9 08 2008

By Rebecca Solnit

Read on August 6, 2008, the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, at an action against the profiteers from Americas Army military recruitment computer video game that targets teens. After the rally in San Francisco’s South Park a march targetted South Park war profiteer game companies Ubisoft, Gameloft, and Secret Level.

Two of the major landmarks in the Bay Area are San Francisco Zen Center and Lawrence
Livermore Labs. The labs are where Edward Teller and Co. designed the hydrogen bomb
in the 1950s, after breaking off from Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico
where the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were designed and partiallyTK
manufactured. The first atomic bomb was dropped from the Enola Gay, 63 years ago
today, in Hiroshima,. Three days later a second one was dropped on Nagasaki.

Thirteen years ago, I heard a Nagasaki survivor tell her story of what she saw, and
she spoke so slowly that I was able to write as she spoke. I go back to my
transcript almost every year about this time and hear again her sweet, clear, voice
with its delicate accent:

The city was a flat sea in flames
and the dust from the sky
is complete
Sky is black

That time we don’t feel anything.
Not fear
I do not feel pain

Under the house they are screaming Help me, help me
but there is no way I can help them.
Some of them they crawl because foot is smashed
And on the way is dead I had to pass one by one
After three days is smell….
from the dead people,
Even the clothes, even the money smell for long after
You could wash yourself, you smell
They bring body, part of body, and cremate it in open sky
and I hear that noise, I can’t forget that noise—
excuse me but like a barbeque.
I couldn’t touch the meat for many years.

Every time I see–I don’t want to remember–but after fifty years I say, If I don’t
tell them who will?
I lose six members of my family and I can’t cry, I am in shock, I say maybe it was
burned, that’s why I can’t cry
[burnt man full of maggots screaming Help, please kill me]

I was drinking the dirty water because we had no water–no food, no medicine
Next thing I see body floating down towards me in the water

Most of the half-burned body is that way–eyes open, surprised

I was drinking the dirty water because we had no water–no food, no medicine
Next thing I see body floating down towards me in the water

Most of the half-burned body is that way–eyes open, surprised

My mother starts getting very sick
pimple spots all over
stomach is bloated
Every day she is by the train: Father come home
Of course he didn’t come
And her condition was so bad that no one would go near….
smell like decay
from her nose it looks like black oil comes out
Whatever comes out is turned to black
I don’t  understand it

Uncle took back to his my grandmother’s home
and on the way she drink the spring water
and she say
and those were her last words.
Then she was at peace
She had been in hell.

When I saw those bones I thought, I said
Am I living
or am I dreaming,
in other world
and that’s why I am here speaking.

That’s the American nuclear-bomb-making industry, managed by UC Berkeley, as seen by
the recipient of one of its creations. One version of American culture sent to
Japan. Not the only one here in the land of the Underground Railroad and Cesar
Chavez and Human Rights Watch, but one of them. And we here are heirs to all of
them; we cannot shirk this mixed-up legacy; we have to lift it up and reconcile it,
in our own lives as well as our nation.

It’s easy to live in the Bay Area and be smug about how antiwar we all are. But if
you become a little more aware of this place we’re responsible for, you see the bomb
design labs in the southeast bay and the great war machine that is Silicon Valley;
you see Lockheed Martin in the South Bay; you see the war profiteer Chevron in the
North Bay; you see Bechtel Corporation, a war contractor in Iraq, a few blocks from
here; you see that the practice of confining and crushing awareness is also going on
here, lucratively, extensively, and you see that we have a lot to do here in the
homeland of the atom bomb.

I started by saying that there are two sites to think about today in the San
Francisco Bay Area: the bomb factory and then at Laguna and Page in the lower Haight
is San Francisco Zen Center, where one of the jewels of Japanese culture—as Zen
Buddhism—came to America. More specifically one small Japanese man, Shunryu Suzuki
Roshi came fourteen years after Hiroshima, bringing ideas that have mattered a lot
in the forty-nine years since. Paul Haller, the current Abbot of San Francisco Zen
Center,  calls Buddhism “the practice of awareness.”

“The practice of awareness” is a goal that Buddhism shares with art, or at least the
art that I value. This is the art that works to wake you up, to make you more aware
of the systems we’re part of, to extend the boundaries of your empathy, your
understanding, your humanity. But this has not been the task of all art. The
cartoons of squinting, crouching Japs during World War II helped Americans
dehumanize and then imprison their neighbors; the constant comparisons of Jews to
insects in the Third Reich led to exterminating them with insecticide in the showers
of the death camps; the pervasive  media—movies, tv, ads, books, websites—that help
create a real world in which women are disposable toys that are fun to torture.

Here’s the description of two games made by Ubisoft, which also makes military
recruitment games:

Prowl the waters as the captain of a German submarine in a never-before-seen theatre
of operations – the Indian Ocean. Take part in the war against British supply lines
off the coast of North Africa and support the Japanese war against the U.S. Navy

There’s only one way to the top ranks of the underground world of paid assassins and
it’s going to get messy.

And then there’s Ubisoft’s game developed with the US army: Built in partnership
with the U.S. Army, this game offers the most true to life Army experience, allowing
you to create a soldier and take him through the high risk excitement of an Army
career. Intense single player missions and high adrenaline multiplayer action build
the skills of your soldier and advancing him through his career.

It doesn’t include, I suspect, chances to kill unarmed civilians, to get raped by a
superior officer, to be so injured in combat you survive with multiple missing limbs
and disabilities or severe brain damage, it doesn’t include simulations of trying to
get VA benefits, or living disabled, or becoming homeless or committing PTSD-related
domestic violence. To say the least, its version of what being a modern soldier
entails is incomplete.

Art matters. Plato was wrong; it’s not separate from life; it guides and feeds and
sometimes strangles it. There is the practice of awareness and of unawareness, and
there is an art of unawareness, the propaganda, the caricatures, the distortions,
the games, that teach us not to feel, to exclude this group from our compassion and
that from human rights, that leads to the war that is mass murder by a noble
nationalist name.

We are kind by nature. We have to be taught to be callous, to hate, to kill, to lose
empathy, to ourselves be dehumanized. The murdered are alive until the end, but
their killers have died a little already as their humanity shrank from their victims
and from their own hearts and souls. And today, we’re here in front of a place that
uses technology to help bring kids into the military where they’ll learn not to feel
long enough to kill but they will feel, and feel shame, feel guilt, feel horror,
feel stuck in the nightmare that is war, feel so overwhelmingly that a lot of them
from this war have chosen to kill themselves to end the awareness and the empathy
that couldn’t be rooted out but became unbearable.

Like the mother who died in Nagasaki, like millions in Iraq now, they have been in
hell, and here we are at one of its gates. At the gates of this hell I want to say
to you not Dante’s old Abandon hope ye who enter here, but abandon apathy, delusion,
and all the impediments to the practice of awareness for all beings—not the theory,
but the practice with all its practical consequences, our neverending task.



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