In different ways, Japanese gathered to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Just across the bay from Eta Jima, nearly 50,000 people stood for a minute of silence at Hiroshima’s peace park, coinciding with a speech given by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Meanwhile, the Japanese Midshipmen and I, conducted a tour of Marine Corps Air Station Iwa Kuni, a coastal base west of Hiroshima, and a 2 hour bus ride from Eta Jima. Tuesday, August 6th, was the second day I toured the base with the Midshipmen; on Monday I rode with a different group. On both days we were met by the base Public Affairs Officer, Captain X, his two assistants, both Corporals, and a civilian, female civilian Japanese translator.
The tour started with power point presentation from Captain X, who paused in intervals to allow the translator to catch up. The English Proficiency level of the students varies widely. Some speak little to no English. Others, a lot. On my first day of introductions, I met a Japanese Officer who spent a semester at the Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 2009. He accent was noticeable but did not interfere with his fluency. The first time I went running on campus, I stopped to ask three Japanese Midshipmen, in Japanese, how many miles one lap around the campus was. As I was trying to communicate this point, a fourth Midshipmen walked up, and asked me if I needed translation help. Judging by his voice, I would have said he was American, which was explained by him attending high school in Bethesda, Maryland. So when the Japanese translator asked how many students needed a translation, about 75 percent of them raised their hands, and the presentation continued, focusing on the role Iwa Kuni plays in this particular part of the specific, and in what capacity they work with the Japanese Naval Officers also stationed at Iwa Kuni. In other instances, especially among the military, I might chastise the tired use of power point presentations, but in the case of communicating through a language barrier, it provided visuals and a framework provided by the slides that I’m sure made it easier for him and for the translator to make their points known. At the end of the presentation, Captain X thanked the Midshipmen for not falling asleep, which received a hearty laugh after translation; I think the Japanese hearing blunt declarations from a native tongue can be shocking.
After the presentation, the Midshipmen filed back onto the bus and were shown various Marine Corps aircraft, while I performed the tedious but necessary duty of filling out paperwork. Having just moved to Japan last week, I still needed to check into the medical system, in case I get hurt, the financial system, to get paid, and ensure the status of my household goods, if and when they ever arrive in Japan. It made the most sense to complete these tasks with the transportation provided, otherwise, with no car, getting to and from the base is a process that is annoying if not unavoidable: just next month I need to go back for my annual Flight physical. Due to the singular nature of my job, I had to explain, more times than I would like, that, no, I am not stationed in Iwa Kuni, my mailing address is at Kure Army base, but I’m not stationed there either; yes, it is a unique job and it is a privilege to serve in the capacity of a liaison for the Naval forces in this region of the Pacific. It feels like an exercise in vanity that I would prefer to avoid, but more likely will have to get accustomed to. During lunch one of the PAO’s while one of the PAO’s was interviewing me for the base paper, I felt I lacked a certain sense of how to doll out the political response the Navy would deem satisfactory. After the interview I gave the Corporal my card, telling him that I might be more articulate over email.
Every marine I talked to at Iwa Kuni, spoke well of their time in Japan and of the Japanese people. True, they work for Public Affairs, but their responses didn’t sound guarded or canned, as the interview I gave felt to me; they were genuine in their praise. Because it was the anniversary of the bombing, I asked them what kind of direction they received, if they had to attend any ceremonies to commemorate the event. The Corporal told me they all received an email that gave “historical context” to the events surrounding Hiroshima and the fallout from the bombing, both quantitative and qualitative, and that the Marines should respect the privacy of the Japanese citizens while they commemorate the anniversary.
As in America, the Japanese response to national tragedy differs from person to person, and from year to year. In Hiroshima, a public gathering was held that gave the Japanese a chance to reflect on the past, and in what ways they as a nation want to move forward. In this years speech, Prime Minister Abe said that, as the sole country to face nuclear attack, Japan has the duty to seek to wipe out nuclear weapon, remarks just coming a day after the Japan Times reported that Abe was looking to change the interpretation of the post World War II constitution so that Japan may engage in collective self defense, as the United Nations interprets Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Currently, “Due to the ban on using force, the Constitution has long been interpreted as barring Japan from engaging in collective self-defense, which allows it to attack any country that attacks its ally.” Article 9 of the Constitution states:
AAspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
As demonstrated with the existence of the Japanese Self Defense Force, this article allows Japan the ability to defend itself, but its relationship to the United States has been such that there has not been a one-for-one response to acts of aggression in the Pacific. Japan has taken the lead to change the nature of this relationship, most likely backed by the United States, and they are doing so in growing ways. Also on August 6th, the Japan Times reported that Japan released a destroyer 250 meters long, with the capacity to hold up to 14 helicopters, a move supported by the United States, if not from surrounding Pacific countries, or even from all the Japanese citizens, some of who may have grown accustomed to the affect that the United States has had in Japan since the end of World War II.
Backed by the United States, the growing self importance of the Japanese Self-Defense Force was reflected by the decision for the Midshipmen to tour Iwa Kuni on the day of the anniversary. The Japanese are removed from the bombing in maybe the same way Americans are removed from Pearl Harbor or the storming of Normandy. Moving on does not mean forgetting, indeed, both the United States and Japan can learn from the events of Hiroshima and forge a bond that will act to both our benefit. Remembering an event, even mourning its outcome, can coexist with concrete developments that progress the status of the present. The Government of Japan, as well as its Defense Force, is serious in its steps to build a stronger, more self-sufficient unit. What role do we as the United States want to fulfill? As the leader? As the friend? Now, the Americans interest to keep military bases in Japan has more to with giving us strategic advantage in this particular region of the Pacific than keeping Japan might and power in check. In the immediate aftermath of the war, their were different motivations for implementing Article 9. As the years move on, however, in what ways is it possible to remember the lessons of the past while making progress towards the future?