I was going to do a post about the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, until I read an article in the Tulsa World that my daughter forwarded to me this morning.The article was titled “Atomic bombing survivors sharing stories this week in Tulsa.” I read about Shigeko Sasamori and Toshiko Tanaka, two survivors of the bombings at Hiroshima, who will be visiting schools in Tulsa this week to talk about their experiences.
After reading some of the comments left by other readers, I decided instead, to write about how we often are unable to separate our feelings about the acts of countries (or a group of people) from our feelings about individuals who originate from those countries, or even from people who look like those people.
Here are a few of the comments that were posted:
- If they want to show the dangers of nuclear power, maybe they could serve some Fukishima fish at the reception.
- Since these victims were 6 and 13 years old at the time the bomb was dropped I am sure they had nothing to do with starting the war and could not have stopped the war!
In response to this Comment #2, another reader posted:
They may not of started the war, their country sure did.
Our inability to make a distinction between the actual “enemy” and those who look like the enemy is one of the themes of The Red Kimono. In the book:
- Sachi and Nobu are hassled because they “look like the enemy” that bombed Pearl Harbor.
- Approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent were sent to internment camps, simply because they looked like the enemy.
- Terrence kills Michio Kimura (Papa) because he looked like the Japanese that killed his father at Pearl Harbor.
- Sachi’s mother doesn’t allow Sachi to play with Jubie, because Jubie is the same color as the boy who killed Papa.
In the following excerpt, Mr. Blake, Terrence’s attorney, explains to Terrence how he was able to subdue the rage he felt over the death of his own father:
Terrence sat across from the attorney and stared him full in the eyes.
There was a part of him that was grateful to have a lawyer defending
him, especially now that Mr. Kimura was dead. But there was another
part of him that just couldn’t understand why a stranger—a white
stranger—would want to defend him. “No sir. You go first. Why’d you
decide to take my case? What’s in it for you?”
Momma stood in the corner and crossed her arms. She cleared her
throat and gave her son one of those glances that needed no words.
Even Blake caught her unspoken scolding. “It’s okay, Mrs. Harris.
A valid question.” He straightened, slapped his knees, and gazed at the
ceiling, then cleared his throat. “When I was a young man—I’d just
started my law practice in Berkeley—I received a telegram from my
mother, asking me to come home to Arkansas. Said she had something
important to tell me. Well, I knew she didn’t have much money. And for
her to send a telegram, and with my pa off fighting in the First War,
well, I had a bad feeling.” He stood and started pacing. “So I wired Ma
that I’d take the next train home. She met me at the station, and when
I saw the look on her face, it confirmed my fears. Pa was dead. Killed by
the Germans.” He turned around and looked at Terrence. “I still remember
the anger—no, the rage I felt. Thought I might go crazy for a bit.”
Hearing those words, seeing Blake’s piercing eyes, Terrence’s heart
raced. Rage. Yeah, that’s just what he’d felt the day he learned the Japs
“I couldn’t imagine not ever seeing Pa again. Couldn’t imagine Ma
Terrence understood the distant look in Blake’s eyes. Sorrow. Loss.
Anger returned to the attorney’s face. He continued, his voice
hoarse. “I hated the Germans. Hated them! I wanted to go over there
and kill every one ’em. But when we found out Pa was dead, the blasted
war had just ended. There’d be no revenge.” He took a handkerchief
from his pants pocket and wiped his forehead.
Terrence pressed his hands to his eyes to stop the burn of tears. He
could tell Mr. Blake still felt it. Did this mean the anger would never end?
“How’d you get over it?”
Blake wiped his glasses. “The night of Pa’s funeral, my ma told me
something I’ve never forgotten. Countries may go to war, but that
doesn’t mean that there needs to be a war between people.”
Between countries, not people.Was that why he didn’t feel better
after beating up a Japanese man? Matter fact, he felt worse. Now, he had
sorrow and guilt. It was like swallowing bad medicine every time he
remembered seeing the little girl’s eyes.
This lack of distinction doesn’t happen only with war. It happens with politics, with religion, with cultural differences. Often, we don’t take the time to get to know the individual, because it’s easier to base our opinions about the individual on our feelings about the group.
This post is not intended to be a commentary on the right or wrong of the bombing of Hiroshima, merely a suggestion to try to see these two bombing victims as children who happened to be in the worst of wrong places when that bomb was dropped.
Here’s another excerpt from The Red Kimono, again taken from a conversation between Mr. Blake and Terrence. In this scene, Terrence is having difficulty dealing with Carter, the “white boy” who’s been placed in his jail cell with him:
“Trust me, Terrence. Try to find something you two have in
“I don’t know what much good it’ll do.” He heard the jingle of the
guard’s keys and scooted his chair out. He rose and shuffled to the door.
“Guess it’s time to go.”
“Think about it this way,” Mr. Blake said, quietly. “When you beat
up Mr. Kimura . . .”
You mean killed Mr. Kimura. The unspoken words were still like a
punch in the gut that knocked the breath clean out of him. He stared at
Blake loosened his tie. “ . . . you saw him as a faceless Japanese. It
was easier that way, wasn’t it?”
Terrence turned to the door. Wasn’t nothing he could say.
“Terrence,” Blake said, walking toward him, “as much as you hated
the Japanese at that moment, would you have done it if you’d known
him? If you’d known the two of you had Nobu in common? Your friend?
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
He also said:
It always seems impossible until it is done.
It’s up to each of us to “get it done.”