Throughout our visit to Japan, I was impressed by the welcoming attitude of the people. Japan has become a nation dedicated to friendship and peace. The event on the morning of August 6, 1945 served to reverse their course in history. One plaque in the museum commemorated the Japanese Empire’s former war-mongering stance and noted that now, since the bomb, they are no longer that way. War is not the answer. They have changed. One event, one terrible violent, destructive, bloody event, shook them up so that they changed.
Maybe though, it wasn’t the people themselves that changed. Maybe it was just their leaders. The rotating wall showing faces of victims lost in the bomb were overwhelmingly women and children. The leaders who made the decision to go to war were not those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was the innocents who suffered and paid with their lives.
My life as a woman has been marked by “taking care” of people and things. From the children in my own home, to pets they left behind when they moved out, to aging parents, to grandchildren. I would be hard-pressed to fill my days without someone to feed and take care of. Other women have different amounts of the nurturing instincts I feel. Indeed there is an complete spectrum of nurturing care among us. Women in general are more loving, giving, caring, and compassionate than men. Where would we be now if women, instead of men, had historically led the way in many countries around the world?
What will it take to shake our leaders awake enough to lead for the people’s benefit, and not for their own narrow interests? Will the Orwellian dictates emanating from Washington be enough? Or will it take something that will be far more violent, destructive and terrible?
Will we, as a country, return to our role as leader of humanitarian advances in the world? Or will we succumb to ever-increasing limits on our own personal freedoms and education?
What will it take?
Whatever might be the turning point in our tide of division and anger, I hope the world will remember that Americans and the US government are not the same thing. There are plenty of decent, compassionate Americans still here. The leader who was not elected by the people speaks NOT for us.
I imagine many of the Japanese civilians who suffered from the bomb were decent, compassionate people. The innocents were not to blame. Their emperor spoke not for them, nor for the anguish in their hearts.
I recall the visiting Russian delegation that made a stop at my home last summer to view our alternative energy installations became my friends. They were good, people, decent and compassionate. Perhaps their government speaks not for them either.
And the Arabian family we invited to Thanksgiving dinner a couple years ago. A Muslim father, his beautiful and gracious wife, and two sweet children joined us to experience the traditional American feast. They were decent, compassionate people. I could see it in their smiles and feel it in the openness of their conversation.
Each of us, in every moment, can conduct ourselves as kind ambassadors to those we meet. If our government lacks consideration for the rest of the world, we must fill in the gap. We are our own ambassdors, in every way possible. It matters how we treat our neighbors on planet Earth.
If we learn anything from the Hiroshima story, let it be that people are people— kind, loving, compassionate neighbors on this planet. A nation, regardless of the continent it occupies, is not the land, nor its leaders. A nation is its people. No people, no country on earth, deserves the kind of destruction an A-bomb represents.
(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.
A month ago, 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.
“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace,” as Pope John Paul said on the 25th of February in 1981.
Peace. . . A condition marked by freedom from oppression, harmony in relationships, and agreement to end hostilities, a definition according to my desk dictionary. It is also a condition that is perhaps as far removed from reality today as it was 75 years ago.
The US was drawn into active participation in World War II after Japan bombed Navy ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
My uncle Lester, the older brother of my father, was in his third month of training for service with the US Navy at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He hastily jotted a note of reassurance to his family, and sent it home via air mail. Not to worry, he wrote, he was all right. However things were likely to change given the course of events, and his Christmas leave was likely to be cancelled.
It was. Lester made it home for one last visit the following summer before losing his life, almost a year to the day after Pearl Harbor. The big war impacted my own family in ways we still feel after 75 years, as surely as it left an impact on countless other American, European, Russian, and Japanese people.
About 3 ½ years after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and many battles later, The US took the fight onto Japanese soil.
With the horrific bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki a week later, the war ended. The Japanese people had changed forever.
At 8:15 in the morning, as civilians scurried to their daily work, school children settled into their first class, and businesses opened for shoppers, the world’s first atomic bomb was unleashed in the air 600 meters above downtown Hiroshima. In an instant, the city lay in smoldering ruins.
An estimated 200,000 people perished. Most were civilians, including the school children. A number of US prisoners of war and Korean natives working in Hiroshima also were lost.
The detonation of the atomic bomb over a bridge in Hiroshima triggered the end of the war and was heralded with great celebration in this country. It was only later, after the destruction became apparent, that we realized what had been unleashed in Japan.
Seven decades later, Hiroshima is again a bustling, modern city, undistinguished from many other cities around the world, except for its World Heritage site, commemorating the bomb and a pledge to world peace that this kind of destruction will never happen again.