On August 6th 70 years ago, the U.S. government dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Estimates on how many people were killed range from 140,000 to 200,000. It was the first time a nuclear weapon had ever been used in war. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki. These events are largely credited for ending World War II.
Tens of thousands gathered at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th to commemorate the dropping of the bomb and to recall the horror of that day 70 years ago. The city has done a remarkable job of memorializing this event and telling the story of what happened to the city and its people in the days following the dropping of the bomb. One photographer who took pictures in the immediate aftermath of the bombing buried his film to be discovered years later, undamaged by the radiation. Many of his photographs can be found in the Peace Memorial Museum that brings the horror to life in vivid black and white images.
I made a visit to Hiroshima several years ago while traveling to Japan for the Rachel Carson Trust of Japan. The exhibits at the Peace Memorial Museum do a remarkable job of reenacting the impact of the bomb on the city and its people. And if that were not enough, the museum hosts a hibakusha or “atomic bomb person” who tells their story of witnessing and surviving the bombing. Their words bring the bombing to life in an unforgettable way. According to a story in the Washington Post, the city is now training young people to be “memory keepers” in order to continue disseminating the tales of the survivors, the average age of whom is 80. There are over 200 atomic bomb story-tellers who are learning the testimonies of the survivors in order to continue telling their stories.
It seems quite important to many of the Japanese people that they not forget how the bombings came about and the devastation caused by the bombings. This sentiment is in stark contrast, however, to the intentions expressed by Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe who supports proposed changes in the Japanese pacifist constitution that was written by its American occupiers in 1945. But many in Japan feel that its pacifist ways have done the country well and challenge Abe not to renounce its existing constitution.
Regardless of how Japan moves forward with its internal struggle to address its role in the war, you cannot help by take-away the key message clearly intended at the museum and peace park and that is the destructive power of nuclear weapons and importance of living in a world without nuclear weapons. A message the U.S. among other countries are reluctant to adopt.