Remembering war

Monday was a national holiday in Japan, so there has been a chance to do some traveling this week. Before we left Hiroshima, Patty and I had a chance to take a day trip up to the port of Kure, a longtime center for Japan’s navy and ship construction.

Kure, an easy day trip from Hiroshima, has a most remarkable museum, dedicated to the memory of Japan’s greatest World War II warship, the Yamato. The Yamato Museum has a one to 10 scale model reconstruction of the ship, which was sunk late in the war, built on a one to 10 scale.

The museum is quite clear about wanting to present a message of peace. On the Web site, it says, “We aim to present a fascinating part of modern Japanese history, and to raise people’s awareness of the tragedy of war; to pass on some of the most important technology to children, who are the future of Japan; and to contribute to regional education, culture and sightseeing.”

The audio guide is even more explicit, saying the model (which is some 80 feet long) “was created not as a reminder of war but to become the symbol of the Yamato Museum to transmit the message of the importance of peace and the wonders of scientific technology.” I don’t doubt the sincerity of the statements. And yet it was impossible for two American visitors (the only ones perhaps, it seemed) on a busy Saturday to avoid the thought that some of the other tourists, especially those in large tour groups, might have less pacifist thoughts, leaning more toward the glories of Japan’s military might.

A few days later, I was interviewing a distinguished Hiroshima peace activist Haruko Moritaki (who, among other things, is raising important warnings about the radiation dangers of depleted uranium from U.S. weapons). When I mentioned the Kure visit to her, she said she harbors the same thoughts about the motivation of some of the visitors.

Of course, the memory of World War II has been a powerful deterrent to militarism in Japan and much of the world. Despite reckless moments, moreover, the great powers have avoided all-out war ever since. I’m glad I saw the museum and a neighboring one from Japan’s naval Self Defense Force. But all of us, of every nationality, have to sort out the meaning we take from the stories of our past, especially the military adventures of our own countries.

Kure's Yamato Museum

Kure's Yamato Museum

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