A Twentieth Century History. Edited by Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn
Young. New York: The New Press, 2009, 291 pp. $30 (cloth)
How one feels
about what one is reading can differ depending on where and when.
Reading these essays while boarding a flight from Tokyo, transiting
Hanoi and then arriving in Laos – all places that have been
subjected to extensive U.S. bombing – is to feel the long arm
of history tug at one’s conscience.
I met in Luang Prabang (Laos) recounted a recent journey to the
Plain of Jars, a World Heritage sight. They said there are carefully
marked paths with signs warning not to wander off because of unexploded
ordnance in the area – cluster bombs dropped by the United
States on a neutral country in a secret war that never happened.
Estimates suggest that this insidious legacy of the bombings, which
ended in the 1970s, has resulted in more than 20,000 Laotian casualties
including many maimed children.
accusing, seeking vengeance or accountability, the monks calmly
praised the very limited mine clearing efforts of U.S. veterans.
They said they don’t feel anger; it was all a long time ago and
would be of little importance if not for the continuing dangers.
absolution stirs a sense of incredulity about why the U.S. government
has done so little to help a desperately poor country that it dragged
into the maelstrom of the Vietnam War. This malign neglect also
extends to Vietnam, where people continue to suffer from the dioxin
residue left behind by extensive spraying of Agent Orange during
argues that the U.S. has much to answer for in the indiscriminate
bombing of civilians in Japan. We learn that Japan crossed that
bridge itself in 1932 with the bombing of Shanghai, and Tetsuo Maeda
details Japan’s bombing campaign against Congquing’s civilians from
colleagues are not out to exonerate the Japanese or privilege their
suffering over what they inflicted on others. He is reminding us,
though, that the U.S. systematically firebombed and gutted 66 Japanese
cities in 1945 under flimsy excuses that these were primarily military
however, was not solely a matter of zapping Japan’s factories and
infrastructure. This aerial terror amounted to vengeance, payback
for Pearl Harbor and mistreatment of prisoners of war, and was intended
to inflict as much suffering on the civilian populace as possible.