In the world of psychotherapy one of the frequently used techniques is called reframing. It is simply looking at things from a different point of view. To use a personal experience from outside of therapy, when I once told a friend I was crushed by the breakup of a romantic relationship he cheerfully replied, “Getting out of that one leaves room in your life for the right relationship!” While I didn’t find it consoling at the time, it turned out to be right. I subsequently (not immediately!) met someone else and got married. Or as another reframe, a glass which is half full of water is valued for the half that’s full of air if you’ve been underwater too long.
So what does reframing have to do with the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by the U.S. 68 years ago this month? To me, every time I hear of commemorations of the bombings, it seems that there is a tone of dread and shame that suggests that the U.S. was somehow a great barbarian nation to use these weapons. But historical perspective makes thing look different. World War II involved a lot of barbarism by lots of people, including the Japanese. I’m reading a history of the war by Antony Beevor in which he lists casualty figures for many battles. One of the statistics is that of 1.74 million Japanese Army casualties, sixty percent were from starvation or disease, including from the deliberate policy of not evacuating troops from islands in the Pacific and leaving them to fend for themselves. That’s something the Japanese High Command did to their own troops. We also need to remember that the Japanese defense to the last in the Pacific islands of led the U. S. high command to fear overwhelming casualties in an attack on the home islands. Thus, they saw the bombing as a way to save U.S. lives. The Japanese were, after all, the enemy. Today they are our friends, so we rightfully regret the losses and destruction of the war. I assume that the new generation in Japan regrets the losses and destruction of the war also. I just don’t see much benefit in blaming anyone for decisions taken so long ago– hindsight is beyond 20-20; it’s x-ray vision. But the x-ray doesn’t let you see it the way the decision makers saw it at the time.
But where’s the reframe? It’s this: the bombing of Nagasaki represents the last use of atomic weapons in warfare anywhere on this planet. Not only did the U.S. never use atomic weapons again– and I would encourage reading about Korea to learn how close we came to using them– but neither have any of the other nuclear powers. There have even been reductions in nuclear arsenals. To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented in military history. Sixty-eight years have gone by and this fearsome weapon has not been used again– not just by regimes that we may feel are “morally superior,” or “the good guys,” but by anyone. So for me, every year on August 9, another anniversary of great hope for our whole species takes place. That’s a massive reframe.