by Laurence Yep
Learn about Laurence Yep at HarperCollins: Yep
And also here: Laurence Yep
“Rest in peace, for the mistake shall not be repeated.”
(Engraved on the Children’s Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan)
Hiroshima is a novella by Laurence Yep. It’s only 56 pages and can be read completely in about 20-30 minutes. It is the story about the dropping of an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
I have had conflicted emotions and feelings about August 6, 1945 (and its companion day, August 9, 1945) for some time. There’s a part of me that thinks some justification is warranted. There’s another part of me, perhaps a bigger part, that believes it was really, really wrong. When reading through a book like Hiroshima, I’m not really satisfied that the author has helped me one way or the other. I agree with all my heart with the author, “The atom bomb is too terrible a weapon. It must not drop again.” (49)
I agree that an absolutely insane amount of money has been spent on the cost of these weapons (40).
I agree that use of such weapons assures our mutual destruction and that no one on earth will survive to live any sort of meaningful existence (42).
But I also agree with Yep that there was an “historical context”: “Japan has built a new wing to the museum. The new exhibit includes Japan’s role in World War II and shows how the city of Hiroshima participated in the military effort. For the first time, the bombing is placed in an historical context” (45). His comment comes off as matter of fact, and he doesn’t seem to have an opinion about it one way or another.
So what do we, as humans—as people who have no control over what scientists and politicians set out to achieve—do? Do we have peace rallies? Do we elect them out of office? Do we put a ban on scientific practice? There are these lyrics to a song by Sting that go like this:
Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world
You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV
You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me
I never saw no miracle of science
That didn’t go from a blessing to a curse
I never saw no military solution
That didn’t always end up as something worse
Put an end to the military? Put an end to science? Put an end to politics? Put an end to religion? Sting says something about living by faith, but his ‘if I ever lose my faith in you’ contains just enough ambiguity to make one wonder in whom our faith should reside—or at least in whom his resides. Incidentally, I agree with Sting as much as I agree with Yep: I never saw no miracle of science that didn’t go from a blessing to a curse.
So Sting demolishes the notion that our hope, or faith, can be in science, progress, religion, politics, or the military. Yep demolishes the idea that any sort of mechanized weaponry is a good idea. Atomic energy, I suppose, could be a good thing, but like all things humans create in their own image, it is ruined in our hands. The heart is devious and deceitful above all things I read somewhere. We find ways to make the most innocuous things weapons, even Kool-Aid.
I would like to have an optimistic point of view about such things as peace. I sit each week in a graduate class where I learn about all sorts of behavioral and physical and mental and learning disabilities. There are more ways for a human to be broken than one can imagine. Yet week after week, as I listen to the professor go on and on about this fix or that fix or this study or this assessment or this solution, I just shake my head because I am not naïve enough to think that we have the solutions to the problems we cannot even understand.
Take war and peace for example. We don’t understand either. What sort of peace is achieved in the destruction of people? So what if we eliminate the people we think are wrong, evil, or otherwise chicanes to peace? And who’s to say when it will stop and whose words will define peace? Is there no other way? Is that really peace?
I like Yep’s novella. It is to the point, clean, crisp, and not overly dramatic. It’s a walk through that day with a young girl who experienced and lived through the explosion. And, to be sure, it forces the reader to ask all these questions and more. The effects of the atom bomb’s explosion over a hospital in Hiroshima in 1945 are still being felt in this world. I wonder if we need war and destruction to go one from day to day? I wonder if I’d want to live after such an explosion?
We are not capable of peace. We need help. We need someone who is and is not us.