(One month ago today, we walked through the museum and around the grounds of the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. That was before the inauguration of a dangerous leader in the US who seems oblivious to lessons of the past. Over the last month, I have struggled with a search for the most appropriate words to describe our experience in Hiroshima, as humbling as it was awe-inspiring, and as terrifying as it was motivating. Our entire trip to Japan for a visit to our US military family, was in the shadow of ominous historical events that predate my years, but which my parents lived through and knew intimately.)
On a driving tour of the US Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, several landmarks were pointed out. Most were fairly recent constructions, but one, in particular, stands out in my mind. It was not new, and had been part of the original military post, back when the base belonged to the Japanese military establishment.
“That’s where they planned Pearl Harbor,” we were told by our marine corps son-in-law. The origin of the attack which drew the US into the war–the beginning of the end of my uncle’s life–was here in this building. Part of world history collided with my family history. This tidbit of information put our walking tour of the Hiroshima Peace Park into a personal perspective.
Hiroshima’s Peace Park covers a huge area, crosses several fingers of the bay, and showcases one building which sustained major structural damage on the fateful day of the bomb. Genbaku Dome, preserved forever as a reminder of the horrors of nuclear war, once was a modern building designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel. Completed in 1915, it was only thirty years old at the time of the bomb.
“The A-Bomb Dome is the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall which was destroyed by the first atomic bomb ever to be used in the history of humankind on August 6, 1945. (8:15 am) The atomic bomb was detonated in the air at an altitude of approximately 600 meters almost right over the hall. The explosion of a single bomb claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and the city area of about 2 km radius was turned into ashes. In order to have this tragic fact known to succeeding generations and to make it a lesson for humankind, the reinforcement work of the ruins has been done by the contributions of many people who desire peace within and out of the country. The ruins shall be preserved forever. August 6, 1967 Hiroshima City” (Inscription engraved on a monument at the site)
Contributions from many Japanese people and others around the world dedicated to peace have preserved the ruins of this building.
“As a historical witness that conveys the tragedy of suffering the first atomic bomb in human history and as a symbol that vows to faithfully seek the abolition of nuclear weapons and everlasting world peace, Genbaku Dome was added to the World Heritage List in accordance with the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention)’ December 7, 1996, Hiroshima City” (Inscription engraved on a monument at the site)
It has received four major restorations to preserve its bombed-out condition from further crumbling. These occurred in 1967, 1990, 2003 and 2016.
The other end of the Peace Park houses a massive museum. A short walk brings visitors across one of several available bridges and along a mall featuring the Pond of Peace above which a platform showcases the Flame of Peace.
“Symbolizing the universal desire for a world free from nuclear weapons, the flame will burn until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the earth.” The flaming monument burns continuously, reminding visitors of the somber promise and the huge sacrifice this community made. The reverent mood of the park made the day’s overcast sky an appropriate backdrop for our visit.
Beyond the pond, visitors find an artistic stone cenotaph, adorned by fresh floral bouquets. President Obama spoke here in May 2016.
Inside the museum visitors are able to amble through displays that include a panorama of the A-bomb detonation, items fused by the intense heat of the bomb, a room dedicated to education about the lingering dangers of radiation, and paper cranes.
Origami cranes have become symbols of peace, largely through the efforts of a little Japanese girl named Sadako. She was only two years old in August of 1945. Though she survived the bomb blast, a few years afterward she developed leukemia, a common occurrence for the survivors who were exposed to immense levels of radiation.
Sadako set out to fold 1000 paper cranes, hoping that the legend of wishes being granted to a person who would fold 1000 origami cranes would heal her. That was her wish. But it was not to be. Sadako died of her cancer in October 1955. Ten years after the bombing it claimed yet another victim.
I was five-months old at the time she died. It has only recently impressed me how close to the actual event we were. Ten years. One decade. That hardly seems long at all now that I’ve lived six decades.
Sadako’s cranes have become a world-recognized symbol of the hope for peace. The park in Hiroshima has peace cranes scattered in many places. A few of Sadako’s original cranes are preserved and displayed under glass in the museum.
Another glass-topped display features two new cranes, folded in May 2016 by the visiting US president, Barack Obama.
There are strung garlands of thouands of cranes draped on a park sculpture, and cranes hung from the trees.
There was even one live crane seeming to survey the scene below from a perch on the rafters of the burned out Genbaku Dome, looking for peace even today.
Extending to either direction between the dome and the museum are a number of special exhibits. A children’s memorial, dedicated to the memory of Sadako; a peace bell inviting visitors to swing the gong and feel the reverberations; a memorial to the victims of the atomic bomb; fountains flowing with precious water, keeping the hope of peace alive.
The Hiroshima Peace Park is one great reminder about the horrors of war. When ranked among the developments of humanity, war is one with purposes of destruction, domination and retribution. It lies at the bottom of the list of our achievements. On the other hand, the Hiroshima Peace Park celebrates some of the best that humanity has to offer–beauty, creativity, art, and the resilience of life, a gift of hope for those who will come after us.
Lessons from Hiroshima