Stephenson has been blogging for The Daily about W. Eugene Smith, the subject of his forthcoming biography. Here, he writes to managing editor Nicole Rudick from the island of Guam.
I am writing you from my hotel in Guam rather than taking a day trip to Iwo Jima. The visit was canceled by the American and Japanese embassies, because of the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan. The Japanese government opens the uninhabited island to civilians only one day a year, and I’ve been planning my month-long Pacific journey in Smith’s footsteps around this year’s date, March 16, for the past ten months. I’m disappointed, but I understand the decision. A government-sanctioned sightseeing trip to a remote island seems inappropriate while Japan is undergoing the current tragedy, no matter that 140 Americans had gathered here for the trip, with a mirror group in Tokyo.
It means I’ll have to come back next year. Smith made stunning photographs of the Iwo Jima battle, and I can’t finish this biography without seeing that tiny piece of volcanic rock poking up out of the ocean. It measures only four and half miles long and two and a half miles wide, yet we (Americans) had eight hundred ships and two hundred thousand troops off its shores in 1945. The absurdity of that reality must have impacted young Smith, who was from landlocked Kansas: We’re fighting the war of all wars over this?