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A History Lesson, for those willing to read

There is a word that exists in Japanese, but that has no direct translation in English. Not like


German, where there are many compound words that express concepts that too great for a single, English word. Schadenfreude. The experience of joy at others' misfortune. Now you know. But the Japanese word? There is no way to adequately express the word in English.


August 6, 1945

The Enola Gay took off from a runway on a tiny, Pacific island. Sea Bees built the runway. Marine Corps Engineers. On a little, coral rock called Tinian. Paul Tibbets and Robert Lewis lifted their plane and their crew into the humid sky, early on a Monday morning. They flew to and then dropped a bomb called "Little Boy" over the city of Hiroshima, Japan and instantly vaporized tens of thousands of humans. They set the city ablaze with a flash of light and heat equal to the surface of the sun. It took less than the snap of your fingers.


And history, as told in the public schools I grew up attending, says that the Japanese did not surrender immediately. There is an omission, made somewhere in the chain of history being written; a Japanese word. Shouganai. The word was spoken to the Americans by Japanese leaders in the aftermath of the first atomic bomb exploding. Shouganai. It was a response, not only to the bombing, but to the message being radioed into Japan by the Americans from beacons in Saipan every 15 minutes. Surrender.


Today, we've managed to give Shouganai a definition, but lacking the cultural context that comes with the word, we don't really 'get it.' We might say, "it is what it is" to explain a situation that cannot be improved and must be done. In a discussion someone that is in an indefensible position might say, "Let's agree to disagree." A statement that in Western society has never been uttered by someone that knows they are intellectually, historically, or morally correct. For the Japanese, it means any of that, all of that and much, much more. Let's agree to disagree on this fact.


The Empire of Japan issued a statement to the United States through all the internationally accepted customs of war on August 7, 1945. Shouganai. (Note that I did not say the Emperor). Back in Washington, D.C., President Truman, James Byrnes and Robert Patterson received the message and wrestled with the translators to figure out what the cryptic word meant. Lacking knowledge of cultural mores in Japanese society, the men dismissed the Japanese message from August 7, 1945. The United States, ignorant of the Japanese's initial offer to surrender (our word, not theirs), proceeded to drop a second atomic bomb over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Instantly, another 22,000-75,000 people, mostly civilians.


We have entered an era where people will put their ignorance on full display via social media, but when you point out just how wrong they are, they want to "agree to disagree." The subjects are many: Climate change. Police bias. January 6. Systemic racism. School shootings. Financial inequity. So. Many. Subjects.


Shouganai, my friends. Shouganai.


And it is not enough to say that America dropped a second atomic weapon on Japan. "Little Boy" was a trigger-barrel type weapon. Smaller than "Fat Man," a spherical implosion weapon. And the weather over was clear. The unique "T" bridge was the target the crew trained for and the bombardier nailed his target. Hiroshima was a more modern city, with more modern building techniques in use. Though no city is immune to the incredible concussive force, wilting heat and toxic radiation of an atomic bomb, at least there were some buildings that offered shelter.


Weather was working against the Americans. The second bombing was originally scheduled for the 11th, but heavy cloud cover predicted to move in on the 10th and linger through the 11th pushed the attack ahead two days earlier.


Shouganai.


Nagasaki was a more ancient city. Tucked in a valley. An important industrial center. But not the intended target. Kokura dodged a historic bullet. A footnote in the records. Mechanical trouble forced the sortie to their second choice.


It is what it is.


The weather was deteriorating, as expected. Bockscar, the B-29 that dropped the second bomb, had to pop over and under cloud cover to make their bomb run. When they did, their target was obscured by a coal tar plant belching black smoke into the air. The weapon was dropped more than three kilometers northwest of the intended drop zone. Closer to the mountains. And it was dropped from an unintended altitude. The effect was to cause the waves of heat, sound, vibration and light to bounce around the mountains and reek havoc on the city. Remember bouncing a super ball in your mother's foyer?


Imagine the destructive potential. It was nothing less than incredible. The suffering that must have come to civilians, is incomprehensible. I won't debate the morality of dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian population. I understand the decision. My people are at war with your people and I want it to end as quickly as possible, if that can save even one American. I have known enough soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to wish them the fastest resolution to any military campaign. I value their lives. You have a weapon that could potentially end the war in one or two tries? Yup. Go for it.


But the reality, the truth is, an additional 100,000 Japanese civilians are estimated to have died either of injuries sustained in the attack or illnesses and symptoms of radiation poisoning from the Nagasaki bombing. They died just because white, American leaders were culturally unaware. Ignorant. But, we can agree to disagree.

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by Lars Lichtenfeld. larslichtenfeld.com

Freehold, NJ

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