Dokodemo Door!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Constructive dissent"

I doubt that the following tidbit popped-up on your radar-screen: on June 23rd, a special commendation was awarded to Joel Ehrendreich, a staff member of the U.S. State Department.
Joel Ehrendreich was given an award for "constructive dissent" for convincing higher-ups that the U.S. ambassador to Japan should accept, rather than decline, the annual invitation to attend the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, which marks the anniversary of [the] Hiroshima atomic bombing by the U.S.

Yes, believe it or not, the U.S. officially refused to attend the memorial ceremonies of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until 2010. John Roos was the first U.S. ambassador to show-up at the event last year.

This longstanding boycott was not only antiquated but, unforgivably, was also tainted with the irreparable quality of looking bad among the Japanese public. The symbolism of Roos' attendance, 65 years after the bombing, was refreshing, well-received and packed a great deal of punch last summer.

The refusal to attend the nationally-observed remembrances of the events is not terribly surprising considering the almost paranoid level of secrecy which surrounded the bombings for decades afterwards. In the late 40s, both the brass of the Air Force and the civilian scientists of the Atomic Energy Commission closed ranks to concur that the devastation and gory after-affects should be hidden from the public. (Nonetheless, I figure that General Curtis LeMay, a man who later gave Robert McNamara the heebie-jeebies, thought the display of air-delivered death was pretty decent stuff for the Russians to ponder.)

In Japan, from 1945 until 1952, there was a great deal of censorship regarding the photographic documentation of what had happened. (In fact, in one of those cunningly self-referential twists, the occupation's policy of censorship had itself been subjected to censorship, meaning that the whole episode largely vanished from the historical record.) During that period, some Japanese filmmakers had their equipment confiscated when they tried to document the devastation. Furthermore, the copious street-level atom-bomb footage of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (which was, in itself, a highly informative post-WWII project) was declared Top Secret. The result was that ground-based films and photographs of the twin atomic bombings' aftermath had been effectively suppressed for decades.

In fact, some clips of the black and white films of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki effects which are available today would be unknown were it not for the fact that a negative reel was secretly hidden away in the crawlspace of the cameraman's ceiling for some 22 years.


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