As comedy bits go, sure, we amateurs are always wise to keep our day jobs. But every Dec. 7, like clockwork, a head would poke into my office:
“Well, I hope you’re happy today. No guilt? Yeah, that’s how you people are.”
My response? “Hey, we were winning until you guys cheated. Atomic bomb? Seriously?”
It’s my Pearl Harbor Day tradition with a guy I once worked with, still a dear friend to this day, renewed annually via e-mail. It’s possible we came up in the newspaper business in a more cynical time. Or we just have warped senses of humor. (Well, me. He really isn’t all that funny.)
I think of this now because President Obama is planning a trip to my native land, which I have yet to see myself. His visit to Hiroshima, part of a weeklong swing through Asia later this month, is historic in that he’s the first U.S. president to go where the big bomb fell on Aug. 6, 1945.
Three days later, a similar device incinerated Nagasaki. Within a week, Japan surrendered. By the end of the year, more than 200,000 Japanese had died from the blasts and their fallout, devastation so far not repeated in world history.
I always wonder why this doesn’t affect me more than other large historical events. I’m Japanese, after all. But growing up, the atomic blasts were what ended World War II, no more.
From birth in San Francisco to early years in the Bay Area and then five years in Hawaii, my family was always around a lot of Japanese-Americans, especially in Honolulu, where my parents grew up and almost all of our relatives still lived.
Moving to Dallas in 1971, then, was a bit of a culture shock. My dad worked at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service headquarters on Walton Walker, as my mother would in later years. We were among a few Japanese and other Asian-Americans transferred from Hawaii, so there was that.
Then school started, and it occurred to me that I was the first or second Japanese person many of my classmates had seen in person. The world didn’t seem like it was going to adjust to me, nor should I expect it to. Assimilate, friend. And so I did, or I gave it a shot. (It might have helped to have been a better football or baseball player, but so it goes.)
High school proved easier than junior high, and the University of Texas even easier. Maybe it was just me growing up and adapting. Maybe I just cared less about noticing.
I also wish the Obama trip to Hiroshima meant more to me. I’ve always been more interested in the fact that he, like me, spent formative years living in Hawaii and that he knows shave ice and snow cones are not the same thing. And that a plate lunch is more than lunch on a plate.
Hiroshima was one of the pivotal events to end a war that needed ending. Without it, more Japanese would have died in a U.S. assault on the islands, as would have tens of thousands of Americans. People die in wars, and wishing it weren’t so doesn’t make it so.
If it took a step as extreme as an atomic weapon to convince those obsessed fellows running Japan back then that surrender was the superior option, then it did. No apology needed for sparing lives on both sides, and I’m relieved Obama doesn’t plan one.
As historical events go, I’ve always felt more strongly about Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that sent 120,000 people to prison camps solely because of their ancestry, the great majority Japanese. Or the “Go for Broke” World War II heroics of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed mostly of Japanese-Americans. Or Ronald Reagan signing into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and his apology for the internment of U.S. citizens back then.
Perhaps that’s just a consequence of growing up Japanese-American, with an emphasis on the latter.
Mike Hashimoto is a member of the editorial board at the Dallas Morning News.