In discussing Clifton Truman Daniel’s mission of reconciliation to Japan as well as his own work, Jeff Goldfarb posits an etiquette of reconciliation. Such an etiquette prioritizes finding common ground on which to build a future peace as opposed to focusing on points of contention. It does this, in part, through empathetically appreciating the perspectives of others, including the ways in which others remember the past. This reminded me of Masahiro Sasaki. He is a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima and the older brother of Sadako Sasaki, famous as a symbol of innocent victims of the atomic bomb, commemorated in the children’s book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Masahiro was the host of Clifton Truman Daniel in Japan last year.
After a talk about Sadako and her atomic bomb induced leukemia suffering at the Central Library in Vienna in 2004, a boy asked Masahiro Sasaki “which country dropped the bomb?” He answered, “It has been more than 50 years since the atomic bomb was dropped, God has healed our soul not by focusing on who dropped it, or who suffered from it, but by giving us a long period of time…so I have forgotten the country that dropped the bomb.”
Asked later about this answer, Masahiro explained that if you speak about who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, then Americans ask “who started the war?” which leads toward confrontation as opposed to finding common ground and reconciliation.
As a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and having lost his sister from leukemia caused by the bomb, Masahiro certainly has not forgotten the past and has reason to remember it with vigor and with anger. As Jeff writes, Americans have reason to counter such anger with their own memories of the bomb, its purpose, and its effects. But Masahiro prioritizes reconciliation and averting war in the future, which he believes calls for avoiding confrontation over the past and instead coming up with a new discourse that helps create a better future. He of course knows who dropped the bomb, but he publicly turns away from his own knowledge.
Masahiro’s enactment of this etiquette of reconciliation challenges Santayana’s famous quip, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by asserting that arguments over memories of the past can lead to violence, rhetorical and physical. Even when they do not lead to violence, such arguments over the past can still block reconciliation and feed hostility. Perhaps an etiquette of reconciliation suggests that there are appropriate ways to remember the past (in less confrontational ways, in agreeing to disagree over the past and prioritizing common interests), or that there is even, as Irwin-Zarecka argues, virtue in forgetting. There may be times to remember forcefully and times to let the past be the past. Letting the past pass may open room for a different future, leading to new ways to live together.