The forum I mentioned in my last column took place last Sunday, Aug. 2, at the San Fernando Valley JA Community Center with 93 in attendance.

A Hiroshima/Nagasaki art exhibit presented by Nisei Week honoree Richard Fukuhara served as a backdrop for this most memorable 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs.

I welcomed the gathering, noting that what had prompted me to initiate the forum was my need to, after 70 years, come to terms with the event, examining it once more with its many facets. When the bombs were dropped, I was relocated from the Amache internment camp in Colorado with my family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My loyalty to this country was suspect, and I readily accepted the government’s version of their reasons for the bombings.

I attended a forum in March that was produced by Robert Horsting and Richard Fukuhara, which had the same title, and was inspired to pursue the subject at the event that was held last week.

After a stirring opening prayer by Rev. Dickson Yagi, Richard Fukuhara read “The Experience,” the story of the Enola Gay leaving Tinian Island with the bomb, codenamed “Little Boy,” and three days later, the Nagasaki bomb, “Fat Man.”

Following this were three video interviews — Grant Hirabayashi (MIS), who interrogated Japanese prisoners of war; Hideo Sakata, a Nagasaki hibakusha; and Ms. Kaz Suyeishi, a Hiroshima hibakusha. Following this was an interview with Dr. James Yamasaki, physician in charge of investigating the after-effects of the bombing on pregnant women in Nagasaki.

Then Wataru Namba, a Hiroshima hibakusha, spoke, revealing his shocking experience as a young child surviving in the aftermath of the bombing. Kikuko Otake served on a panel and told of her experience as a child in Hiroshima, barely escaping the blast, while losing her father.

Participants in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki presentation on Aug. 2 at the San Fernando Valley JACC (from left) Richard Fukuhara, Wataru Namba, Paul Jonokuchi (community center president), John Cobb, Robert Horsting, Dickson Yagi, Harold Kameya, Phil Shigekuni, and Nancy Takayam. <issing is panelist Kikuko Otake.
Participants in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki presentation on Aug. 2 at the San Fernando Valley JACC (from left) Richard Fukuhara, Wataru Namba, Paul Jonokuchi (community center president), John Cobb, Robert Horsting, Dickson Yagi, Harold Kameya, Phil Shigekuni, and Nancy Takayama.

Our keynote speaker was Dr. John Cobb, who was born in Japan of Methodist missionary parents. He said his earliest memories were of his childhood in Hiroshima before moving to the U.S. in 1940. He returned to Japan after the war as a member of the U.S. occupation force, and subsequently served as professor of theology at the Claremont School of Theology until his retirement in 1990.

In his introduction, Robert Horsting said Dr. Cobb has six honorary doctor of philosophy degrees, and has written over 50 books. His presentation was entitled “The Problem of Morality in Total War.” With his background, what he had to say in his address surely had to be taken seriously.

He started by saying after the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he became emotionally affected, and had a fever that lasted for a few days.

Dr. Cobb said that in total war, all in this country are guilty. Although we are not able to affect choices made by the government for good or ill, when we pay our taxes, we are complicit. In a total war, civilians become involved, and the first example in this country came during the Civil War in the South when civilians were exposed to the fighting. This degenerated over the years into what happened in Japan when the firebombing of Japanese cities was intentionally meant to kill civilians.

Dr. Cobb says the climate of total war makes for extreme positions taken, making no provision for compromise. The U.S. demanded unconditional surrender. Japan, after suffering losses on all fronts and devastation by firebombing of 60+ cities, desperately sought to surrender. They were denied because according our terms of surrender, the emperor had to suffer consequences.

Dr. Cobb said allowing the emperor to not be prosecuted would have resulted in an honorable surrender and made unnecessary the dropping of the bombs. As history recorded, Japan’s surrender finally came with its emperor maintaining his position.

Dr. Cobb called comparing the attack at Pearl Harbor as justification for the A-bombings nonsense. He said that President Theodore Roosevelt called Japanese “honorary Aryans,” which encouraged their military actions. Because of the oil embargos imposed on the Japanese, President Franklin Roosevelt was expecting a Japanese attack to occur somewhere in the Pacific. Their attack at Pearl Harbor was, like any other military attack, made without warning. Dr. Cobb said that to compare this attack with the bombing (atomic or incendiary) of innocent civilians is wrong.

Dr. Cobb then cited our oppressive colonialism in the Philippines and our treatment of Native Americans as evidence of our moral failing.

He concluded his powerful address by asking what we can do to counter our war-like nature. He proposed that if we took the energy we spend in making war and used even one percent of that to study peace, this would be a good start.

Studying Hiroshima/Nagasaki can cause us to look at ourselves and begin to care more about peace.

After a reading by 16-year-old Tristan O’Donnell and Harold Kameya relating the pros and cons for using the A-bomb, the forum continued with a Q&A panel consisting of Mr. Namba, Ms. Otake and Dr. Cobb moderated by Robert Horsting.

In conclusion,“Let There be Peace on Earth” was sung by the gathering accompanied by Nancy Gohata and myself.

The second verse of the song:

“Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now;

“With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;

“To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally;

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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  1. Depending on who’s side of the war between the U.S. and Japan you supported, very often your partisan position will color your interpretation of major events of the war that are still being questioned and discussed. The two events that continue to be controversial are the attack on Pearl Harbor and the use of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Dr. Cobb argues that there is no justification for the use of the A-bomb regardless of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. However, Dr. Cobb does not mention the fact that because the secret Japanese diplomatic code “Purple” had been broken in August 1940 through a joint cooperative effort between the U.S. Army-Navy, Pearl Harbor could have been avoided. Although denied by FDR and his close advisors, FDR was informed of the deciphering of code Purple and the imminent attack on Pearl Harbor before December 7th, 1941. However, decoded messages of the attack received by military commanders in Washington were not passed on to both General Walter Short and Admiral Husband Kimmel warning them of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Both were ultimately blamed for not anticipating the Japanese assault and were made scapegoats and relieved of their commands. Subsequently, on May 26, 1999, the Senate chose to rescind the myth for the Pearl Harbor disaster both Admiral Kimmel and General Short were blamed for 57 years earlier. The question then becomes, if the Pearl Harbor attack could have been avoided what was the motivation of FDR and the military command in Washington to place naval personnel and part of the Pacific Fleet in harm’s way?

    The use of the A-bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both cities with large civilian populations, is also being questioned by historians, both in Japan and the United States. If you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum today, one cannot help being disturbed by how the Japanese interpret the use of the A-bomb. During my last visit to the museum in 2017, I came across one exhibit that offered the visitor one of the reasons for the use of the A-bomb. The last paragraph in the narrative of the exhibit stated, “The United States believed that ending the war with an atomic bombing before the Soviet Union declared war on Japan would curb Soviet influence after the war, and justify the tremendous cost of development to the American people.” To most Americans, the use of the A-bomb was to save American military lives and bring a quick ending to the war, not a strategic move on the part of Truman to curb Russian post-war aggression and influence and to satisfy American taxpayers for their sacrifices. One historian stated that both General MacArthur and General Eisenhower did not see the need for the use of the A-bomb as Japan was defeated and was incapable of defending itself against the U.S. We may never know the truth why Truman decided to use the new weapon of mass destruction on the Japanese rather than on the Germans?