Have I Swallowed the wrong pill?

The film 'The Matrix'. Swallow the red pill for reality the blue for an artificially constructed illusion

I met someone on the bus who I know from my church. I was glad to see her, meeting people in the street and chatting is so different from my former life in London. Unfortunately, some of these conversations are all too predictable.

‘I’ve just been to the memorial gathering for Hiroshima,’ she breathed, barely audible with self-righteous satisfaction as the bus set off. I felt from her tone that only one response was expected. I didn’t give it.

‘Well, it ended the war,’ I said somewhat cheerfully.

‘That is such a lie,’ she said. ‘The Japanese had already sued for peace. It was just genocide by America.’

I said I remembered how my parents and grandparents talked about it, how they were convinced that it had ended the war and stopped yet more killing going on. From them I got a sense of how people thought about it at the time.

‘You have swallowed the propaganda,’ she said, ‘that’s what the Americans want you to believe.’

I had swallowed the wrong thing; but she hadn’t. As she is such a breathy, ethereal person, obviously so much a pacifist, probably gluten free and fragile, I didn’t like to say much more. That type of woman is everywhere in east Oxford; good hearted, virtuous, at least outwardly, and convinced that ‘they’ which could be the USA or the evil capitalist press are excreting a constant stream of lies, that only the truly misguided swallows.

We got to discussing life drawing and painting. I wondered if she was interested, thinking I’d seen her at one of the many local groups.

‘I don’t wish to be with naked people,’ she told me. ‘It’s not modest.’

Obviously, I hadn’t seen her there.

As we got off the bus a very elderly Muslim man pushed past us both. Many of them are extremely friendly, as if old age has freed them from certain constraints but this one shot us a look of contempt. Seeing him flap past, I told her how bothered I’d been by a recent BBC Radio 4 edition of ‘Poetry Extra,’ about the ‘Gujarati Writer’s Forum’ in the UK. Apparently, these Indian poetry groups are very popular in many towns. The programme was introduced by the poet Daljit Nagra, winner of the prestigious Forward Poetry Prize, recipient of the Royal Society of Authors Travelling Scholarship, regular judge of literary awards, with work on the GCSE syllabus, and Judith Palmer, Remain activist and a director of The Poetry Society.

They talked of the, ‘new forms,’ these migrant Indian writers were finding, and the humour of some of the verse. We heard some elderly men chuckling, then it was revealed, without any comment from Nagra or Palmer, that women are not allowed to take part in these groups at all.

Gujarat is mainly Hindu, ten percent Muslim. I don’t know what religion is most represented by these poets, but an old Gujarati man was heard saying, ‘Ladies are not encouraged to write. They are the muse of men, not writers.’

There was a lot of haw hawing, then another sage added, ‘We sometimes invite girls, the pretty ones, to come and dance for us.’

This was followed by jolly music and the sound of girls singing. It was impossible to imagine elderly white men making similar remarks on Radio 4 or anywhere, and getting away without any question being asked. No comment was made about this flagrant and illegal sexism by Nagra or Palmer, who I would chance a bet are both good ‘feminists.’

I told my Oxford friend about this. She hadn’t heard the programme as she has no radio. She also has no TV and doesn’t read any papers.

‘There’s no point. It’s all propaganda,’ she said. ‘That is the BBC view, that’s how they made it sound.’

‘There was no comment from the BBC,’ I expostulated. ‘My point is, they said nothing.’

‘They have their agenda,’ she said knowingly. ‘They always make things sound a certain way. You need to be careful not to be fooled by that.’

As we parted decisively, I was left wondering how it is that what she hears is so very different from what I hear? We are as divided as if one of us were speaking Gujarati.

Who are ‘They,’ spreading this propaganda that fools like me swallow while you remain immune?’ I wanted to ask, but conversation between us has now ended, she in one camp, I in another. She silently battling against the evil forces of capitalism, me being seriously and regularly duped. I wonder too with what does she and her tribe intend replace the evil ‘They’ when the time comes?  I’d rather not know but I suspect it looks a lot like Jeremy Corbyn.

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18 Comments on Have I Swallowed the wrong pill?

  1. If the Japanese were ready to surrender – a wholly alien concept for them as all fule kno – why did they not rush to see what had happened with the first bomb and not surrender till the 14th August, days after the second bomb and also after another conventional raid on Tokyo? After Hirohito’s broadcast, many people still did not know that it was the end – the war had gone ‘not necessarily to the advantage of the Japanese’ or some such waffle was what he said. Some of the military refused to comply and at least one squadron set off to bomb US warships, never to find them and never to return.
    We should celebrate the cold-hearted genius of realpolitik. The vile emperor, guilty of all the bestiality of the war, was allowed to remain, thus pacifying a population that would have carried on fighting till it was exterminated at the cost of allied lives (including that of my father in law). There’s a wonderful photograph of Hirohito in top hat and tails looking like a circus midgit standing beside a giant MacArthur in battle dress, and a terrific success he made of keeping that creature in line.

    • My father was a US naval officer working on the proximity fuze project and in August of 1945 he was at Treasure Island naval base near San Francisco, preparing to be shipped to Okinawa to be in the support group for OLYMPIC, the invasion of Kyushu. You can get a good idea of what that would have been like from D.M. Giangreco’s “Hell to Pay” (get the revised edition if you can).

      The Japanese had not sued for peace. They were trying to get the Soviets to intervene to arrange an end to the fighting on conditions that their ambassador in Moscow kept telling them the Allies would not accept–no occupation, self-disarmament, and so forth. They rejected the Potsdam Declaration out of hand and by the way there’s a little myth that a word used in the official rejection, which can be translated as “ignore” or “kill with silent contempt” and other definitions, was the key. If only the Allies had asked about that all would have been well. This is untrue; every other Japanese source, including the controlled press, rejected it.

      And as pointed out above, after Nagasaki, when the Japanese were bluffed into thinking we had a large supply of bombs, the Supreme War Council still could not vote to end the war and it required the Emperor’s personal intervention. As to genocide…she might want to check about the Japanese record in Asia–three or four million Indonesians killed, God knows how many Chinese but well over ten million, and so forth.

  2. My Dad was in Singapore, preparing to invade Japan, when he heard the Japanese had surrendered. He was very pleased, but thought it a bit feeble of the Japanese to give up after just a couple of bombs no matter how big. So I agree with you that it did bring the war to an end but it did legitimise the view that ‘anything goes’ in war. On the other hand the risk of nuclear war has frightened the even the great powers of our day into behaving better than they used to.

    • There’s also Operation Zipper, the British invasion of Malaya, that was scheduled for early September and would have been bloody. The lowest estimate I’ve seen for monthly deaths on the Asian mainland that summer is 200,000, and many estimates are higher. And it is a matter of record that the order had been given to execute Allied prisoners and civilian internees once Allied troops stepped onto the continent.

  3. The Lady on the bus should speak to those held in Japanese POW camps, and what the majority of them felt about the bomb being dropped. Maybe she could speak to those who experienced Japanese occupation ,especially those in Nanking (Nanjing).

    • Indeed. Although we have forgiven and forgotten, WW2 is still a raw wound in the east.
      Next year is the 75th anniversary. I fear we are going to be besieged by pubic apologies for our victorious ‘war crimes’. We don’t learn from history because we are all born in infancy, and most of us stay there.

      • For once, just once, I would like to meet someone that wants apologies for certain parts of our past WITHOUT throwing the whole of our history in the dustbin.

        I know I’m aiming really low here, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask. IS it too much to ask?

        • @ Geoffrey Hicking Am I a rare breed that DOES NOT want any apologies for ANY parts of your country’s past and its relations with mine? Glad you came; glad you went. Hopefully no repeats.

          It occurs to me, on the eve of the remembrance of the withdrawal of the British from my country, that all this hoopla surrounding the by-now familiar course – accusation, apologies, non-apologies, corrections, repeat – of colonial history is really trying to keep the memory of Britain in the east alive. I mean, in India, there are no celebrations of the demise of the Uzbek or Turkic empires, equally foreign as the British or the Portuguese. The whole charade is becoming quite tiresome now, especially given that our close friend to the west celebrates their creation a day earlier.

          As for Japan and WW2, it was emotional for all parties concerned. Maybe the nuclear bombs did shut them up; maybe the Soviet declaration of war on Japan (they waited till 1945?) may have pushed the needle. To ask the British to give an even account of the Japanese is to ask Hitler to give a fair account of the Jews. And no war is pleasant. Japanese propaganda during the war had them trying to clear Asia of European imperial powers (to be replaced by them, but that’s all hush-hush); and they succeeded to a great extent. If anything, the fall of Singapore in 1942, and the resulting fall in the military prestige of the British was what galvanised nationalist movements all across colonial Asia. It could be postulated that the summary impact of Japanese expansionism into mainland Asia during WW2 was to hasten the process of decolonisation in those parts. They lost; Asia won. The impact of British rule in my country is mixed – it linked it irrevocably to world trade and energised already established native institutions with innovations some of its own and others borrowed. What the entire colonial history of Britain is, like it is with other countries which went imperial, is a great story of trials, chances and bets taken by individuals who had very little to lose. Bit by bit they forged up these amazing enterprises. More than the country’s story, it is the story of these men and women. It is fascinating, even if I would have been standing at the receiving end of it.

          • I believe the Soviet last minute declaration of war on Japan was in the hopes of getting some loot and territory without any effort.
            You’re right about Singapore, the biggest disgrace in British history. Montgomery, never modest, claimed he’s got rid of all the buffoons in the officer class but he was deluded.

  4. Interesting observations, Jane. The comments and attitudes you describe are simply a subset of the hostile left-wing anti-American narrative so common in the UK. Accusing the US of genocide is similar to David Olusoga’s accusing Churchill of war crimes – conclusions based on incomplete analysis of the circumstances of the time, and on selective bias to fit a pre-determined desired outcome: i.e the destruction of a whole people’s history and culture.

    The debate about Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) will probably never end, but the 74th anniversary of the drops commemorated in Japan this week avoided any blame and just focused on the suffering of those killed and wounded, and on the need to avoid a repeat.

    I think it is important to make a clear distinction between ordinary Japanese people in the Pacific War, who were mostly innocent victims, and their bad leaders. Ordinary people had no power at all, and no say in government or politics. Japan was not a democracy but a totalitarian theocracy. The Emperor was revered as a Living God (“arahitogami”); when he passed by them in processions they had to avert their eyes and look down when they bowed, so most of them had never seen him. When he made his famous “bear the unbearable” broadcast (the “gyokuon hohsoh”) announcing Japan’s surrender in Aug 1945, it was the first time most Japanese had ever even heard his voice. Soldiers in his army (the “sumeramikusa”, or “Emperor’s army”) were expected to die for him; surrender was shameful (and forbidden under army law) so many soldiers chose death in suicidal human wave charges (“gyokusai”, from the Chinese expression meaning “better a shattered jewel than a whole tile”) against enemy lines. They were so brutalized by their NCOs during training that one FEPOW who survived the Burma Railway horror wrote that that there was one thing almost worse than being a prisoner of the Japanese: being a private in the Japanese Army.

    None of this is meant to condone the brutal treatment POWs and the peoples of Asia received at the hands of the IJA. But it does help to understand how it all came about.

    Many Japanese people equally have misconceptions about the atomic bomb drops. They seem to think that they were dropped gratuitously and that there was no military or political reason to drop them. But contemporary reports of the drops and subsequent analysis make it clear that the success of the missions was not a foregone conclusion by any means, and Japan had shown every intention of fighting on to the end.

    For instance, in Enola Gay’s case, the atomic bomb was armed before takeoff from Tinian, and the takeoff weight was so high that there was a serious risk of running out of runway and crashing on takeoff, which would have vaporized the whole island. In Bockscar’s case, the bomb was armed at altitude, but that meant the crew having to climb down into the bomb bay in the freezing cold at altitude and carry out a precision assembly.

    How many people know that Bockscar’s initial target was Kokura in Northern Kyushu? So why did Major Sweeney and his crew switch to Nagasaki? Because of very accurate flak they encountered over Kokura. It was no milk run. After the drop, Sweeney had so little fuel left because of the diversion that he had to make an emergency landing on Okinawa, just secured by US Marines after a bloody month-long struggle during which the IJA used locals as human shields.

    20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing, but left-wing historians also only see what they want to see.

    • This time next year we’ll be in the thick of deploring the 75th anniversary of our crimes, led by the Bash Britain Corporation. Tickets to the moon won’t be got for love nor money.

    • Given the current Kashmiri situation, it is an entirely feasible and horrifying possibility of nuclear weapons being used between them.
      Please God it will never come to that, but where it to happen then it might concentrate minds on solving the insanity of nuclear proliferation.

      • @Bob of Bonsall Nothing’s going to happen in Kashmir. The rhetoric will rise a few degrees; then people will move on. It is much bigger news for the BBC and the Guardian than it is for Indians at this juncture. i stand with those who say that nuclear weapons actually encourage good behaviour.

  5. Lest we get too carried away by accounts of Japanese fanatcism, in ‘Defeat into Victory’ Field Marshall Slim claims that support units of the Japanese Army did surrender once defeat was manifest. And in defense of our Indian troops, he acknowledges that they were more effective than units from the UK as they were far more accustomed to enduring extreme hardship and hunger.

  6. A thought occurs: a short test to determine whether someone is British is not.
    Q: Do you love Britain? If the answer is Yes, obviously not British. If the answer is NO, you’re talking to someone from London with a private income.

  7. If your friend on the bus doesn’t have a radio or television and doesn’t read the newspapers, how does she get her information, by tuning her antennae into the sound of the universe?

    Additionally, your friend has been fixated by the atom bombs and has ignored the earlier air raids by the Americans, such as the one on Tokyo in March 1945, which would lend greater weight to her conspiracy theory if she were so minded to pursue it, since in that raid the Americans used napalm and incendiaries to the extent that more civilians were killed than in each of the atom bomb attacks.

    The reality was that all sides fought the war with ruthlessness. If the Allies had had to invade Japan in the planned Operation Olympic she would have been devastated like Germany. The atom bomb gave the Japanese the opportunity to save face by allowing them to think that they had been defeated by a weapon, not a human enemy.

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