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Every person on this planet should know about the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945 which supposedlyended the second world war (The Soviets never get any credit from the West for their vital contribution in WW2). Being that this bombing occurred in Japan, most people tend to think it was only Japanese victims. Yes, the majority of the victims were Japanese, innocent civilians at that, but we must remember the Korean workers who were forced to go to Japan through colonialism and were ultimately obliterated by American militarism.
Japan colonized Korea from 1905-1945, forcing Korean laborers to work in Japan as well as other colonies of the imperial nation. Korean workers were either physically forced to leave their homeland or voluntarily moved to Japan due to lack of opportunity in colonized Korea. So when the American atomic bomb exploded on Hiroshima it took with it both the lives of the Japanese people and the Korean workers, leaving behind nothing but radiated dust. We must remember all victims.
When Hiroshima was turned to ash, over 100,000 Koreans resided there as second-class citizens. The bombing decimated over 200,000 citizens of Hiroshima, and approximately 10% were Koreans. That was just the bombing. If you include the victims exposed to lethal post-explosion radiation, the total number jumps to 400,000 with at least 45,000 who were Korean. These tragic numbers cannot be quietly left unnoticed. History shows that it was unnoticed for decades in Japan, and I’d argue still goes unnoticed in the Western world.
I recently visited Hiroshima for the first time as part of my antiwar speaking tour all over Japan. I was invited to speak about my military experience as an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran as well as to speak about my antiwar work. On the last day of my trip I had the chance to visit Hiroshima, including the now iconic Hiroshima memorial, the peace center, and the memorial for Korean victims of the bombing. My mother was born and raised in Korea, and I even lived in South Korea before I came to the United States, living as a child of U.S. Army veterans. So it was important for me to visit and commemorate all victims of the bombing.
Surprisingly, I came to learn that the Korean memorial wasn’t built until 1970, 25 years after the bombing. Through those 25 years, the second-class Korean citizens of Japan struggled for the recognition of their people as victims. As the memorial was built, it caused much controversy in the country. The monument is decorated with Korean national symbols which is intended to honor the victims and survivors of both the atomic bombing and Japanese colonialism. As an American citizen living in the current empire of the 21stcentury, I understand how empires have a tendency to want to ignore their own past.
Japan has not been in direct conflict with another country since WW2 because of its peace constitution, specifically the popular Article 9. This article forbids the use of force as a means to settling international disputes. Every country should have an Article 9. America should have a thousand Article 9’s.
In 2014, the Japanese government officially changed their interpretation of Article 9 allowing their Self Defense Forces (SDF) to be deployed for offensive military purposes. So in the future, if the Pentagon wants Japanese forces to deploy with American military forces, they can now do so. This makes it a much more dangerous place in East Asia, especially considering Japan’s past imperial wars and policies like the colonization of Korea or the entire Second World War in the Pacific. Coupled with American power, it becomes an even more dangerous place.
In fact, South Koreans are more worried about Japan’s militarization than anything else, with nearly 60 percent viewing Japan as a military threat to their country. We cannot repeat the history of the 20thcentury.
When I visited the Korean memorial, I couldn’t help but think of the victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I understand that no nuclear weapons were ever used in these wars (or found in these countries), but a bomb is a bomb. Either nuclear, atomic, or conventional, bombs are not meant to bring freedom and democracy. They are meant to kill, and they kill indiscriminately.
As I sat in front of the Korean memorial, which I had just laid a wreath of flowers upon, I was full of guilt. I was full of guilt not only for my participation in the Global War on Terror which has completely turned the Middle East into a region of blood-soaked deserts and mountains filled with U.S. troops shooting their bullets and dropping their bombs on houses filled with innocent civilians, but I felt guilty for participating in the American war machine which is still causing much pain and suffering for my own people, the Korean people. How could I have participated in an institution that continues to this day to oppress the Korean people, let alone the people of every nation that carries an American military base? I did not know my own history and I believed all the propaganda that the American government put out. I was wrong and I fully admit it.
I assume the American thing to do is to just forget and move on, right? Possibly rewrite history that ignores America’s troubling past? But my guilt is forcing me to face my past life in the military. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I cannot be silent”. And as Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. Well, I will never choose the side of the oppressor ever again and I certainly will spend my last dying breath speaking out for the victims of war.
How can I do that? I can fight the billionaires that run this world: fight them, expose them, and dismantle the structures that keep them in power. It is the one percent, the ruling elite, who start the wars while the 99 percent fight and die in these wars. I’ve learned, albeit the hard way, that I have more in common with the Iraqis, Afghanis, Japanese, & Koreans than I have in common with the richest people in my own country. I will use my voice to expose this system of injustice.
As a veteran in America, I understand that I have a powerful voice. I will use my status in society to give a voice to the voiceless. It is the only way forward. On this anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings carried forth by the American war machine, I choose to remember all victims. I choose to acknowledge my past, confront it, and change the way I move forward. I choose to spend the rest of my days fighting for the oppressed, not fighting the oppressed. As the famous Bertrand Russel once said, “Either man will abolish war, or war will abolish man”. I’ve made my choice. What do you choose?
Will Griffin was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the creator of the The Peace Report (TPR) where he documents his peace work all over the world. TPR has achieved over 43+ million views and has over 140,000 followers on social media. Will is also on the board of directors of the organization Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.