Friday, October 24, 2014

Ran Zwigenberg's "Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture"

Ran Zwigenberg is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and History at Pennsylvania State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture, and reported the following:
Hiroshima and the Rise of Global Memory is an examination of the history of atomic bomb commemoration in Hiroshima, and its global implications. The book compares and connects the experience of Hiroshima to the commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel and beyond. The manuscript was originally a comparative project but quickly evolved into a much bigger examination of the interactions and entanglements of the different histories of commemoration. One underlying theme in both commemoration cultures and many related sites was the importance of survivors and “victim narratives.” Although their voices and testimonies were almost completely absent in the immediate postwar, by the late fifties and early sixties the survivors of the Holocaust and Hiroshima emerged as powerful moral authorities. Page 99 is part of a section that explains that choice for Hiroshima.

Gensuikyō, the Japan Council against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs, was at the heart of the Japanese anti-bomb movement. The section describes Gensuikyō’s rise and its (tortured) politics and ideological positions. Gensuikyō was a “big tent” movement that included diverse groups. It sought to represent a “sacred Japanese duty for peace” based on the unique national experience of victimization. Using survivor testimonies to galvanize crowds was a big part of Gensuikyō’s emphasis on victim narratives. This focus on victims amounted to nationalizing what was until then the localized and private pain of the survivors. On page 99, some of the details of this move are examined. Immediately preceding it is a section on the role of mothers’ organizations in Hiroshima.

From page 99:
Many men in the movement actively sought to include women in the movement. Their participation suited the agenda of those…who sought to align the anti-nuclear movement with their a-political, inclusive vision. The reference to mothers’ “pure” wish for peace was a potent tool in the arsenal of such men….Yasui wanted the petition effort to be a “purely national people’s movement.” As the title of his first pamphlet, “The Masses and Peace” (Minshū to Heiwa) indicates, belief in the redemptive power of the masses was fundamental for Yasui. He had a clear vision of the Japanese people united as a pacifist nation and cared much less for Japan’s past aggression or present political concerns. Yasui consciously sought to depoliticize the movement and to wrench the anti-nuclear cause from its association with left wing politics.
Gender politics and peculiar ethnocentrism (in the guise on nuclear universalism) played a crucial role in this effort to move the movement away from the left. This had crucial implications to the rise of survivors as “martyrs for peace” in Japan and the subsequent coming together of such practices with these of Holocaust commemoration, with its own peculiar brand of Jewish victim narratives and ethnocentrisms. These connections are examined in the following chapters, which take on specific cases of “entanglement” between Hiroshima and the Holocaust, as in the case of PTSD research, and the decades-long efforts of the little known Hiroshima-Auschwitz Committee to connect the two tragedies. In these cases, both solidarity and competition among victims drove historical developments, which, together, contributed to the rise of a global memory culture out of different local strands.
Learn more about Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue