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Published: April 22nd 2018
Where have all the flowers gone?, the song asks....then wonders if we will ever learn.
I sit with iPad on knee, thinking of how to choose words that might brush the far outskirts of the unspeakable. This falls way short of the mark.
Hiroshima hits your head and heart with some strange combination of horror and awe. Horror at the human tragedy that was Hiroshima in 1945. Awe at resiliency, both in the people who have rebuilt this place and in nature itself, that nurtured seeds in that radiated soil to grow the enormous trees we took shade under today, right in the epicentre.
The difficulty in wrapping your head around the whys and wherefores of this atrocity doesn’t ease with spending time here. In fact, unlike those earthquakes that are part of the cosmic recipe of creation, this one was designed, created, decided and done with purpose by humankind - making it all the more horrendous. Those questions that we all have when tragedies happen rattle around in your mind. What if it were my child? What if it were me? What if no one cared? What if...
The A-Bomb Museum main
building is closed for upgrades, including earthquake resilience, and the collections have been trimmed to fit into an adjoining building. Opened in 1955, they captured the testimonies of many who I’m sure are long gone.
Busloads of tourists and school kids swarm around outside the building, collecting in human bundles at the flag their guide waves overhead or gather around their teacher. We read that the Museum can be difficult, and actually made more so by the kabitzing and normal interactions of the many students. I found the kid factor reminded me of the goodness of life. The adult versions seemed so very wrong.
A video starts the journey, with headsets translating the details of the event, interspersed with survivor accounts. A man describes how he was in class when one of his mates heard a plane and reported from the window that he saw a B-52. They all took notice because those never flew that low normally. A few flashes of lightening and that was the last that man remembered until he woke to the only other survivors singing their school song hoping that might bring help.
An elderly woman is shown visiting the memorial on
the anniversary as she has every year since her 12 year old daughter died of radiation shortly after the bomb. Tears still welled in her grief-worn face.
The museum isn’t overly designed or produced, and even that seems to underscore the grief, anger and pain of real people in a real city. The clips of patients at the Red Cross hospital give me a dreadful voyeur guilt - skin disconnected from a raw body, a women with the pattern of her kimono seared into her flesh. I can’t relay more.
An animated loop recreates the city in its heyday, then showing the bomb targeting a particular bridge, and the blowout from the epicentre to the far reaches 2kms away in every direction. And then there was nothing. Flattened, charred and eviscerated....except for a inexplicable building skeleton here and there.
The centre of the explosion reached 1 million degrees C where it exploded above and neared 3-4000 degrees C on the ground. No trace was left of people inside a surgical unit in that hypocenter.
Throughout the museum are volunteers, most of whom are old men who lived through the event. I have no idea if sorrow
and compassion can be expressed without words, but they were gracious in bowing, smiling and acknowledging any communication that came their way from museum visitors.
The museum anchors a large memorial park - peppered with memorials of all kinds. The long park is a smaller version of the Washington mall - placing yourself in the exact centre where A-shaped Memorial Cenotaph and eternal flame sit, the museum is seen in one direction and through the A, the A-Bomb Dome is framed.
John went silent by that A-Bomb Dome. He walked around it, and back again. Shaking his head. Repeating “I can’t believe this.” When I asked him later what he was thinking, he replied: We’ve been with the Japanese people for three weeks now and I look at this. People almost wiped out, almost disintegrated. For what?
Originally built as an exhibition hall known as the Industrial Promotion Hall, it was centrally located beside the river. The bomb was detonated 600m in the air, almost directly above this copper domed building and a nearby bridge. Hiroshima was levelled and all the remained standing was a skeletal portion of the exhibition hall. The ruin is now protected and
stands as a haunting reminder. Four separate restoration efforts have taken place over the intervening years to sustain the structure - so much work, care and effort keeping something worth having. So few seconds required for its destruction.
Every exhibit, info board or talking point highlights the purpose of all these memorials as working to ensure this never happens again to another people. We arrive at the A-Bomb Dome early and few people are there. A lone woman is placing a dozen or so stuffed binders along a flower-bed’s wall and on the lamppost beside are the only english words I see. No Nukes. She asked, and we signed, her petition to eliminate all nuclear weapons for the sake of mankind.
One exhibit mentioned that Hiroshima was slightly nervous throughout the war, because many other Japanese cities had been bombed, yet this strategic military city had not been targeted so far. Unbeknowst to them, the US was evaluating cities with an urban center greater than 3 miles in diameter. In May, any bombs planned for those cities were stopped. In July, four possible cities were selected. On August 6, the city where it was thought no American prisoners
were held was bombed.....Hiroshima.
Finally, other monuments are provoking too. One is a large bell, with a horizontal gong hung in place. You are invited to pull the gong back to sound the bell, and wait for its reverberations to return to stillness. Bowing is a part of the culture here, but it seemed apropos that each person, whether local or visitor, bowed as the sound of the bell faded away.
Another memorial is to the children who died as a result of the bomb and subsequent radiation fallout. This one was built in memory of a specific young girl who survived the bombing, only to contract leukaemia 10 years later. One Japanese belief is that if you make 1000 origami cranes, you will be healed. She started to make cranes, but did not reach a thousand before she died. Today, a series of concession-like booths surround the statue. From afar it looks like scarfs are jammed in and for sale. Up close, many thousands of cranes have been strung together and left at the monument in honour of the children. Those are collected and stored in the little glass buildings.
When we enter the museum, we
are given our tickets and what I thought were two pieces of small note paper. When I looked at them later, they are plain postcards made from recycled cranes left at this monument. Beautiful really.
The hearts of people are greater than our minds. If we remember to defer to our higher selves.
A postscript: The comparison of the effects of the Hiroshima bomb and the Chernobyl explosion came to mind. Let us to some googling to find that the long-term radiation effects of a nuclear bomb exploded in the air versus in the ground are surprisingly different. The soil in Hiroshima today has the same radiation levels as most places. Also, the notion of today’s technologies vs those of 75 years ago are sobering - the H Bomb is 600 times more destructive that the one used in Hiroshima.
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