These were not the first times I'd written on atomic bomb history, or the larger question of bombing of cities. Several of my previous pieces on these subjects were published in the San Francisco Chronicle, but there were no takers anywhere for the two pieces posted here last week.
In printed material accompanying the video (borrowed from the library), Suzuki had more words to say about the morality of bombing in general. Soldiers consent to their participation in violent battle, he said, and they accept that they might be killed. But bombing of women and children in cities is a morally different act.
This extended my thinking again about the issues raised in these 70th anniversary pieces. We are reluctant to face nuclear realities (or ecological threats), but it strikes me as remarkable that the morality of bombing is never an issue, never a question.
One of my Chronicle essays was prompted by the well publicized likelihood that the US was going to begin its invasion of Iraq with extensive bombing of Baghdad. My piece introduced the concept of Shock & Awe, which I picked out of a CBS News report. This was happening as I was reading a new book called A History of Bombing. It's a fascinating if overlooked book that raises such questions.
My piece went on to say:
There are various strategic arguments for bombing campaigns that dovetail with apparent moral concerns, usually involving shortening a war's duration or substituting for ground assaults, thus saving lives, especially the lives of the side doing the bombing.
When facing the possibility that this war would unleash chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that have been largely absent from warfare for decades due to international taboos of one kind or another, it may seem quixotic to argue that bombing of civilian populations should be regarded as an evil in itself, and beyond the pale for nations that desire any sort of international relations. But it seems morally obtuse that there is a stronger taboo against assassinating a declared enemy's head of a state than against slaughtering babies in their beds. Surely bombing should be a last resort, not the first.
Movies are about other movies, and a lot of other things, but Gojira was the most intensively about the Bomb. Godzilla was a creature awakened and strengthened by Bomb testing in the Pacific, and he came ashore to stomp and destroy and eventually to breathe radioactive fire on Tokyo. Godzilla was the Bomb, and the battle of conscience that a scientist had whether or not to use against him the immense destruction of a weapon he'd accidentally devised was the crisis of conscience that the atomic scientists should have had. (Some did, but mostly after the fact.)
Godzilla, like King Kong, also had the personality that made him lovable, and in later movies he became a kind of hero (as reflected in the otherwise despicable Godzilla of 2014.) It has been argued that the Japanese moved quickly from mourning to a kind of repression and willed numbness, as reflected in the cuteifcation of their popular culture. But in the Gojira moment, less than a decade after Hiroshima, the monstrousness of modern warfare was at least metaphorically expressed.
To further tie together the themes of this 70th anniversary, movies about monsters who are resurrected and augmented forces of nature are usually brought to life by some human act. The Jurassic Park monsters are about scientists playing God with genes, for instance. The theme of science creating monsters is as old as Dr. Frankenstein. But these days such movies more clearly attempt to exorcise through entertainment the unacknowledged yet increasingly felt fact that the monsters turn out to be us.
How do we defeat this monster? The movies tell us this as well: by recognizing the nature, power and effects of the monster. Then applying courage and ingenuity to defend what the monster would destroy. Even if we are the monster, we can also be the heroes.
The monster is vanquished, at least for awhile--driven to the hidden depths. The sequels suggest we don't learn much--the monster's return always surprises people, who often don't recognize it if it has changed at all. So the tasks begin again.
People in these movies often deny the monster exists until it is almost too late. But eventually they see the reality, and they depend on those who saw it earlier and are ready. Some may panic, but heroes emerge, however humble many of them are.