We Are All A-Bomb Victims

Walter Enloe
Fifty years after World War II, with the dawning of the Nuclear Age and the founding of the United Nations, we educators are faced with another daunting task. How do we teach a global perspective in a world that is both increasingly interdependent and changing, while simultaneously we are locally embedded in place and time? How do we teach human rights in a democracy continuing to struggle with its history and issues of civil rights? The problem is much more complex than sloganizing Rene Dubos' powerful concept of "think globally, act locally."
I'm a social studies educator and American who has had the unusual experience of living for many years in Hiroshima, Japan. In 1961, I moved to Japan and in 1963, I moved as a teenager to Hiroshima, where my parents were a minister and teacher for the next thirty years. I returned to be principal and teacher at Hiroshima's International School from 1980 to 1988, working with children from all regions of the world. Since returning to the United States, I've have been struck by the intense interest so many people have about Hiroshima: "Is it still radioactive?" "Do the Japanese A-bomb victims hate us?" "What about Pearl Harbor?" "What do you think about the Enola Gay controversy?" These questions, and more, indicate the deep fascination of Americans with the first dropping of an atomic bomb on a civilian population.

For me, wrestling with that place called Hiroshima over the past thirty years has left several indelible markings on my mind and heart.

First there are multiple perspectives on the bombing itself, its rationale and aftermath. Whatever the point of view, the context of all perspectives is humanity's inhumanity, no matter how valorous or righteous, as seen in the wars of yesterday and today. It is safely estimated that between 1900 and today between seventy and ninety million people have been killed on our planet through war and civil strife. Second, the advent of airpower led naturally to the unnatural; the bombing of innocent civilians in the Spanish Civil war was soon followed by the destruction of London, Dresden, Tokyo. Do any of us doubt that the Germans and Japanese, both trying till their defeat to build a bomb, would have used it on us or our allies? Third, the nature of war itself changed through bombs which at the time of destruction left a 1 <10> mile diameter blast; today the ring of nuclear devastation is tens upon tens of miles. And then there is the poison. More people died from radiation poisoning in the years since the initial August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. I think of my many Japanese friends who knew of what they would die, but not when. Finally, I am convinced there is the greatest need for increased open and honest dialogue between former enemies and adversaries in an increasingly globalized world.

Fifty years after the bombing and at the dawn of the 21st century, Hiroshima has become a living symbol in American consciousness. But of what is it a symbol? Self-righteous retribution? Man's inhumanity toward man? A future nuclear wasteland? Let's consider the root of apocalypse, which means to reveal, to see how Hiroshima can instruct us. What does Hiroshima reveal to us about the state of the world and of humanity's place in it? What does Hiroshima reveal to us about how to prepare students to live in the 21st century? What does Hiroshima reveal to us about educating our children about globality and human rights and responsibilities on planet earth?

A primary function of any culture's education is to provide students with images of themselves, others and the world. These images influence their attitudes and behavior. But a fundamental crisis confronting us is our refusal or inability to accommodate a new paradigm of human being and meaning-one that focuses on the future of the earth, and on human beings as the same living species with equitable rights and responsibilities irrespective of differences. Who can forget the impact throughout the world of the first holistic image of the earth as seen from the moon? The sheer beauty of the living reality of Earth herself, devoid of political boundaries, was inspirational to many. That shows the appeal of the image of humanity in relationship with nature, as an interconnected whole. It is a view of the world that radiates the interconnectedness of life. It is possible to build a new view of the world and to develop a new sense of hope and urgency that transcends cultural differences, even though it is respectful of national ideals and political contingencies. In this context, the Hiroshima experience reminds us of the fragility of human and natural ecosystems and the fact that the problems our planet faces are specifically human problems. They are problems of human values. Hiroshima reminds us that, for the first time in the history of the universe, human beings have the ability to terminate the consciousness through which creation can apprehend itself. Who is going to bear the responsibility for this power. If not you, then who?

Clearly, if our children's education is to be both relevant and meaningful, it must respond to the basic question of how we are to improve the quality of human life in the face of diminishing resources, global pollution, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. But Hiroshima pulls us deeper. It forces us to realize that education must address critical questions about how human groups tend to perceive themselves as "other than and superior to" their fellow human beings. This tendency has been called "pseudo-speciation" and its dynamics lie at the root of all state, cultural, and racial conflict. Are we teaching our students about the nature of the hostile human imagination, how we tend to project our own fears and frustrations onto the "enemy?" Are we giving them the skills to manage their own aggressive impulses? How can we build upon students' intimate personal and social experience at the microcosmic level in order to facilitate their understanding that, at the level of macrocosmic human interaction, the behavior of one person affects that of others in an intricate web of mutual interdependence? I believe that the task of education is to facilitate "de-centering," a gradual cognitive and affective process by which we liberate ourselves from the ties that bind us to our own egocentrism in order to include the perspective of the other. Empathy, cooperation, and responsibility are all threads of one weaving.

So what are the basics our children need to live productively in the 21st century? What attitudes, knowledge, and skills do they need to possess for American citizenship in such a globalized world? The resolution of these questions is imperative for our schools. If we are unable to develop appropriate teaching methods and curricula; if we are unable to foster a school community ambiance of cooperation, empathy, and tolerance for others; and if we fail to foster a global commitment to the world and our fellow humans, we can have little hope of resolving our present predicaments. From our experience with children from all over the world, we believe that students must learn through active, cooperative, lived experience that a person is foremost, not a particular gender, nationality, or race; and that a person is foremost a member of the human species, sharing common organizational structures of mind and adaptive capacities in a given bio-social world.

And what of our own personal situation as parents and citizens? How can we expect our students to imbibe global values if we have not allowed ourselves to be moved by the moral tension generated by the threat of extinction that is at the heart of the Hiroshima image? Do we have the courage to move through the psychic numbing that the Hiroshima experience presents? Values are taught only through human beings who incarnate them, so education must be a way of life that emerges from a confrontation with and integration of the dark side of our own souls. In a sense, every learner must be a spiritual warrior, advancing both inwardly and outwardly. Nothing less will do.

Having brought consciousness to our own culpability in the Hiroshima experience, can we still teach from a position of compassion and vision? In response to this challenging question, I would like to invoke a healing image that only becomes possible in the post-Hiroshima age. It is an image that is fallout from the apocalypse, gold to be mined from the mushroom cloud. Jonathan Schell, in his brilliant book The Fate of the Earth, conjures the image of "universal parenthood." Schell writes that the very idea of human extinction makes all of us, whether we have children or not, the parents of the future generations. This is so because any given generation that holds power in the post-Hiroshima age has the power of choice about nuclear annihilation. Each subsequent generation that lives on is thereby indebted to past generations for having allowed them to exist. Thus the living can look at the gift of life as a temporary trust to be used for the common good.

This image points to the need to forge a new "partnership of generations" wherein the ties that bind us as a species, the very ties that are both elucidated and threatened by nuclear extinction, are seen to be in service to the stewardship of the earth. It is binding imagery like this that can motivate our best efforts as educators and advocates of global peace and justice. For Hiroshima lives in the hearts and minds of us who have been touched by the courage, pathos, and grandeur of Hiroshima's experience. I have finally come to understand that we are all hihakusha survivors of a nuclear nightmare, and that we must work on behalf of generations both present and future, firm in our conviction that there must be no more Hiroshimas and Nagasakis and Chernobyls.

As always, the question in the end returns to us. Given the tension between a heightened anxiety about our global peril and the growing vision of a new image of human beings, are we inculcating values of global utility in the context of American citizenship? Are we facilitating thoughtfulness and forms of social commitment to be acted upon? Are we fostering values that go beyond mere survival techniques and strategies for coping, to include a revitalizing of our own and other's worth, a revitalization that can lead to mature commitment and reasonable participation on our democracy as well as resacralization of our planet?

I invite you to imagine the earth as seen from the moon. Draw closer to the brilliant blues and greens, the swirling white clouds. Enter the atmosphere above the Japanese archipelago. See yourself in Hiroshima City. Enter Peace Park and face the children's monument dedicated to the thousands of children who have died from the atomic bombing. Hold a thousand paper cranes, a symbol of peace folded by tens of thousands of children each year around the world. Read the inscription at the monument's base: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. To build peace in this world." Now enter the Peace Museum and stand before stone steps on which is permanently etched the shadow of an unknown, vaporized human being. And wonder with me: is not a fundamental crisis in our local place and global culture our refusal to take these images seriously?

Walter Enloe is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Center of Global Environmental Education at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota. He was headmaster and teacher at Hiroshima International School from 1980 to 1988.