“My God, what have we done?” — Capt. Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, from which Hiroshima was atom-bombed
The quiet, meditative calm of the compact Emmy-winning documentary White Light/Black Rain comes from maturity. A survey of the havoc wreaked on humanity by the U.S. atomic bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, including black-and-white archival material and color in-camera interviews of survivors, most of whom were children at the time, the film was directed by Steven Okazaki, a U.S.-born gentleman in his mid-fifties. Okazaki is patient, humane; nowhere is he snarling off-camera.
This is what I know, because it happened during my lifetime: President Harry S. Truman, who ordered the atomic bombings, insisting these would save American lives by ending the Second World War that much sooner, repeatedly said afterwards that he did not regret these presidential decisions of his. As soon as he died, one day after Christmas in 1972, his personal papers revealed the truth: Truman was forever haunted by, and regretted, what he had done. Okazaki’s film, which every U.S. teenager and adult should see, shows some of the effects of what was done when one nation, under Godlessness, deliberately attacked massive numbers of civilians with the worst weaponry the world thus far had.
We now know that this murderous mischief wasn’t even necessary for ending the war. Had it been, it still would not have been the thing to do. The ends do not justify the means. Those aging white men who in the course of Okazaki’s film swear allegiance to the justice of bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have forfeited all place in the annals of the human race—unless, like Truman, they are hiding the truth of their feelings, perhaps even from themselves.
U.S. Americans can get grotesquely funny on this score. During what is called in my country the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962, the confrontation between the Soviet Union, which had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba to warn off U.S. aggression, led to their removal. The “spin” the American press and subsequent writers gave this is that Russia “blinked” first and President Kennedy proved himself a hero! The whole thing made sense to legions of Americans as a schoolyard quarrel between nations opposing one another in the so-called Cold War. The fact of the matter is that Soviet Premier Khrushchev was unwilling to end the world while the American president, conscious of his “being tested,” was not unwilling if it meant proving his “manhood.” Not always, but in this instance the true heroism did not lie with whom the U.S. press reported it did.
But I stray from Okazaki’s fine film. (It is good sometimes to stray.) The weirdest episode of White Light/Black Rain surely involves the meeting between Robert Lewis (see above) and Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, leader of the Hiroshima Maidens Project, televised on the freakish TV show This Is Your Life. Tanimoto was chaperoning Japanese teens to whom a U.S. hospital was donating plastic surgeries to diminish—erasure was impossible—physical outcomes of the atom bombings. This grotesque television exploitation has to be seen to be believed.
And once all that Okazaki has to show is seen, like Rev. Tanimoto one is very likely to find oneself in tears that cannot be suppressed.
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