Monday, August 9, 2010

65 years after the Bomb

Peace cranes hanging around the Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.

Friday, August 6, was the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Yanked from slumber by a 5 a.m. alarm, Joe and I rose and got ready to catch the first train downtown to attend the ceremony. Thousands were already milling about the park when we arrived, but luckily we were early enough to grab a seat below the tents so that we could watch the ceremony shielded from the sun's brutal rays.

Friday's ceremony was attended for the first time ever by the U.S. ambassador and officials from the UK and France. Clearly, the mayor of Hiroshima said, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating the global consciousness. He pledged to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020, issuing an impassioned plea at the end of his speech that brought a tear to my eye:

We hereby declare that we cannot force the most patiently enduring people in the world, the hibakusha, to be patient any longer. Now is the time to devote ourselves unreservedly to the most crucial duty facing the human family, to give the hibakusha, within their lifetimes, the nuclear-weapon-free world that will make them blissfully exclaim, "I'm so happy I lived to see this day."

I was glad I went to the ceremony one last time. I feel privileged to have been able to attend and be a part of an event that brings together the citizens of Hiroshima and the international community.

Peace cranes in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome

Friends and relatives sometimes ask me what it's like being an American living in Hiroshima — is there lingering resentment against America for the atomic bombing? The answer, for the most part, is no. To me personally, the Japanese have always been very welcoming. Their sentiments seem to be that the bombing was a long time ago; now, we should look forward with a common purpose to build a more peaceful world. Some of my Japanese students and colleagues have discussed the bombing with me. They are eager to share their feelings about how terrible the bomb was, but they aren't angry — just adamant in their belief that the bombing was wrong and should never be repeated.

Occasionally we do encounter anti-American sentiment, though it's not common. There are some right wing nationalists in Japan that spread their message using vans that drive around neighborhoods spouting right wing propaganda through megaphones at high decibels. Unfortunately some of these guys came to the bomb ceremony this year to spread their hate and bile. As Joe and I walked over the bridge into the park, some Japanese people handed us fliers with a smile. Only later, as we sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, did I read the fliers and discover it was anti-American propaganda with segments like the following:

How do those people sleeping beneath the ground think of Japan today? How do they speak about the present situation that the U.S. has not only refused to apologize for but is also using Japan as a shield to defend their mainland from potential nuclear attacks and thereby draws Japan into another nuclear war? What do they say about the present condition of Japan in which the agriculture, fishery and industries throughout have been devastated, downtowns have declined, Japanese education, scholarship and culture have collapsed under subordination to the U.S.? How do they talk about the actual situation that the history of Japanese people has been broken off and has taken the same course as that of an American Indian? Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and innocent women, children, old people, workers and students were killed as mere worms. The dropping of the atomic bombs by the U.S. was completely unnecessary in order to end the war. It was a brutal act for the purpose of occupying Japan exclusively. Though the defeat of Japan was already obvious, Japanese rulers prolonged the war to maintain their positions against people's resistance, victimizing more than three million, welcoming the atomic bombings and occupation by the U.S. and practically selling the whole nation to the U.S. Such anti-national reactionaries have caused devastation of Japanese society today.

I was angry when I read this. Here thousands were gathered in a display of unity and peace to express the sincere hope for a world free of nuclear weapons, and at the entrance to the park were people still promoting division and hate, and assigning blame.

So to those who ask if we ever encounter resentment in Hiroshima — yes, but rarely. Those who feel this way are a tiny minority. The Hiroshima I know is a vibrant and loving city, looking forward with hope and optimism. While some may disagree about whether the atomic bombing was justified, they all seem to share the feeling that that's not what's important now; now, we just need to come together and work for a more peaceful future.

A woman prays at the Peace Bell in Peace Memorial Park. This is the bell rung at 8:15 a.m. each August 6 to mark the moment the bomb went off.


WorldlyPatriot said...

Gail: Thank you for your contribution to the 65th Anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima. I would also like you to know how much I appreciate your participation in JET!

As a retired American military officer preparing to visit Hiroshima for the first time, I found your words especially meaningful and helpful. You helped me better understand the feelings of the Japanese people regarding the events surrounding August 6, 1945. As a student of American military history, and with a special interest in WWII, I have often contemplated the decision to use atomic force, and the after-effects of the event on Japan and its citizens.

When I finally arrive at Peace Memorial Park, I know it will be an emotional time for me, and one of the most important visits of my life. Thanks for your assistance!

Gail said...

Thanks for your comment! I'm glad that you found my blog helpful. Enjoy your visit to Hiroshima and Peace Park. It's an unforgettable experience.