Saturday, June 04, 2016

Changing trains

I'd like to approach the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from a different perspective than is usually considered. When people denounce a past event, they frequently treat the incident and its immediate aftermath as a self-contained event. They act as though you could change that particular event, but leave pretty much everything else in place. 

Yet they themselves may be the byproduct of the very event they denounce. They write about the past from the standpoint of the present. They exist in the present. Yet the present is the product of the past. There's a certain paradox when we castigate a past event, for in some cases, by wishing it away, we'd be wishing ourselves away. Were it not for that event, we might not even be here to stand in judgment of that event. 

The nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had wide-ranging affects on subsequent history. Had that not happened, the future would have turned out very differently.

It's like taking a long train ride, where you must repeatedly switch trains to arrive at your distant destination. There are so many opportunities to miss connections. And if you miss one train, that throws your entire itinerary for a loop. 

If Hiroshima and Nagasaki hadn't been bombed, the railway tracks leading into the future would have gone in a different direction. Even if you could begin your journey from the same point, the original tracks would run out in the middle of nowhere. A deserted train station. The new future would bypass the old future. 

The new past wouldn't lead up to the old future, containing the critics of the reviled past event. The future in which they exist would be replaced by a different timeline with different descendants. 

Dropping the metaphor, consider how we come to be. If a couple have conjugal relations Monday night instead of Sunday night, and if they conceive, it will be a different person. Or if they have relations 5 minutes earlier or five minutes later, a different sperm may win the race to fertilize the ovum. Not to mention the chain of events that converge on a particular man meeting a particular women. And their parents. And their grandparents. So many opportunities to miss connections. So many opportunities to take a different train. Even small changes in the past can ramify into huge changes in the future. An unrecognizable future. 

Now, I'm not saying this to justify the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If that's justifiable, it will demand a different argument. What I'm saying is equally applicable to large-scale atrocities. So I'm not saying this to retroactively sanctify whatever happens.

But it's good to be mindful of how the invasive root system of historical causation means you can't weed out past evils without uprooting the entire garden. There are always tradeoffs. Winners and losers. 

If we hadn't bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that would be better for the victims. But altering the course of history would deprive others.


  1. My grandpa told me many times about preparing to take part in the Japanese invasion. My other grandpa was in the navy in the Pacific an had similar stories. It's very unlikely they both would have survived.

  2. Thank you Steve.