Why the Atomic Bombing of Japan Is Missing from Our WW II Cultural Memory
The 60th anniversary on Saturday, August 6, of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima is likely to gain less attention in the United States than other World War II anniversaries, in part because it does not fit the heroic image that Americans have of themselves, says a Duke University professor who has written a book about World War II and memory.
"Americans tend to remember events that make America look good.
D-Day and the elaborate celebration of it is a prime example," said Marianna Torgovnick, author of "The War Complex: World War II in Our Time."
"In contrast, although Americans are certainly aware that there was an atomic bomb exploded at Hiroshima, they've never been able to face the fact that America dropped a bomb that killed civilians."
Other events or ideas prominent in American cultural memory include "the greatest generation," citizen soldiers fighting totalitarianism, the U.S. role in liberating Nazi camps, and the Holocaust and genocide as something that should never happen again.
Those events and ideas form part of America's image of itself as virtuous and heroic -- how we like to think of ourselves and to present ourselves to the world.
Since 2003, Torgovnick notes, the U.S. has been focused on preventing other nations such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. But this focus has not been accompanied by an examination of the Hiroshima bombing, which killed an estimated 70,000 people in the first days after the impact, she said.
Events missing from American cultural memory tend to be either those that do not seem to involve "us" or those that place the United States in equivocal or ambiguous roles: internment camps for Japanese and Japanese-Americans; incendiary bombings of cities in Germany and Japan; the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and to some extent the war in the Pacific as a whole, as opposed to the war in Europe.
"With the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb upon us, there's an opportunity to confront America's decision to use the bomb. Will Americans take this opportunity? It's hard to say, but it seems more important than ever."
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