This Day, in Infamy and History

Today is a day that was supposed to live in infamy.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the U.S. response, kicked off a chain of events – including the internment and the atomic bombings – that still reverberate today.

What do we know? President Roosevelt called Pearl Harbor an “unprovoked and dastardly attack” by a nation we were at peace with. Months after declaring war, Roosevelt deemed it “militarily necessary” to give the Secretary of War the power to control large segments of the country, and strip people of their citizenship, liberty and property (via Executive Order 9066), which resulted in the imprisonment of 120,000 American citizens and their Japanese immigrant parents. Three and a half years later, President Truman dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, calling the bomb “marvelous,” and “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.” He threatened the complete and rapid obliteration of Japan and promised “a new era” of atomic energy.

What if it was also common knowledge that before Pearl Harbor the US had imposed economic sanctions on Japan, frozen Japanese assets, and broken the Japanese diplomatic code? That two weeks before the attack, the Secretary of War (him again) wrote in his diary of efforts “to maneuver the Japanese into firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves”?  Would we still believe that acts of war have no provocation?

What if schools taught these truths about the internment: that there was no evidence of spying, that it was the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” for which the US government apologized, and that the Japanese Americans who volunteered to serve the US army out of the internment camps were some of the most decorated US soldiers in military history? Would we still have politicians today pointing to it as an example to emulate today?

What if the public knew that Japan had been trying to surrender for months before we bombed them to “save lives”? What if our government have not squelched the images of the devastation, or the very unmarvelous truth about radiation sickness – would we have detonated more than 2000 nuclear bombs since then? Would we be more aware of the fact that 75% of our nuclear power plants in the United States are leaking? That, four years after the disaster in Fukushima, Japan is still dumping tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, and it is now detectable in the water of the US coast?

History, as we have famously been reminded, is written by the victors, and alternate narratives are too often dismissed as conspiracy theories or beside-the-facts. My point in this history lesson is that we do know much more than the safe, comfortable sound bites that we choose to hang onto. We have actual images, diaries, records, declassified documents that prove that reality is more complicated that we allow it to be.

In his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Elie Wiesel reminds us of this truth: ”the world did know and remained silent.”

How does a writer “break the silence” when the facts are readily available, just ignored?

For me, this infamous anniversary is a reminder of how we choose not to hear, not to see, not to know, and most of all, not to learn from our mistakes. It is not a lack of information that hampers us, but a plethora that paralyzes us. As a result, we tend to come up with simplistic responses, and, at the same time, throw up our hands in despair at the complexity of the situation. We block each other out, refuse to listen; we let ourselves be led away from common ground. Silence, rhetoric, despair – all different ways to come up with the same response: nothing.

To police brutality. Gun violence. Racism. Environmental degradation and climate change. Redlining, redistricting, resegregating, restricting the vote. Limiting access to women’s reproductive healthcare. Closing our borders to refugees. The list goes on and on.

What do we do, as writers?

I don’t know. Do you?

At the Goddard MFAW residency in January, Douglas A. Martin and I are going to be initiating a discussion on resistance. We’ll see where it goes: What do we resist? How can we resist? How do we as writers take the information we have and shape an understanding? How do we change the narrative once and for all?

In the comments below, I invite you to share a “silence” that we know. Maybe if we each focus on just one, we can begin to understand the narratives that are spun to confuse and obfuscate; the falsehoods and tangents that encourage complacence. We can find ways to “interfere” rather than become “accomplices”:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” (Elie Wiesel)

*reposted from the Goddard MFAW blog:

A beautiful tribute, and a chance to help

The crisis in Japan is far from over;
it may be gone from the headlines,
but it is not gone from our hearts.

Donald & Era Farnsworth’s Sacred Pine depicts a pine tree in Rikuzentakata, Japan, a coastal city almost completely flattened by the tsunami following the 2011 Touhoku earthquake. Incredibly, this single pine was left standing from a grove of more than 70,000 trees planted along the shore three centuries ago; the tree has emerged as a symbol of hope and renewal in an otherwise devastated region.

For more information, to purchase or make a donation, (or to investigate my tiny connection to this beautiful work) click here.

We are being lied to

A round up on the English-language news about the Fukushima disaster and the state of our own nuclear power plants.

New York Times: Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril
By Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, August 8, 2011

“In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry.”

New York Times: Japan Passes Law Supporting Stricken Nuclear Plant’s Operator
By Hiroko Tabuchi, August 3, 2011

“Japan’s Parliament passed a law on Wednesday that will allow the use of public funds to shore up the company operating the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and help it pay what is expected to amount to billions of dollars in compensation claims.”

CNN: Workers find lethal radiation levels at Fukushima Daiichi
By Kyung Lah, August 2, 2011

“A 60-minute exposure could kill a man or woman within weeks.”

New York Times: US Senators Argue Over Fate of Nuclear Safety Proposals
By Hannah Northey, August 2, 2011

“Top Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee criticized the federal task force charged with reviewing Japan’s nuclear crisis and the safety of U.S. reactors for recommending “more Washington red tape” and called its proposals premature, potentially excessively, expensive and burdensome.”

New York Times: Radiation-Tainted Beef Spreads Through Japan’s Markets
By Hiroko Tabuchi, July 18, 2011

“Japanese agricultural officials say meat from more than 500 cattle that were likely to have been contaminated with radioactive cesium has made its way to supermarkets and restaurants across Japan in recent weeks….If you eat it every day, it might be a problem,” Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear issue, said last week. “But if you eat just a little, there would be no big effect on your health.”

MSNBC: Radioactive tritium leaks found at 48 US nuke sites
By Jeff Donn, June 21, 2011

“Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows. The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation…

“You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they’ve never been inspected,’ whistleblower says.”

Guardian U.K.: Fukushima cleanup recruits ‘nuclear gypsies’ from across Japan
By Justin McCurry, 13 July 2011

“Thousands of engineers and labourers have been lured by higher wages and a sense of duty…They include Ariyoshi Rune, a tall, wiry 47-year-old truck driver whose slicked-back hair and sideburns are inspired by his idol, Joe Strummer…For five days a week, Rune is in thrall to the drudgery of life as a “nuclear gypsy”, the name writer Kunio Horie gave to contract workers who have traditionally performed the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs for Japan’s power utilities. “I have about two months left before I reach my limit, but I’m hoping they will make an exception and let me work for longer,” he says.”

Aljazeera: Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think
By Dahr Jamail, 16 June 2011

“Scientific experts believe Japan’s nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public….We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl,” said Gundersen. “The data I’m seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man’s-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometres away from the reactor. You can’t clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl.”

Reuters: Radiation “hotspots” hinder Japan response to nuclear crisis
By Kevin Krolicki and Kiyoshi Takenaka, Jun 15, 2011

“Hisao Nakamura still can’t accept that his crisply cut field of deep green tea bushes south of Tokyo has been turned into a radioactive hazard by a crisis far beyond the horizon.

“I was more than shocked,” said Nakamura, 74, who, like other tea farmers in Kanagawa has been forced to throw away an early harvest because of radiation being released by the Fukushima Daiichi plant 300 kilometers (180 miles) away…The incomplete data has complicated Japan’s response to the disaster and planning for an environmental clean-up expected to take years and cost tens of billions of dollars.

“It has also created a mood of quiet despair in already devastated communities. “I never believe anything I hear any more on radiation,” said Shukuko Kuzumi, 63, who lives in Iwaki, about 50 km to the south of Fukushima.

“I want to dig a hole in the ground and scream.””

Yomiuri Shimbun: Radiation discovered in Fukushima, Ibaraki foods
March 21, 2011

“According to test results announced Saturday, samples of cow milk from Kawamatacho, Fukushima Prefecture, and spinach from six cities, towns and villages in Ibaraki Prefecture were found to contain radioactive iodine and other radioactive materials in excess of provisional limits, officials said….In Ibaraki Prefecture, radioactive iodine was detected from spinach sampled from farms in Hitachi, Takahagi, Hitachi-Ota and Hitachinaka cities and the town of Daigomachi and the village of Tokaimura. The highest level found was 15,020 Bq, 7.5 times the permissible level…There is no direct risk to human health from the latest radioactivity findings involving cow milk and spinach, according to Prof. Gen Suzuki of the International University of Health and Welfare.”

Stuart Smith Blog, Quoting The Washington Post: As Radiation Levels Soar In Japan, Officials Raise “Acceptable” Limits
March 16, 2011

“If we hear that exposure is “within legal limits” anytime soon, let’s remember this from the Washington Post: “Japan’s Health and Welfare minister had to waive the nation’s standard of radiation exposure, increasing levels of acceptable exposure from 100 millisieverts to 250 – five times the level allowed in the United States.”

All Eyes on Japan

Today, I am sending love and prayers to the people of Japan. They suffered the only atomic bombs ever used in war, and are now facing the biggest nuclear disaster in peace. Please join me.