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Kenzaburo Ōe: Nuclear war and its lemmings


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Kenzaburō Ōe: Categorical imperative to renounce war forever


Kenzaburo Ōe
From A Personal Matter (1964)
Translated by John Nathan


“Bird, do you suppose there are people who want an atomic war, not because they stand to benefit from the manufacture of nuclear weapons economically, say, or politically, but simply because that’s what they want? I mean, just as most people believe for no particular reason that this planet should be perpetuated and hope that it will be, there most be black-hearted people who believe, for no reason they could name, that mankind should be annihilated. In northern Europe there’s a little animal like a rat, it’s called a lemming, and sometimes these lemmings commit mass suicide. I just wonder if somewhere on this earth there aren’t lemming-people. Bird?”


“It’s been ages, hasn’t it, Bird? Ever since that day we went over to the next town and saw a G.I. looking out of a train window with the bottom half of his face shot off.”

“It was during the Korean war and these gorgeous soldier boys who’d been all wounded in the field were being shipped back to bases in Japan. Whole trainloads of them and we saw one of those trains one day. Bird, do you suppose they were passing through our district all the time?”

“Not all the time, no.”

“You used to hear stories about slave dealers catching Japanese high-school boys and selling them as soldiers, there were even rumors that the government was going to ship us off to Korea – I was terrified in those days.”

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