On the face of things, Hiroshima looks like any modern city going about its business… Wide boulevards are lined with shopping malls; ‘Sales’ signs splashed in red ink adorn every shop window… the occasional tram trundles along its track through the streetscape, while people stand impatiently at the crossings, in a hurry to get back to their workplace after an hour-long lunch break. Beneath its cool exterior though, this is no ordinary city… Deep down it suffers a harrowing past that it can never forget – nor should it ever be forgotten.
August 6th 1945 – 8.15am, a date and a time that will be printed in history books for decades to come… While World War II was concluding its bloody reign in Europe, Japan and America were still in their tug-of-war. The world’s first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima wiping out 90% of the city and killing a recorded 140,000, with many more maimed and disfigured.
While you’re in Hiroshima then, it would be a travesty not to visit the city’s Peace Memorial Park and museum. It is an unlikely ‘attraction’ but one which should not be missed from your itinerary.
Not surprisingly, it is a morbid, albeit strangely engrossing experience as you wander the dark halls of the museum in silence… There is no screening the ugly truth here; evidence of disintegrated clothing, twisted pieces of metal, melted glass and graphic photos of liquefied human bodies are hard to stomach and should be digested alone in quiet contemplation.
A watch eternally stuck at 8.15am records the exact time the bomb was dropped – the time of death of Hiroshima’s 140,000 residents. Most horrific of all is an exhibit of a stone step where a black stain marks the remains of an innocent man.
I know, it is difficult to comprehend. But then again, the A-bomb or any other nuclear weapon defies any comprehension… Or at least, it certainly doesn’t compute in my little, utopian world. How can one man create such a heinous weapon, in the full knowledge that his creation would create such devastation?
This particular A-bomb’s creator was J Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist otherwise known as the “father of the atomic bomb”. He famously quoted, “I am death, destroyer of worlds”, so although he claimed the potential to kill and maim was not known, he must have believed his creation could bring about the end of life on this planet. In his defence, after seeing the bomb’s devastation, Oppenheimer resigned from his post that same year, refusing to take its development any further. He even supported international control of all atomic energy until his death, but one cannot forget the formidable doors he has opened.
As distressing as it is, the exhibits are an informative and crucial lesson; one which reminds us of the unnecessary evils of nuclear weapons.
From our history lesson, we wandered downstairs where optimism and light flowed through the wide gallery spaces. A collection of letters from past and present world leaders displayed a ray of hope… that one day all the world’s nuclear weapons will be destroyed.
Empty books were quickly filled as each visitor joined in the silent protest against nuclear testing… Faces of every nationality were solemn as they scribbled down their thoughts in quiet solitude.
Back outside a path leads through the manicured grounds of the Memorial Park to a central cenotaph; a simple, curved concrete monument that bears the names of all known victims of the bomb – too many names. At the foot of this is the Flame of Peace, an eternal flame that will continue to burn until the last nuclear missile is destroyed.
Further north is perhaps the most poignant of monuments – the Children’s Peace Monument, inspired by Sadako Sasaki, a little girl who developed leukaemia a decade after the bomb was dropped. Her aim was to fold 1000 paper cranes, a symbol in Japan that signifies longevity and happiness. Her belief was that if she achieved this goal, she would recover from her illness, but sadly her target was not reached. She passed away, completing only 644, leaving her family and classmates to complete her wish. Sadako Sasaki was buried with 1000 origami cranes, and an inspiration to all, paper cranes continue to be sent here today from school children around the country and all over the world.
We strolled away from the Memorial park and back towards the streets and boulevards now, willing ourselves to break out of our sombre mood. Our surroundings seemed suddenly so incongruous to this city… At a toy store, the hundreds of little red ‘Ultra-men’ in their silly battle poses, failed to emit a giggle out of me. Next door the arcades seemed deafeningly loud. I wasn’t in the mood for such trivia. I couldn’t help but feel aggrieved.
Perhaps I am missing its crucial point though; that this city refuses to let its history tarnish its future… Life flows through these streets again in a display of determination and resilience. The essence of Hiroshima is not one of bitterness; it is one of hope, and of lessons learned.
Its message is loud and clear – “Rest in peace. The mistake shall not be repeated.”