75 years ago the Second World War came to a final if macabre conclusion with the Allied bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastating attack on Hiroshima killed over 80,000 people while the attack on Nagasaki cost the lives of at least 35,000 people.
The conflict in the Pacific was catastrophic in terms of American and Allied soldiers deaths. It was estimated that more were killed by the Japanese during the final year of War than were killed in three years of conflict in Europe. However with the knowledge and hindsight that we have now, such a violent act seems inhumane especially in the light of apparent evidence that Japan was closer to surrender than once was believed. Attitudes were completely different at that time. Most of the world was consumed with disgust at the perceived collective villainy of the Japanese. Consequently this dehumanising act of political expediency was accomplished.
There is another story of the Japanese people. The writer and artist Shigeru Mizuki was a conscripted Japanese soldier deployed to Papua New Guinea. He detailed his experiences in his book “Showa”. He reveals a different kind of courage in battle. He is brave enough to stand up for himself and resist conformity. He refuses to take the orders of his superior officers, even to the extent of enduring savage beatings. Instead he empathises with the indigenous people and wins their trust, and is accepted into the community.
Mizuki was a vehement opponent of the colonial mind-set that prevailed over Imperial Japan during the 1940s. This situation changed dramatically when Japan formally surrendered on August 15th 1945 and a democratic process was initiated to supplant the autocratic rule of Emperor Hirohito. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks were the culmination of a secret plan known as “The Manhattan Project”. At the eve of World War Two scientists had gathered to establish an atomic weapons development programme. They were comprised of American and British scientific experts who were concerned about the nuclear threat from Germany.
The real human cost of nuclear strike did not become real until the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. In the modern imagination “The Manhattan Project” became the inspiration for the cold, inhuman and alien character of “Doctor Manhattan”.
This was a character written by Alan Moore and he features in the graphic novel “Watchmen”. This is a story set in an alternate universe of deliberate moral ambiguity. Dr. Manhattan was previously the atomic scientist Dr. Jon Osterman but he mutated after a horrific laboratory accident. The character and his role in a modern post-nuclear world is an allegory. It is a warning of the dangers of mindless conformity and a reminder of the subtleties at play when considering various political and cultural conventions.
We need to become much wiser and responsible as a collective human species and revive our humanity rather than leave it buried underground.