Dai Hiroshima Ondo
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part II
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part III
On our third day in Hiroshima, we revisited the Peace Park. This time we also took in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which has so much information and so many displays that we broke it up into two visits.
In an age when thousands of nuclear weapons, all magnitudes more powerful than the ones used on Japan, stand in silos, airbase bunkers, and submarines, ready to be launched within minutes, and some people actually glibly call for their use, it is good to learn about what the effects of these weapons are. The museum is an excellent source of in depth knowledge on that topic, made personal by the stories of victims and artifacts of daily life - watches stopped at 8:15 AM, the time of attack - melted bottles, even melted roof tiles - an intact lunch box still containing rice, which a mother found under the burned body of her fourteen year old son.
And recollections of victims, like these:
"A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly when . . . ."
From Yoshito Matsushige, the sole surviving photographer who could only bring himself to take five photographs, "I fought with myself for thirty minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forward and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears."
And a this, “I went with my uncle to the charred rubble of his house, where my aunt had been. Near the back door, we halted. “Ah! Ahh…” We couldn’t speak. There before our eyes were the skeletal remains of my aunt, still standing. With large teardrops flowing down his cheeks, my uncle said, “Oh, how hot you must have been! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” My uncle gently tried to clasp her skull with both hands, but it suddenly fell apart into pieces on the ground.”
The area that is now the Peace Park was a residential neighborhood of wooden houses. On August 6, 1945, people, many of them children, were busy demolishing some of the homes to make fire breaks in anticipation of a conventional bomb attack.
On our last day, we visited the Atomic Dome once more then headed north from the park toward Hiroshima Castle. The castle, origianlly built in the late 16th century, was destroyed by the Atomic bomb, of course, and was rebuilt in 1958. It houses a museum of the city's pre-war history. We were not interested in the castle itself, however, but something on the castle grounds that I had read about and was curious to see. To get out of the August sun, we walked part of the way through an underground shopping mall.
If you enlarge the picture above (click on it) you can see a berm or mound above the wall in the center of the picture. During WWII this was a communications bunker.
Once open to the public, the bunker is now sealed and marked with a plaque.
This housed the communication room of the Chugoku Regional Military Headquarters. Chugoku is the name for the entire region of west Honshu from Kyoto to the west end of the island.
Soldiers in the bunker were assisted by Hijiyama Girls' High School students mobilized for the war effort. The atomic bomb destroyed telephone and telegraph lines, but the students, using the barely intact military phone system, managed to relay news of the destruction of Hiroshima. Theirs seems to have been the first report of the atomic bombing.
The bunker was 700 meters from the hypocenter. We slipped though a narrow passageway between two sections of the bunker, only to find a dead end alley with an incinerator at the end. On the West side I found two sealed windows. However, there was slit that was just large enough to allow me to take a photo of the interior.
After lunch I took a few last pictures of Hiroshima and some monuments.
Over the last century, the proportion of civilian deaths in war has increased dramatically. In WWI it was 14%; in WWII, 67%; in the Vietnam War, the US dropped the equivalent of one 500 lb. bomb for every person in the country and killed three million Southeast Asians. In the 1980's civilian deaths accounted for 75% of war casualties, and now, the proportion is over 90%. With nuclear weapons, the victims are almost all civilians. This post is not to lay blame on this country or that, but rather to draw attention to the universal suffering caused by war and the fact that innocents are increasingly its victims.
During World War II, the United States totally destroyed five cities - Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
'President Truman was aboard the cruiser Augusta, returning from the Potsdam conference, when he was informed of the United States' incineration of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. Truman was exultant. He declared, "This is the greatest thing in history!" He went from person to person on the ship, officers and crew alike, telling them the great news like a town crier.'
~JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why it Matters James W. Douglass 2008
The full realities of the effects of nuclear weapons were hidden from the public for decades, and a mythology justifying their use on Japan was spun, as cold warriors planned for World War IV. Only in the last decade or so have documents become unclassified which reveal the truth. To those still clinging to the mythology of necessity, I urge you to do some reading. Soon after WWII Truman threatened the USSR with annihilation over, of all places, Iran. The British were in southern Iran at the time getting oil leases. The USSR had its army in northern Iran, seeking the same thing. Truman summoned Ambassador Andrei Gromyko to the White House and told him that the USSR had 48 hours to remove their troops, or the US would drop the only atomic weapon it had left on Russia. This from the same man who supposedly bombed Japan only as a last resort to "save lives".
Unless nuclear weapons are eliminated, it will only be a matter of time before they are used again, somewhere. Ironically, perhaps, it was military men - those in charge in the various theaters of the war in fact - who opposed the first use of them. Today, it is retired (of course) military men who lead the efforts to eliminate them - men like Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (USA, ret.), who is Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Jack Shanahan, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), but it will take public pressure on politicians to reverse the hold of the military-industrial complex which profits from these weapons systems.
Leaving Hiroshima, I was left not with feelings of grief so much as hope. It is a city that has emerged from utter destruction to become a vibrant place full of life and yet at the same time has not forgotten its tragic place in history and which works tirelessly to remind the rest of the world of that event until the day that nuclear weapons are no longer a threat to life on Earth.
We took a taxi from our ryokan to the train station. As we entered the parking lot and approached the line of taxis waiting to drop off their passengers, our driver shut down the meter to spare us from paying for waiting in line. Would that acts of compassion were practiced on a broader, larger scale. Peace.
"We cannot and must not allow ourselves to have the message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fade completely from our minds, and we cannot allow our vision or ideals to fade, either. For if we do, we have but one course left for us. And that flash of light will not only rob us of our vision, but it will rob us of our lives, our progeny, and our very existence."
~Takatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima City