We took a day trip to Hiroshima where, as you know, the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. The first thing we saw was the stark reminder of that day: the A-Bomb Dome. The bomb exploded almost directly over this building since the bridge right next to it was the target (it's shaped like a T, so it was easy to see from the air), but surprisingly it was one of the few buildings that remained standing. It's a grim site, but serves as an important reminder of the devastating effects of the war. Across the river, is the Peace Memorial Park. This used to be a major industrial part of town that was totally demolished from the bomb and is now a large park with several memorials, including a wall with the names of all the known victims, a bell of peace, and a flame that will burn until all the atomic weapons in the world are destroyed. There was one really touching memorial called the Children's Peace Monument. This is in commemoration of a girl named Sadako Sasaki who, due to radiation exposure from the bomb, developed leukemia years after the war. In Japan, the crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness, so she believed that if she could fold 1,000 origami cranes, she would recover. Sadly, she died before she could complete her goal, so her classmates finished for her. Now, there is a country-wide tradition of folding paper cranes, thousands of which are sent to this memorial each year to be displayed.
Also, at this park is the Peace Memorial Museum. It was good to get a refresher of the historical events that led up to the bombing. Although, we felt like it was told a little different than we remembered learning in our history courses in the U.S. I suppose it makes sense that the different perspectives would tell the story a little differently. There wasn't a lot of discussion of the war before Pearl Harbor, then they briefly mentioned that Pearl Harbor made the Americans mad, and then there was a lot of focus and illustration of internal government memos related to the development of atomic weapons and their ultimate use. It certainly is controversial whether this is what made the difference in the result of the war or whether it was America's biggest mistake; we all felt like we'd like to go back and re-read some of this history to remember some of the broader history, so we can understand this better. Regardless of the way you tell the story though, it is certainly easy to understand the tragedy and devastation caused by nuclear weapons.
A few specific things that we thought were interesting here: Kyoto was on the list of potential targets that the Presidential committee was considering and, having just come from Kyoto, we couldn't help but think of how sad it would have been to lose all those historical sites; they were not shy to name the countries that still have atomic weapons (U.S., U.K., Russia, etc.), but we felt like they were missing a few (Iran and North Korea, I'm talking about you! Maybe these are still considered unconfirmed?); there were a lot of pictures of victims that we had to try hard to not look at, it's just too hard to see, and they talked a lot about how the survivors are still suffering from health problems related to nuclear exposure, but we were pleased to know that the U.S. set up a fund to help pay for their medical expenses; there were some stone steps with a shadow preserved onto them from the person who was sitting there when the bomb went off, which was a bit haunting.
It was also interesting to be in Hiroshima as an American. There really weren't that many foreign tourists. It was mostly filled with Japanese/Asian tourists or Japanese school kids on school trips. It would have been interesting to know their thoughts of us being there. I mean, the U.S. has had it's tragedies, of course, but there were over 200,000 casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so really this level of devastation is hard to relate to. I almost felt like I should offer an apology on behalf of my country. I hope that they realize that this is an important part of our history too and that reflecting on this event is relevant to our current wartime lives. Surprisingly though, the Japanese don't seem to harbor any anti-American sentiments today and politically we are allies. So, we will continue to hope that the same sort of recovered relationship will some day happen with our current political enemies, that we will one day see a world where countries do not feel so threatened as to hold on to atomic weapons, and that the Flame of Peace will be extinguished.