Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kenzaburo Oe: "History Repeats"

Kenzaburo Oe's "History Repeats" published on March 28, 2011 at The New Yorker:
By chance, the day before th earthquake, I wrote an article, whic was published a few days later, i the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun. The article was about a fisherman of my generation who had been exposed to radiation in 1954, during the hydrogen-bomb testing at Bikini Atoll. I first heard about him when I was nineteen. Later, he devoted his life to denouncing the myth of nuclear deterrence and the arrogance of those who advocated it.

Was it a kind of sombre foreboding that led me to evoke that fisherman on the eve of the catastrophe? He has also fought against nuclear power plants and the risk that they pose. I have long contemplated the idea of looking at recent Japanese history through the prism of three groups of people: those who died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who were exposed to the Bikini tests, and the victims of accidents at nuclear facilities. If you consider Japanese history through these stories, the tragedy is self-evident. Today, we can confirm that the risk of nuclear reactors has become a reality. However this unfolding disaster ends—and with all the respect I feel for the human effort deployed to contain it—its significance is not the least bit ambiguous: Japanese history has entered a new phase, and once again we must look at things through the eyes of the victims of nuclear power, of the men and the women who have proved their courage through suffering. The lesson that we learn from the current disaster will depend on whether those who survive it resolve not to repeat their mistakes...

Like earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural calamities, the experience of Hiroshima should be etched into human memory: it was even more dramatic a catastrophe than those natural disasters precisely because it was man-made. To repeat the error by exhibiting, through the construction of nuclear reactors, the same disrespect for human life is the worst possible betrayal of the memory of Hiroshima’s victims...

Therein lies the ambiguity of contemporary Japan: it is a pacifist nation sheltering under the American nuclear umbrella. One hopes that the accident at the Fukushima facility will allow the Japanese to reconnect with the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to recognize the danger of nuclear power, and to put an end to the illusion of the efficacy of deterrence that is advocated by nuclear powers.
Read Kenzaburo Oe's entire prophetic essay here.

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