‘In Praise of Forgetting,’ by David Rieff

Gary J. Bass in the New York Times Book Review:

Locomotif2_2“It was like the sound of rain, the sound of firebombs dropping,” Keiko Utsumi remembers. She is an elderly, dignified Japanese woman, retired as a nurse and a midwife, impeccably dressed in a beige linen blazer in the sweltering Tokyo summer heat. Late in World War II, during the spring of 1945, she was 16 years old, put to work at a military factory in the port city of Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. During one of the United States’ incendiary bombing raids, she recalls huddling in a bomb shelter all night, terrified, watching the inferno of wooden houses all around. When she emerged into a scorched wasteland the next morning, with the ground so hot it melted her shoes, she saw the dead: “They were all black, all burned.”

Seventy years after the end of the war, Utsumi met me in central Tokyo last August to tell her story. Remarkably, she had never discussed her terrible experiences with anyone. “When I was leaving the house this morning,” she said, “and told my son I’d be in an interview about the war, my son asked, ‘You were in the war?’ ”

This kind of stoic quietude may seem odd, even unhealthy, to Americans, accustomed to ventilating the most mundane experiences, with no incident too banal to be rehashed. But respect for such forbearance is at the heart of David Rieff’s insightful and humane new book.

More here.