8:15a.m, August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima.
A moment in time that should never be forgotten! Probably the single worst moment in human history! A moment the likes of which must never happen again.
I’m not here to discuss the merits of war or debate any justifiable acts of terror. (other than to say that there must be a better way than war, and if it involves ‘terror’ then how can it be justified?) I simply want to highlight what happened on that oh so fateful day in 1945. Until I visited the city of Hiroshima and it’s Peace Park in 2011, I was completely ignorant of the facts of that truly horrific and tragic event. At that moment and in that place, the U.S Air Force dropped the world’s first Nuclear Bomb, callously named ‘Little Boy.’ In just a few bleak 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 of that year the death toll had risen to approximately 160,000, many of whom suffered long insufferable months of pain through burns or radiation sickness, and subsequently many more of cancer and leukemia as a direct result of the bomb. Today’s estimates suggest that a total of 300,000 lives have been lost to that single moment in history.
Few words are emotive enough to express just how heinous that act was. The U.S. believed the use of the nuclear bomb meant they wouldn’t have to involve the Soviet Union, thus restricting that country’s influence after the war. Many critics have shown since that the bomb was unnecessary to end the war in the east, so ultimately, it was a total and utter waste of civilian lives, and not only Japanese, but Korean and Chinese immigrant workers also living in the city. Many nations before and since 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 Hiroshima by bullet train from Fukuoka, I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of how the city would look. I’d done a little research, but all I knew was that we’d visit the Peace Park and memorial, the museum and various other monuments related to the 1945 attack.
My first impressions were a little surprising, though I’m not really sure why. What we saw as we trundled along in an ancient and original tram were wide, tree lined boulevards, cosmopolitan restaurants and a calm yet thriving city, modern yet understated, clean and alive. We headed straight to the Peace Park, and in order to gain a greater understanding of the city and its past we went inside the modern museum. I’ve visited some harrowing places before: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, for example, and each time my heart was broken. 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 by civilians of all ages, so many of whom were young children. It was simply crushing.
In the park is the A-Bomb Dome, and though destroyed it was the only structure left standing. Today it serves two purposes: First, it’s a reminder to the world about the tragedy of that time, and second, to inspire the city to embrace peace. The eerie shell, somehow graceful in its warped appearance, continues to inspire today. Walking around that area is surreal; only 600m above your head is where the bomb actually detonated. As the frightening scale model below shows, it was a thought provoking and somewhat harrowing experience, and as I looked up into the beautiful blue sky I couldn’t begin to imagine the horrors that the people of that 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 tram system, the city’s pulse, was soon set running again, not only as a necessary part of the infrastructure, but as a convincing 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, its history will not and should not be forgotten.
A Legacy of Peace
The Hiroshima of today is a beautifully green and laid back city. Its 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, and 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 as the passing of time helps to heal her physical scars, we must never forget the tragedy that happened there!
8:15a.m, August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima !