I wanted to go to Hiroshima for a couple reasons. Part of it was curiosity, how does a city rebuild after a tragedy of epic proportions? And part of it was because I feel that it is important, as an American, to bear witness to the actions of my country.
As you most likely already know, the first atomic bomb ever used against humanity was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This, along with the bombing of Nagasaki, ended World War Two , but took an enormous human toll. In the first few months around 140,000 people in Hiroshima died from the actual explosion or from radiation poisoning. Most of them were civilians. Thousands more have died in the years since then from radiation related side effects, bringing the total number of victims to around 270,000 (not counting another 100,000 in Nagasaki). An explosion of less than a second killed 270,000 people. Take a minute and just think about how big a number that is.
Hiroshima managed to rebuild itself from total desolation into a clean and modern city with very few traces of the disaster 65 years ago. There are shopping malls, a tram system, even a major league baseball team. The one enduring reminder is the Hiroshima Peace Park which is located at the explosions ground zero. The wreckage of a single mangled building that survived the explosion, now known at the Atomic Bomb Dome, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s surrounded by a lovely park which houses a museum as well as dozens of memorials.
My visit to the Peace Park, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, was an emotional punch in the gut. I knew that it wasn’t exactly going to be fun, but I really didn’t expect to be affected so much. The starkness of the A-bomb Dome took my breath away, and the museum showcased horror after horror that thoroughly convinced me that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished from this earth. The first hand accounts, drawings and artifacts made the disaster real to me in a way that I’ve seen very few museums accomplish. What happened in Hiroshima was hell on earth, a hell that the survivors of the bombing still cope with to this day.
Even so, my American friends will be glad to hear that the Japanese are not holding a grudge against us for what happened. Amazingly, all the literature I was given at the park fairly portrayed both countries roles in the events that lead up to the bomb drop. There were no accusatory looks or implications. The focus now is not on resentment but on ensuring that a tragedy like this never happens again, anywhere on earth.
Japan does not possess nuclear weapons. Every time any country has tested a nuclear weapon since 1968, the mayor of Hiroshima has written a letter imploring the government to cease weapon development and work towards disarmament. The walls of the museum showcase dozens of these letters, spanning decades.
When the bomb went off it was rumored that nothing would grow again in Hiroshima for 75 years. This is definitely not the case: even in October the rose garden was defiantly colorful. Even prettier than the flowers are the paper cranes which bloomed all over the park. Inspired by a Japanese girl who died at 12 of leukemia related to the explosion, children from all over the world fold paper cranes to take to Hiroshima. Each crane represents a wish for peace, and there were thousands adorning the memorials. Most are on the Children’s Peace Monument, where the inscription reads:
“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.”
In the end that was what brought me to tears. The commitment to turn this immense tragedy into something positive. That this beautiful park and the testaments of those who witnessed this atrocity could inspire those who visit to work passionately to end the threat of nuclear war forever.