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Wondering Wanderer!, South Korea

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Japan II - Hiroshima: Heartache and Hope

8:15a.m, August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima.
This is a moment in time that should never be forgotten. It was probably the single worst moment in human history. And it is a moment the likes of which must  never happen again.
I am not here to discuss the merits of war or justifiable acts of terror, I just want to highlight what happened, as until I recently visited the city and it's Peace Park and museum, I was ignorant of the facts of this truly horrific and tragic event.
On that moment and in that place, the U.S Air Force dropped the world's first Nuclear Bomb, callously named 'Little Boy.' In a few seconds, the world had entered a new and terrifying nuclear age. Within minutes 70,000 innocent civilians were dead, 60% of them burned alive. By Christmas, the death toll had risen to approximately 160,000, many who suffered long insufferable months of pain through burns or radiation sickness. Estimates today suggest that a total of 300,000 lives have been lost to that single moment in history, many of cancer and leukemia as a direct result of the bomb.

There are few words emotive enough to express just how terrible this act was. The U.S. believed the use of the nuclear bomb meant they didn't have to involve the Soviet Union, thus restricting their influence after the war. And, Hiroshima was chosen over four other potential targets for this reason: the city had no allied prisoner of war camps! Many critics have since shown that in fact the bomb was unnecessary to end the war in the east, and so ultimately, it was a total waste of civilian lives, and not only Japanese, but many Korean and Chinese immigrant workers living in the city at the time. Many nations have committed acts of terror for what they believe to be the greater good, but I for one struggle to accept the use of any chemical weapons designed to maim, kill and torture innocent civilians. No act of any 'war' has been as shameful as this. 

Arriving in the city from Fukuoka, I didn't really know what to expect. I had done little research, but I knew I would visit a Peace Park and memorial, the museum and various other monuments related to the 1945 attack.
My first impressions were a little surprising, though I am not really sure why. What we saw as we trundled along in an ancient and original tram was wide tree lined boulevards, cosmopolitan restaurants and a calm yet thriving city, modern yet understated, clean and alive. We headed straight into the Peace Park, and felt it was best to first visit the museum in order to gain a greater understanding of the city and it's past. I have previously visited some harrowing places before: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, and each were terribly heartbreaking. The Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima is every bit as tragic. The images of devastation, the graphic pictures of the victims, the heart-wrenching stories of entire multi-generational families being wiped out, and the individual tales of pain and suffering undergone by the victims, so many of whom were young children. It is simply crushing.

In the park is the A-Bomb Dome. The only destroyed structure left standing, it serves two purposes: First as a reminder to the world about the tragedy of the time, and second to inspire the city to embrace peace. The eerie shell, somehow graceful in it's warped appearance, continues to inspire today. Walking around this area is to walk only 600m below where the bomb actually detonated. It is a surreal experience, and as I looked up into the beautiful blue sky I couldn't begin to imagine the horrors that the people of this amazing city had been through. So many people were killed, and the devastation was so utterly and terribly comprehensive, it must have seemed impossible that she would ever recover!

 Yet slowly and surely, recover she did. The fires that raged eventually burned themselves out. The city's pulse, the tram system, was quickly set running again, not only as a necessary part of the infrastructure, but as a sign of hope and inspiration. The schools were rebuilt as soon as possible, and the city, and her survivors, rose like the true Phoenix that she is. Rock band U2 once wrote a song called Unforgettable Fire, a reference to the devastation of Hiroshima. Well, the city has moved on, but like the song says, it's history will not and should not be forgotten. 

Hiroshima today is a beautifully green, laid back city. It's people are polite and prosperous. And all bar none are dedicated to peace. On August 6th every year, the city holds a ceremony in the Peace Memorial Park, when the mayor reads his annual peace declaration. Hiroshima is committed to fulfilling her calling as a champion for peace. It strives to do everything it can to clear the world of nuclear weapons, and guide us toward a future of genuine and lasting peace. I for one wholeheartedly support this noble quest, and as the city moves on and continues to grow and prosper, and the passing of time helps to heal her physical scars, we must never forget the tragedy that happened here! 
8:15a.m, August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima !

http://www.city.hiroshima.lg.jp/shimin/heiwa/crane.html Link to an inspirational story about a girl named Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia ten years after the bombing. When diagnosed with her illness, she vowed to fold a 1000 paper cranes before she died...read her touching story.

Colorful lanterns for peace in Hiroshima.