Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Irony of her Name

By the end of WW2, the U.S. had stolen control of the Marshall Islands from the Japanese (who had stolen control from Germany at the end of WW1).

By the mid 50's, the Cold War had surpassed the melting point many times over. The way to remain at the top of the food chain had changed. You no longer have to be the biggest fish in the sea. In this new atomic age, all you needed was to have the biggest and scariest net.

In order to weave this net of super-duper power, you must find a small, as-far-away-from-your-home-and-children place to test your means of controlling the world, while keeping your eye on the other corner.

The Marshall Islands has an area just below 70 sq. miles. Over the span of 12 years, 67 nuclear tests were conducted, including "Castle Bravo" which was 100 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

(Next week, I will be heading to Hiroshima, visiting the peace park, atomic bomb dome, museums...blah blah blah........bars. So hopefully after I write about that, it will put this Bravo bomb in perspective.)
Please imagine the horrendous poisoning of this little section of the world due to our insatiable curiousity and fears.
67 tests.
Okay, I'll stop.

So then, finally, approaching what we call the end of the Cold War (though ended it has not) in the mid to late 80's, the U.S. gives control of the island back to the inhabitants.
Ahhhh, how sweet.

My point? I'm getting to it.

About 4 train stops from my town is a small fishing village called Yaizu. In 1954, a fishing ship left port and headed down to the Southeast waters. The 第五福竜丸, or Lucky Dragon, is the name of this fishing ship.

According to Wikipedia's version of the story, the ship was beyond the warned boundaries that the U.S. had sent out. Considering the secrecy and paranoia of the military in those days (oh ya, and these days too) it's hard to believe exactly what kind of warning was issued, if any at all.

Anyway, not the point.

The point is, is that these fisherman immediately fell ill due to the radioactive fallout. They turned their ship back to Japan, and arrived back in Yaizu 2 weeks later.

Last Thursday, was the 53rd anniversary of the day these men suffered this tragedy. As a memorial, people in the this town visit the grave of the captain, Kuboyama Aikichi. And a bunch of anti-war/nuclear weapons symposiums occur.

On that Thursday, there was a small group meeting where the author of a new poetry storybook on the incident, Arthur Binard, spoke about his experiences in researching the incident, through interviews, readings, and translating the documents and procedings between the victims. Focusing primarily on the relations between the Japanese government and the U.S, he wrote a poetry composition depicting the occurences that followed the U.S.'s deployment of "Castle Bravo".
His book is called ここが家だ―ベン・シャーンの第五福竜丸 .

His book was just published in Sept. 30, 2006, in Japanese only. When asked if he was planning on translating it to English and have it published in the U.S., as he is an American who has lived in Japan for 16 years, he said that he is waiting to hear from publishers.

Though his speech was given in Japanese, as the majority of the audience were Japanese peace advocates, my friend, Kate, helped me understand some of the especially interesting points of his speech.

He spoke about how things made, especially expensive things like weapons, are made with a purpose of use. That while being prepared is the excuse, putting to use is the fuse.

Binard also grazed the surface of how the U.S. has had terms and phrases in use for decades, things like "War on Communism, War on Drugs, War on Terrorism" used as the justification of continuing to produce these weapons. His voice grew especially emphatic when stressing that "these weapons are STILL being made. Right now." He also mentioned how the overuse of the everyday phrases "War on this, War on that" has desensitized people from even considering what war really is.

Wanting to know more about the history from the point of view that isn't skewed by U.S. military cover-ups, Kate asked him to speak more on the U.S.'s response on these incidents. Binard answered that in his interviews with the survivors and relatives of the crew, that they did not contact help or make any radio calls because they were afraid of being captured. It was not until once back and safe in Japan, when this news went public.

It was then that the U.S. government denied its occurence and delegated them as communists. It wasn't until years later, that the military files were de-classified and a public apology was given to Japan, and its victims, along with 2 million dollars.

Close to the end of his speech, when asked what his advice is to educators (as most of the audience were teachers) in order keep this fight to preserve belief in Section 9 among the next generation, he answered with a quote by Ernest Hemingway "to develop a built-in shit detector." As I am unfamiliar with the context of the Hemingway quote, I only have my intelligence to guide me to its meaning. I believe that he was encouraging educators to focus on teaching their students to learn the ability to question authority figures. That teachers must strive to keep their minds open to any opposing sides of arguments. And that only this example will be able to teach followers to be able to detect any and all bullshit that should come their way. As bullshit is everywhere, in everything we see and read, but one must be able to push against the wall of fallacies that we are all faced with.

I liked this guy. His influence, along with the desire for peace is what spurred me to attempt to read, understand and translate his message of peace that he is trying to convey in his book.

It is beautifully written, with wonderful illustrations. I will now give you an introduction as to what it has to say. I am slightly worried about copyright infringements, but one too important and asshole-ish reads my blogs anyway. So here is a brief introduction to his book. Please Enjoy.

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