Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Marquez and Kurosawa on Hiroshima

One of the greatest novelists of the past century, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died last year at the age of 87.  I join hundreds of millions in declaring his One Hundred Years of Solitude one of my all-time 20 favorite novels.  He was, of course, extremely outspoken about American wars in his part of the world, the Pinochet coup, and much more,  displeasing many Americans, of course.  And he had a long interest in one of my pet subjects--controlling nuclear weapons, and exposing truths about Hiroshima.  His famous speech marking one of the anniveraries of the Hiroshima attack was titled "Cataclysm of Damocles."

Here is part of a transcript from a dialogue he conducted with my favorite director, also at times obsessed with The Bomb, Akira Kurosawa.  It was at the time of his very late film, Rhapsody in August, set in Nagasaki.  They even refer more than once to the focus of my recent book, Atomic Cover-up.  The full interview is here.
Marquez: What does that historical amnesia mean for the future of Japan, for the identity of the Japanese people?

Kurosawa: The Japanese don't talk about it explicitly. Our politicians in particular are silent for fear of the United States. They may have accepted (President Harry) Truman's explanation that he resorted to the atomic bomb only to hasten the end of the World War. Still, for us, the war goes on. The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.

Marquez: The most rational explanation seems to be that the U.S. rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Soviets would take Japan before they did.

Kurosawa: Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war? There were military concentrations that were in fact waging (war).

Marquez: Nor did they drop it on the Imperial Palace, which must have been a very vulnerable spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they wanted to leave the political power and the military power intact in order to carry out a speedy negotiation without having to share the booty with their allies. It's something no other country has ever experienced in all of human history. Now then: Had Japan surrendered without the atomic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?

Kurosawa: It's hard to say. The people who survived Nagasaki don't want to remember their experience because the majority of them, in order to survive, had to abandon their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. They still can't stop feeling guilty. Afterwards, the U.S. forces that occupied the country for six years influenced by various means the acceleration of forgetfulness, and the Japanese government collaborated with them. I would even be willing to understand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy generated by war. But I think that, at the very least, the country that dropped the bomb should apologize to the Japanese people. Until that happens this drama will not be over.

Marquez: That far? Couldn't the misfortune be compensated for by a long era of happiness?

Kurosawa: The atomic bomb constituted the starting point of the Cold War and of the arms race, and it marked the beginning of the process of creation and utilization of nuclear energy. Happiness will never be possible given such origins.

Marquez: I see. Nuclear energy was born as a cursed force, and a force born under a curse is a perfect theme for Kurosawa. But what concerns me is that you are not condemning nuclear energy itself, but the way it was misused from the beginning. Electricity is still a good thing in spite of the electric chair.

Kurosawa: It is not the same thing. I think nuclear energy is beyond the possibilities of control that can be established by human beings. In the event of a mistake in the management of nuclear energy, the immediate disaster would be immense and the radioactivity would remain for hundreds of generations. On the other hand, when water is boiling, it suffices to let it cool for it to no longer be dangerous. Let's stop using elements which continue to boil for hundreds of thousands of years.

Marquez: I owe a large measure of my own faith in humanity to Kurosawa's films. But I also understand your position in view of the terrible injustice of using the atomic bomb only against civilians and of the Americans and Japanese colluding to make Japan forget. But it seems to me equally unjust for nuclear energy to be deemed forever accursed without considering that it could perform a great non-military service for humanity. There is in that a confusion of feelings which is due to the irritation you feel because you know Japan has forgotten, and because the guilty, which is to say, the United States, has not in the end come to acknowledge its guilt and to render unto the Japanese people the apologies due to them.

Kurosawa: Human beings will be more human when they realize there are aspects of reality they may not manipulate. I don't think we have the right to generate children without anuses, or eight-legged horses, such as is happening at Chernobyl. But now I think this conversation has become too serious, and that wasn't my intention.

Marquez: We've done the right thing. When a topic is as serious as this, one can't help but discuss it seriously. Does the film you are in the process of finishing cast any light on your thoughts in this matter?

Kurosawa: Not directly. I was a young journalist when the bomb was dropped, and I wanted to write articles about what had happened, but it was absolutely forbidden until the end of the occupation. Now, to make this film, I began to research and study the subject and I know much more than I did then. But if I had expressed my thoughts directly in the film, it could not have been shown in today's Japan, or anywhere else.

Marquez: Do you think it might be possible to publish the transcript of this dialogue?

Kurosawa: I have no objection. On the contrary. This is a matter on which many people in the world should give their opinion without restrictions of any sort.

Marquez: Thank you very much. All things considered, I think that if I were Japanese I would be as unyielding as you on this subject. And at any rate I understand you. No war is good for anybody.

Kurosawa: That is so. The trouble is that when the shooting starts, even Christ and the angels turn into military chiefs of staff. 
Poster for Kurosawa's mid-1950s anti-bomb film, with Toshiro Mifune:



Marquez: What does that historical amnesia mean for the future of Japan, for the identity of the Japanese people?

Kurosawa: The Japanese don't talk about it explicitly. Our politicians in particular are silent for fear of the United States. They may have accepted (President Harry) Truman's explanation that he resorted to the atomic bomb only to hasten the end of the World War. Still, for us, the war goes on. The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.

Marquez: The most rational explanation seems to be that the U.S. rushed in to end it with the bomb for fear that the Soviets would take Japan before they did.

Kurosawa: Yes, but why did they do it in a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war? There were military concentrations that were in fact waging (war).

Marquez: Nor did they drop it on the Imperial Palace, which must have been a very vulnerable spot in the heart of Tokyo. And I think that this is all explained by the fact that they wanted to leave the political power and the military power intact in order to carry out a speedy negotiation without having to share the booty with their allies. It's something no other country has ever experienced in all of human history. Now then: Had Japan surrendered without the atomic bomb, would it be the same Japan it is today?

Kurosawa: It's hard to say. The people who survived Nagasaki don't want to remember their experience because the majority of them, in order to survive, had to abandon their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters. They still can't stop feeling guilty. Afterwards, the U.S. forces that occupied the country for six years influenced by various means the acceleration of forgetfulness, and the Japanese government collaborated with them. I would even be willing to understand all this as part of the inevitable tragedy generated by war. But I think that, at the very least, the country that dropped the bomb should apologize to the Japanese people. Until that happens this drama will not be over.

Marquez: That far? Couldn't the misfortune be compensated for by a long era of happiness?

Kurosawa: The atomic bomb constituted the starting point of the Cold War and of the arms race, and it marked the beginning of the process of creation and utilization of nuclear energy. Happiness will never be possible given such origins.

Marquez: I see. Nuclear energy was born as a cursed force, and a force born under a curse is a perfect theme for Kurosawa. But what concerns me is that you are not condemning nuclear energy itself, but the way it was misused from the beginning. Electricity is still a good thing in spite of the electric chair.

Kurosawa: It is not the same thing. I think nuclear energy is beyond the possibilities of control that can be established by human beings. In the event of a mistake in the management of nuclear energy, the immediate disaster would be immense and the radioactivity would remain for hundreds of generations. On the other hand, when water is boiling, it suffices to let it cool for it to no longer be dangerous. Let's stop using elements which continue to boil for hundreds of thousands of years.

Marquez: I owe a large measure of my own faith in humanity to Kurosawa's films. But I also understand your position in view of the terrible injustice of using the atomic bomb only against civilians and of the Americans and Japanese colluding to make Japan forget. But it seems to me equally unjust for nuclear energy to be deemed forever accursed without considering that it could perform a great non-military service for humanity. There is in that a confusion of feelings which is due to the irritation you feel because you know Japan has forgotten, and because the guilty, which is to say, the United States, has not in the end come to acknowledge its guilt and to render unto the Japanese people the apologies due to them.

Kurosawa: Human beings will be more human when they realize there are aspects of reality they may not manipulate. I don't think we have the right to generate children without anuses, or eight-legged horses, such as is happening at Chernobyl. But now I think this conversation has become too serious, and that wasn't my intention.

Marquez: We've done the right thing. When a topic is as serious as this, one can't help but discuss it seriously. Does the film you are in the process of finishing cast any light on your thoughts in this matter?

Kurosawa: Not directly. I was a young journalist when the bomb was dropped, and I wanted to write articles about what had happened, but it was absolutely forbidden until the end of the occupation. Now, to make this film, I began to research and study the subject and I know much more than I did then. But if I had expressed my thoughts directly in the film, it could not have been shown in today's Japan, or anywhere else.

Marquez: Do you think it might be possible to publish the transcript of this dialogue?

Kurosawa: I have no objection. On the contrary. This is a matter on which many people in the world should give their opinion without restrictions of any sort.

Marquez: Thank you very much. All things considered, I think that if I were Japanese I would be as unyielding as you on this subject. And at any rate I understand you. No war is good for anybody.

Kurosawa: That is so. The trouble is that when the shooting starts, even Christ and the angels turn into military chiefs of staff. - See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2012/03/gabriel-garcia-marquez-birthday.html#sthash.Mb3Yy7yL.dpuf

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