Surreal Hiroshima, Part 1

The peace memorial with the A-bomb dome in the background, covered in scaffolding as they’re checking it for structural integrity, which strikes me as kind of surreal.

I just got back from a working trip to Hiroshima. The work didn’t take long, so I spent some time at the peace museum and park. This is not a happy story.

I had been to the Nagasaki peace museum. I’d seen the personal belongings and photos of those innocents who died so horribly. I thought I was prepared for how it was going to feel. But what I didn’t know was that on that August day, over six thousand kids were in downtown Hiroshima doing demolition work to build, ironically, a breakfront against fires. Many of them were incinerated instantly. Some managed to make it back to their homes only to die in agony hours or days later, while their families watched. There was no medicine, no food, no clean water. There was nothing they could do.

The rationale/propaganda I had been fed was that Japan was never, ever going to give up so the bombs were dropped in the name of ending the war and bringing peace. The truth is that Japan was already done; I am told that it is commonly accepted here that the bombs were dropped as an experiment, just to see what would happen. I don’t think I can accept either of those explanations, not completely.

While I was trying to get my head around all of that, and finding it hard to breathe, a woman came up behind me with a grandchild, I assume. I don’t know; I didn’t dare to look because she said, loudly and repeatedly, “You see? America did this. All of this. This is all America’s fault.” She used that word, “America”. I just stood there listening and thinking, “You know, we can’t really blame Canada or Mexico for this, but I don’t really think it’s fair to blame me, either.” You can’t peg me as American just by looking; I’m often mistaken for German. And don’t forget that Japan and Germany were allies at the time.

As all of this rattled through my brain, I decided it would be prudent to walk away. The old lady doesn’t ever need to know that I understood what she said. I wish I could un-know about the kids.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOutside, despite the snow, there was a group of kids standing around the children’s memorial, silently, heads bowed, some holding hands. I can only try to imagine what was going through their heads.

The question that keeps going through my head, though, is this: Did they know? When they decided to drop the bomb, did they know about the kids? Did they?

I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know the answer to that.


8 thoughts on “Surreal Hiroshima, Part 1”

  1. I always thought the bombings were America’s response to the devastation the Japanese brought down on Pearl Harbor. I recognize and am horrified by the outcome but Japan picked that fight.

  2. I know America can be cruel, but I don’t think it was cruel enough to drop the bomb for revenge or merely as an ‘experiment.’ After all, we did make Kyoto a ‘no-bomb’ zone out of cultural respect and, decades later in Vietnam, we dropped a lot of agent orange and napalm, but no a-bomb (which, I’m sure, could have been an option).

    In history class I was also fed the belief that America had ‘no choice’ and we had to drop the bomb in order to make the Japanese surrender. I distinctly remember writing an essay about a prompt from my teacher, where he asked: “if you were the president, what would you do? Continue the fighting and lose more soldiers on both sides, or drop a bomb for a quick and swift end–but at a high price?” Now, after reading your piece, I wonder if that was even true at all (maybe America is feeding us a teaspoon of BS).

    Anyway, with Japan’s track record on history (it still publicly denies that they were involved with comfort women in Korea and China, and they continue to turn a deaf ear to the Nanking massacre), I’m much more inclined to believe that, perhaps, the American version contains a little more truth.

    Still, I respect the Japanese people for overcoming such tragedy and (although maybe not by choice) becoming one of America’s greatest allies. I met countless WWII veterans in Japan, and they welcomed me into their home with open arms, a hot meal, and some war stories. The past is truly in the past.

    The Hiroshima museum is heavy. I’ve never been to the Nagasaki one. It really gets you thinking, about peace and war and history, and walking through the peace park and the city of Hiroshima itself after that museum is really eye-opening. Despite all of the devastation its endured, Hiroshima is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.

    Nice post and great blog!

    1. Thank you, Mary, and thank you for the thoughtful response. I still have very mixed feelings. My Japanese husband and I have agreed to not discuss the comfort women issue because we cannot come to an agreement. He says nobody forced anybody to do anything and I say no woman ever, ever chooses unpaid prostitution unless she’s given no other choice. I’m inclined to believe there are truths and lies to both sides of all these issues.

      Thanks again and I look forward to checking out your blog.

  3. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, after some reading and trying to make sense of it:

    In answer to your question about people knowing: The cities shortlisted for targetting with atomic bombs were excluded from normal bombing runs, so that they weren’t evacuated. In other words, those giving the orders not only knew but actually encouraged the presence of children. Sigh…

Any opinions about that? I love to hear from you.

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