I heard about Hiroshima in elementary school. It was just a town in Japan that the US dropped a nuclear bomb on during WWII. It was said to have put an end to the war. I carried that image into adulthood.
What really moved Hiroshima out of the back of my mind happened during simple conversation with my host family (Estsuko & Yasuhiro). They were helping me plan my train route to Hiroshima when it came up that Yasuhiro grew up in Nagasaki. I asked him why I know that name when I’m pretty ignorant of the geography of Japan. He said it was where the 2nd A-bomb was dropped. The 2nd bomb???. At that moment I had a wave of emotion come over me yet I had no direct connection to any of this. I was now alert that maybe there was something there for me.
Part 1 – Keiko met me at the station. After dropping my pack off we decided o go to Peace Park which is not far from the Hypocenter Hiroshima has more open space between buildings and a slightly less chaotic feel to it. Maybe because the whole city was pretty much built from scratch
Part 2 – I found myself back in Hiroshima for two days, not part of my original plans but… then again that has been the way of my trip thus far, following whim and open doors as they appear. This trip I go inside the A-Bomb Museum. It’s pretty tame at first with learning some of the history on Hiroshima. It still remains relatively tame as you follow the story of the decision for the US to drop the A-bomb (it’s not referred as a nuclear bomb but The A-Bomb, there something unnerving about that distinction for me but there it is). Some of the reasoning was for psychological effect (Hiroshima had never been bombed), there were military in the town, no POW’s. Plus it was a big “let’s see what happens when we do this” experiment. Next is the films from the actual dropping of the bomb. You really don’t start to understand what that one bomb did til you go around the corner and there are two scale models of Hiroshima side by side. One pre-bomb and one after the A-bomb. There aren’t just some buildings knocked down liked you might imagine after a bombing. The town is pretty much leveled. There are a few buildings (brick/stone/cement) that still look like buildings. If you want a visual, imagine 1950’s San Francisco or current day Sacramento laid flat, that would pretty much be it.
So…. that sound pretty bad doesn’t it? But… that’s just the buildings, it’s the personal stories that really brings it home how horrific this event was. In the weeks prior to the dropping of the A-bomb, the town of Hiroshima had mobilized to tear down structures to make fire lines in an effort to save much of the town from fire if there ever was a bombing. A large part of the work force was comprised of children released from school in order to help keep their town safe. One mother tells of sending her child off to work even though she didn’t want to work that day. Mom lived but the child didn’t. She never again saw her child (nor her body if there was one). She felt she killed her child. Some parents were lucky enough to find heir children living (if you can call it that), many unrecognizable (swollen & burnt) – identified by maybe some part of their clothing or a personal item. You need to understand the heat this bomb unleashed, peoples shadows are etched in stone, the glaze on roof tiles melted (this take a ‘white hot’ heat – I do ceramics) metal warped & melted. Living people were exposed to this. The rivers were filled with people who tried to cool the pain and unquenchable thirst. Twenty minutes after the bomb there fell what was called the ‘Black Rain’. Many drank this in their thirst. Even if they might have survived their earlier injuries, the rain was filled with radioactive particles, dust etc. from the blast thus ensuring the drinkers death (or that of those people that were out in the rain). The effects of radiation could be immediate, or…, long term. I find that I have been cured of any thought that might have had that made the dropping of Nuclear bombs (or any bombs) an acceptable act. Was japan an innocent nation during that war, no. they did some pretty nasty stuff. War is dirty business. What is interesting is that the people of Hiroshima (as a whole) hold forgiveness for this event. They just want the world to know and learn about the horrors of nuclear weaponry so that never will they be used ever again.
An interesting side note: When I was walking with Keiko on my first visit she said it was thought that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for 25 years. The immediate feeling I had after hearing her words was that those who had perished in this horrible event were trying to show the world their forgiveness (with new life coming from their very ashes) in order to promote the hope that this would never happen again…, anywhere
part 3 – The Universe has brought me here again. I’ll write more later…