the full text of this story in spite of what appears to be a misleading footnote, but I’ll spare you.)  Hara himself was in the bathtub in Hiroshima when the bomb hit, and atomic fallout pervades his subsequent output.  In “Feet of Fire,” Hara arrives upon the idea that he needs to create a “music bomb” which he will drop in order to create the man of the future, the “Glass Man.”  The atomic bomb, in other words, calls for new bombs, counter-bombs, artistic aggression.  As he walks down the street, Hara’s character’s eyesight and senses pare away and his psyche is shaken deeply by the appearance of the idea of the “music bomb”, whose power itself forces him to create a new persona.  In Sherif’s translation, here is  the climax of that story:

…Adam….This single name sprang from him, as from divine inspiration…That name came back to him like some kind of salvation.

“So that’s it.  It’s Adam — I am putting you in charge of the idea of the music bomb.”

or, in an extract from the original version:


(さうだ、アダム……。音楽爆弾の空想は君にまかせよう。君はあの死体の容積が二三倍に膨脹し、痙攣がいたるところに配列されてゐるシインのなかから、ぽ つかりと夢のやうに現れたイメージだつた。君の名はアダム……だが君の名をいま僕はニユー・アダムと呼びたい。音楽爆弾でも何でもいいから勝手に勝手な空 想をしてくれ給へ。いづれ僕はそいつも小説に書かうと思ふから、これからは時々やつて来てくれ給へ。だが今は僕はかうして街なかを歩いてゐるのだし、日常 生活の姿勢でゐなければ、どうも困るのだ。)

Hara Tamiki, courtesy Shunkin / Litterature Japonais


  1. A bit of translation backup from here – I think Mr McKay’s letter deserves the attention of English-speaking readers, too. Here goes.

    quote -> Historians, during recent years, have addressed Germany’s and Japan’s different ways of dealing with the second world war’s heritage. While Germany’s efforts to deal with its past unsparingly were recognized and appreciated by its European neighbors, such commitment is missing in Japan. The Japanese see themselves as victims of the war, with Hiroshima’s tragedy as the key. The city of Potsdam is now supporting this lopsided view.

    On July 25, the newly-named Hiroshima Square is to be inaugurated in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Later, a monument made by a Japanese sculptor is to be placed there. It shall wear he inscription “In memory of the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945. During the Allied Great Powers’ Potsdam Conference from July 17 1945 to August 2 1945, the president of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman, lived in the mansion opposite from here. On July 25, 1945, upon the American president’s approval, the military order for the atomic bombing was given. The destructive power of the bombs inflicted hundred-thousand-fold death and appalling suffering on the people. In hope for a nuclear-free world.”

    While there is ignorance and silence in Japan about the actual war, the end of the conflict by the nuclear bombing plays a superior role. German historian Manfred Kittel sees some kind of “protective shield” in it. “Methaphorically speaking, behind the mushroom clouds, Japan could hide its own crimes.” How come that now, 65 years later, exactly in Germany where dealing with the past is significant, the city of Potsdam feels that it needs to assist Japan with the Hiroshima alibi? A memorial in Tokyo for the German victims of expulsion crimes would be exactly as misplaced. The denial of war guilt in Japan by this mere self-representation as victims is still leading to conflicts between Japan and its Asian neighbors. Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Filipinos, Taiwanese, Thais, and others are continuously vexed by Japan’s clumsy way of dealing with history.

    [referral to Japanese politicians’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine]

    But the city of Potsdam doesn’t seem to be willing to show consideration for Asian nations’ feelings. Indeed, next to this hitherto nameless square in Babelsberg, there is the Potsdam University, the Babelsberg movie studios, and the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation. They all have numerous contacts with Asia, including regular visitors from those countries. Does it take a Hiroshima Monument right here?

    Every thinking human is opposed to nuclear wars. The initiators of the memorial site in Potsdam should rather get involved with the current challenge of nuclear disarmament. The removal of US nuclear arms from the Federal Republic, as suggested by the German foreign minister recently, would be a concern. But by snubbing many Asian countries with an undifferentiated view on a historical event, Potsdam does itself no favor. To join and put on Hiroshima’s lopsided victim mask is unacceptable. If Potsdam wants to stand out internationally, outside Berlin’s shadow, the Hiroshima Square project is a disaster.

    (The author was the American Chamber of Commerce’s Berlin Chairman, and is a co-founder of the “Transatlantic Friends of the Truman House”.) <- unquote

    To polish this will be your job, of course.

  2. In Germany, in my city of Osnabrück, I met the only survivor I know personally. A Korean. Many forced workers from Korea were in the two cities that were bombed. Victimised twice. Never heard any hate speech of her, she only wanted to be respected.

  3. Thanks for the comment and the translation…I am fortunate to have two such wise readers.

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