While driving around Hiroshima in a cab this morning I learned that the driver was the son of a hibakusha, or someone who had been hit in the atomic blast in Hiroshima but had survived. I along with delegates from Nigeria and Vietnam were in the car and when our guide told him that we were all in town for the 2010 World Conference Against Atom and Hydrogen Bombs, he enthusiastically welcomed us all. He went on to talk a little bit about himself and his mother and then summed up his story with an obvious but important point. He said that he could not understand, even after people have seen the horrible damage that they cause, why anyone in this world would want nuclear weapons to continue to be in this world. Para Guiya, ti hongge’on na manggaigaige ha’ gi este na mundo, este na klasin “weapons.”
Earlier this year, activists groups from around the world, but activists in particular in Japan had worked to gather signatures worldwide calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which was to be presented at the NPT review conference in May. I heard from different reports at the Hiroshima conference that more than 17 million were collected. I’m sure that if you actually went around the world to every village, island, suburb or city block you would eventually get several billion signatures. Public opinion on nuclear weapons, even in nuclear weapon states (those states who have control of nuclear weapons) tend to be very negative, with those who we might call “regular people” being against the weapons and feeling that the world would probably be better without them.
But these weapons continue to exist in this world because they are the na’magong, the salve of the most fearful and anxiety-ridden souls. They are the armaments of those who languish and laze around at the top of the world, with great power and privilege. But that power and privilege while sometimes vast, is also always tenuous. Like houses of cards, which are built upon into the clouds, they constantly shift and shake and threaten to break and break the spell of your privilege and power and cast you back down to the earth with everyone else. Only those who feel that the literal world is theirs in some way, have the desire to destroy it rather than lose it. Only they who feel like they might lose everything or in some way see themselves functioning as the stopgap for the world falling apart see ideas of security and defense as being about holding in your hands the means to unleash the wrath of God against human beings.
The cab driver answered his own question by continuing on and saying that, he didn’t think that anyone who had seen the effect of atomic weapons on humans, could keep using or making them. For many people, this is the whole point, the central issue. Japan has a strong civil culture against nuclear weapons because of how they were used against them. They saw the horror of it all and there are many many markers still left behind (even if people work to forget them) and so the Japanese have this existential inter-generational resistance to nuclear weapons which other countries and other people only have abstract conceptions of.
But even this doesn’t answer the cab driver’s question, because one of the gifts of being human is that even that which someone might assume to be the most universal or the zero-sum experience which everyone should experience in roughly the same way, is never pre-determined, and that experience will not only vary but in all cases be contradictory and antagonistic to each other. In fact this statement by the cab driver only moves us closer to on the most tragic aporias of human life.
Let us imagine that we make a time machine where we can travel back in time to just seconds, minutes, hours or days after the nuclear bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Let us say that on this experimental journey we take 20 random people, for any walk of life, any country, any background, race etc. We ask them all to step out of the time machine and look at the scene before them. We might assume that the human tragedy of seeing that moment, that savagery that war had finally become, would lead them all to experience a fundamentally and primordially human feeling, being one of solidarity between living beings. That feeling that we are all ultimately flesh, tissue, beating hearts, pumping blood, and from there we diverge upon different paths in life, but we are still all ultimately a collection of delicate living pieces.
Seeing that horror can make you feel some core denominator, it can help lower the lens through which you tend to identify who you are and what you are connected to in the world. It is meant to be a sort of leveling ethical force, where the usual excuses you make about everything, that are all built from the illusionary castles that make up your life and give you a sense of control, comfort and stability, they all supposedly shrivel up and die. All that is left is the human, a form of life, some people call it bare life, empe’ tinaotao, the mysterious force of life which should always remain invisible, and so when you see it crammed, forced and squeezed into the flesh, corporeal, icky, sticky reality you cannot help but feel shocked, changed. The appearance of the human as taught you a lesson, shown you the limits. Even if it is only temporary, it is a real moment, or rather a Real moment, and it is a scene which most people assume cannot be denied, or all would feel in the same way.
But if we could look into the minds of those traveling in our time machine, we might see one, two, three, or maybe even all of them perceiving this scene before them very differently. When they look out at the scene of the newly christened hibakusha in a very different way, because for the purpose of this mental exercise, they see the weapons that achieved this very differently. They may see nuclear weapons as being inhuman, immoral, something which no human should ever use or experience, but they do not reject this scene as being one without some value or something which we should ensure never ever happens again.
The previous response rejects this moment has one that should never ever happen again, but this second response is more practical, and rather than abstract it is rooted in one of the strongest feelings a human can have; the feeling that this should never ever happen to me! And the only way in which you can ensure that it does not happen to you, is to make sure that you have that evil power and that you are willing to use it.
The previous response was one built upon the hopeful notion that no one should ever be forced to live in that catastrophic violent scene, whether as the victim or the victimizer. This second response however sees that scene, not as something which you can ever reject, but rather something in which you have a simple choice. That choice is based on a fear all human beings have, that in any moment, even the most violent horrible moment, choices are simple, you can either be the victim or the victimizer. And so better to be the one who oppresses, the one who unleashes inhumanity than the one who is stuck only with weak, delicate and painful humanity. Maolekña na Hagu uma’aña, kinu ina’aña hao ni’ Otro.