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(DV) Rahkonen: One American's Apology to the Nation of Japan







One American's Apology to the Nation of Japan
by Dennis Rahkonen
July 27, 2005

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My dear daughter was born on March 10, 1983. As I think back on that day, I recall seeing her for the first time, all wrinkled and red. “Hello. I’m your Daddy. Welcome to this world.”

Many happy birthdays followed, despite the heartbreaking realization in her second year that she was incurably hearing-impaired. It made for a hard childhood, considering the cruelty of other kids, and her understandable difficulty in learning.

But she persevered, applying herself with such determination that she graduated high school with honors and went on to college where she’s been a regular on the Dean’s list.

It was only recently that her birthday came to be associated in my mind with something else.

Something unimaginably horrible, and the very antithesis of joy experienced over beautiful and precious life permitted to flourish.

On the night of March 9-10, 1945, over 300 U.S. B-29 “Superfortress” bombers dropped nearly half a million M-69 incendiary canisters on sleeping Tokyo, Japan.

The resulting firestorm killed 100,000 people, almost without exception entirely innocent, unsuspecting non-combatants.

It was the most cataclysmically destructive air raid in history. Worse than Dresden, and arguably even more terrible than the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that would come five months later.

The Tokyo raid was shortly followed by incendiary attacks on over 60 Japanese cities, cumulatively taking another 200,000 lives.

I’d long been very familiar with the Hiroshima horror.

My father, as an occupying Military Policeman in Japan, actually had a chance to briefly visit the ruins of Hiroshima not long after that city was so suddenly and completely ruined.

His grim account of the utter devastation there left an indelible mark on my spirit. Although I wasn’t yet born on August 6, 1945, I’ve always felt a sense of deep guilt for what was done to its inhabitants in America’s name.

And, while I’d also been aware of the earlier, “conventional” bombing of Tokyo, I’d somehow never found out exactly when it occurred.

I have, therefore, an unusual and now constantly troubling, two-part family link to my country’s Second World War descent into genocidal mass murder of “enemy” civilians.

Adding to this unique emotional mix is the fact that I worked for a few years for the U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese corporation. I was deriving my living from relatives of people my countrymen had unleashed fiery death upon somewhat more than a half-century ago. It all feels unnervingly karmic -- as if I’ve been selected by fate to first be agonizingly pained by what transpired, and then to somehow atone for it in a meaningful way.

I’ve participated in somber Hiroshima commemorations. I’ve floated little candle boats on our local river, in poignant solidarity with children who were happily playing on a blue-sky Japanese morning long ago, only to become shadows on adjacent concrete an explosive instant later.

But it never seemed adequate enough. And, no matter where I am, the haunting memory always arises.

One year I happened to be at a venue where a blind blues musician was performing. Since he’d invited requests, I made a rather odd one:

“Friend, it’s Hiroshima day. Could you just mention that fact, and then play something especially sad.”

When airliners used as terror weapons crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, my first reaction wasn’t one of shock or anger.

It was, instead, a sad sense of things having come full circle. Retribution delayed by decades is retribution nonetheless, even if two wrongs don’t make a right and it’s always sinful when violent death befalls the innocent.

As in the case of the well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians who’ve perished since George Bush began his bloody quest for petroleum and hegemony in the Middle East.

August 6 and 9 are drawing near once again.

For most of my fellow citizens, they’ll pass with no more than fleeting media mention of what they so shamefully represent.

How wonderful it would be if that were not the case.

But it’s too much to expect, especially in the current conservative environment, for our president to call everyone throughout the land to join him in heartfelt apology for our great, collective crime against Japan.

And humanity itself.

Yes, conscientious U.S. progressives will do their best to make sure the awful anniversaries won’t be forgotten. They’ll draw chalk outlines of symbolic Japanese dead on our city sidewalks.

Only to have businessmen hurriedly erase the “defacing” reminders with wet mops.

Commerce must continue, after all, unhindered by unpleasantries.

So -- recognizing that it carries scant value in the face of such monumental barbarism -- I issue a simple, personal apology to the people of Japan for what my country did to them in the year before I first took the breath of life.

It won’t bring back the dead, undo the disfigurement of survivors who were hideously burned, or cure the illnesses caused by radiation poisoning.

But maybe it’ll purchase a small amount of serenity and grace.

While underscoring the moral imperative of never letting it happen again -- to anyone -- anywhere on our sacred, shared, planetary home.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing for various progressive outlets since the ‘60s. He can be reached at:

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