Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Missing Expression

"The Week That Was" is a discussion group which I attend.

The Missing Expression

At the last meeting of "The Week That Was" we discussed how we thought the subject of VJ Day should be treated. Most of us agreed that the dropping of the atomic bomb was the right thing to do under the circumstances, and that we were proud to be Americans. I tried to express the idea that there was something missing from our discussion by asking whether a child who listened to us for a few minutes would see us as peace-loving people.
 I was not able to make myself clear as to what I was experiencing until I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it. Before I say what it was, I want you to know that, if I had been in President Truman’s shoes in 1945, I probably would have ordered the use of the atomic bomb too. I am also one of those whose life was possibly spared by the use of the bomb and the ending of the war because I was just finishing Officer Candidate School at the time and was expecting to be sent to the Pacific. I was an Infantry Officer, age 19.

I heard the expression of pride which many of you offered, and I understand it and share it in part. The part that was missing for me last week was any expression of compassion. I am not saying that we shouldn’t have done it or that we owe any apology. I mean I would like to hear some indication of regret that we had to do something horrible that we wish we did not have to do. I mean something that expresses our grief that so many innocent people had to be killed. Let me use an analogy. Most of us were brought up at a time when it was believed that spanking was a necessary method of disciplining a child. And parents often said “This hurts me more than it hurts you”--- expressing regret that he/she had to punish in this way in order to prevent something worse later.

I believe that pride, compassion and regret are proper and healthy emotions for a human being to feel under such circumstances as war, but they are conflicting emotions --- producing an inner conflict which sometimes shows itself as post traumatic stress syndrome. The expression of pride without regret is sometimes seen as “war-mongering”, and it is this picture of us that I feared a young child would have because the compassion was missing. It sounded like we were still fighting the war--the way my grandparents sounded some 70 years after the end of the "war of Northern aggresion".

I believe that it is human to have a spark of compassion--even for our enemies. I believe that most people abhor violence to some extent. And I believe that recognizing, and talking about, our compassionate side is a necessary step if humans are ever to learn how to resolve differences without violence. This is my hope.

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