I first posted about my visit to Hiroshima last year, and as this is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, it seems appropriate to post again, with some edits and additions.
“Atomic Bomb Used on Japs; Equals 20,000 Tons of TNT”–Buffalo Evening News, August 6, 1945
July 14, 1984. This is the day I became a pacifist. The twelve of us American students were children at 15, 16, or 17, but we were certain we were all grown up, certain we were seasoned travelers after only two weeks of our month in Japan, accompanied by two adult chaperones. We were all a part of a Rotary exchange trip hosted by the MBC, a Japanese broadcasting company. We were hardly prepared for the lessons of Hiroshima.
The first two weeks of our trip had been a whirlwind of sight seeing in Tokyo– nice hotels, late-night hotel room sessions of giggles, braggadochio, teenage angst, some of us sipping clandestine beer from the hotel mini-bar. We spent hours on busses between stops napping, shooting furtive glances at our cohorts, discovering a culture so friendly to Americans but still steeped in tradition. We were to spend the next two weeks staying with families and experiencing Japanese culture from that perspective. But first we had Hiroshima.
We were giggling and doing our usual jostling of each other as we got off the bus at the Hiroshima museum and Peace Memorial Park near the A-Bomb Dome. Our entrance to the museum was just the same as that at any museum. We jockeyed for the headsets that would give us the tour of the museum in English. We didn’t realize that each of us with an individual headset would mean that we would each have this experience alone. We spread out. We wandered through the museum, each of us enthralled more with each passing moment, quieter and quieter as we looked at each picture, each artifact, heard each tale of a victim from that fateful day in 1945 (for one such story, see my post Hiroshima II about one of our Japanese chaperones who was in Hiroshima during the bombing). I don’t recall the museum or the tour offering us any particular perspective on the bombing. We didn’t need it. I was looking at “photographs” of human images imprinted on the concrete of Hiroshima, the melted eyeglasses left behind, the little that remained of the lives devastated by the American atomic bomb that ended the war in the Pacific in World War II.
We stumbled out of the museum together in the bright sunlight of a stunning Japanese day. We were crying, even the boys, and overwhelmed by the destruction our forefathers visited upon the forefathers of the people who had been so kind to us. It is one thing to read history from a book, quite another to confront it in its artifacts and photographs in the place where it happened. We wrapped our arms around each other’s waists, each of us silent, trying to comprehend what exactly took place here.
Outside of the museum is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which includes a concrete arch called the Cenotaph and fountain that seems small in front of the one remaining building, now called the A-Bomb Dome (originally the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall) left from the bombing. The Japanese left that building there as a reminder of the war, and it sat at a distance but very visible from the memorial. The Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims has beneath it a stone box with the names of the more than 220,000 victims of the blast.
In pairs we approached the memorial and the stone bench before it, and each of us kneeled before it, in awe of the power of a bomb, in awe of the spirit of the Japanese people who smiled in the shadow of that bombed-out building. We each prayed for peace that sunny day, I am sure of it. I remember approaching the arch with my hometown friend Mark and distinctly remember kneeling and vowing there and then that I would never endorse war or the kinds of violent acts that could bring such devastation upon innocent people. I didn’t care if it was justified or if the American government had good reason to drop it. I just knew that I could not be a party to it in my life. I also understood in that very moment that there is the history of the books and the politicians, and there is the history of the people who live out the consequences.
We herded ourselves back onto the bus, silently, and we rode back to our hotel in silence and terrible guilt for something we were not really responsible for but still felt implicated in.
As our country is currently involved in a number of conflicts around the world, it is worth looking at the images of Hiroshima again and reminding ourselves what the true consequences are for the victims of war. Check out these photographic essays and sites.