Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love.
—–William Butler Yeats
Yesterday evening, I attended the Hiroshima Nagasaki Remembrance on the Fayetteville Town Center Plaza. Only fifteen minutes before, I’d heard about the killings at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
The ceremony was filled with thought-provoking messages from Christian, Buddhist and Muslim speakers, songs of peace, poetry on war. All the while, I thought about our differences. Our cultural differences. Our religious differences. Our political differences. Differences in what we believe about war and armament.
But it wasn’t our differences that concerned me. I appreciate our differences, even crave them at times, because I learn so much when I talk to someone who differs from me. What bothered me is that too many people are afraid of our differences. It causes a vicious cycle of ignorance. With little or no attempt to understand, ignorance grows, even festers.
It has been 67 years since the bombing of Hiroshima. How far have we come since that day that changed our world forever? To me, in some ways, we seem to be less and less inclined to try to understand each other. We don’t talk to each other anymore, and it’s not okay to disagree. Instead, we surround ourselves with those who agree with us, and pay too much attention to what is said in a hundred different formats–texting, Facebook, Twitter, blogs.
It’s all too easy to ignore our ignorance.
In an ABC News article on the Sikh Temple shootings in Wisconsin, Simran Kaleka, whose family was in the temple at the time of the shooting, stated, “”They went to church not knowing that they might die today . . . I don’t know if it was directed toward the Sikh culture and them having turbans and having beards, but ignorance is not going to get us anywhere.”
We should all remember Mr. Kaleka’s words.
Ignorance is not going to get us anywhere.
Here is an excerpt from The Red Kimono, where 11-year old Sachi, still in an Arkansas internment camp, learns of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
August 17, 1945
A giant bomb dropped
In a land far away, yet
Close enough to hurt.
Of course, Sachi knew what a bomb was. But Papa said the ones that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atomic bombs. She had never heard that word before—atomic. He wouldn’t tell her much, but she knew something very bad had happened. If only he understood; wondering was much worse than not knowing.
So many things told Sachi this was something too terrible to talk about—at least to children. But she wasn’t a child! She was almost twelve. When would they trust her to understand grown-up things?
She would never forget the afternoon two days before, when she returned to camp from Jubie’s house. As soon as she walked through the gate, she heard women crying inside the barracks. Men were walking up and down the barracks’ rows with strange, sad looks on their faces. Sometimes they stopped and whispered in small groups; other times, they shuffled along in a daze.
That day, she’d walked into their dark apartment and found Mama and Papa sitting across from each other at the table. The only light in the room came from a candle flickering between them. Incense burned next to it. She noticed Papa wore the very same grim expression he had worn the day he heard about Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.
Mama’s o-juzu beads made clicking noises as she tousled them in her hands. Her eyes red and puffy, she shook her head and whimpered. “Okaasan. Otosan.” Mama. Papa.
“What’s wrong?” Sachi asked.
Papa took her hand and walked with her to her room behind the curtain. They sat on the bed. “Sachi, something terrible has happened. But, do not be afraid. We will be fine,” He patted her leg.
“What, Papa? What happened?”
“It appears the United States dropped bombs on two cities in Japan.”
She shrugged her shoulders, confused. “But don’t they drop bombs all the time in a war?”
“These were bombs that do even more damage. Atomic bombs. One was dropped on Hiroshima, where your oba-san and oji-san live.”
Sachi gasped. No wonder Mama was so sad.
“Many people had family in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If it is true, it will be a very long time before we know who might have been hurt there.”
She had heard the others talking. Papa was protecting her. It wasn’t only injuries that worried everyone. Though they always whispered when children were around, she heard the whispers about cities the size of San Francisco being completely destroyed. They said that hundreds of thousands might have died.
She imagined San Francisco completely destroyed and suddenly understood the horror of the atomic bomb.
The whispers turned to talk of Japan’s surrender. She didn’t know a lot about war, but if the United States was at war with Japan, wouldn’t surrender be a good thing? Then why were the women crying? And why did some of the men look so angry?
If the war was over, wouldn’t everyone get to go home, at last?
That night, she tossed and turned, trying to block out the sound of Mama’s crying. She couldn’t imagine what it was like for Mama to have her parents living so far away and not know if they were hurt or okay. Dead or alive. She stared at the ceiling, wishing there was something she could say to make her mother feel better, to make her stop crying.
The night turned even darker when Mama said the most dreadful thing of all. “Michio-san, I must return to Japan.”