One thousand. It is difficult for the human mind to imagine a number this large. Indeed, how often do most people see one thousand of anything? It can be so hard to perceive such a large number that, oftentimes, people do not understand how large one thousand is. Imagine creating one thousand stories. Each of them is years long, has highs and lows, heartbreak and love. Now, imagine all of those stories ending abruptly, far too soon, and far too horribly. Next, do this 250 more times. Each of those stories you imagined is a human life. Each of those stories took years to create, and each of those stories connected to hundreds of other stories, all of which will now be changed forever. All of these stories were ended in a blinding flash of light resulting from a powerful new weapon that would usher in a new age of power for humanity.
Although we are here in Japan as students of religion, while in Hiroshima we made one stop that was important for us as Americans and citizens of an increasingly interconnected world. On August 6, 1945, a U.S. bomber dropped and detonated “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb ever to be used on humans, over Hiroshima. Almost 70 years later, on January 5, 2015, our class visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the surrounding monuments in order to better understand what the atomic bomb meant for the people living in Hiroshima.
Getting a Global Perspective
In preparation for our visit, we met with Professor Yasuhiro Inoue to learn more about differing views of the bombing worldwide through the lens of mass media. He reminded us that the American perspective is far from the only one, and that opinions of the bombing aren’t only divided into “agree” and “disagree.” We learned that global opinions of the bombings tended to fall into four main categories: those that think of it as ending the war and saving the lives of the soldiers that would have died, those that think of it as an atrocity or even a holocaust, those that have mixed feelings, and those that think it was a punishment Japan deserved. Professor Inoue made it clear that the point of learning about these viewpoints is not to decide which is “right” but to know that other viewpoints and opinions exist and we need to take them into account in order to really understand what the bombing meant to the rest of the world. With that in mind, we left for the museum the following morning.
It’s About People, Not Blame
Although we can’t possibly convey the experience of being at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum here in the blog, there were a couple of things that especially stood out to us that we want to share. The first is the way that the museum educates visitors about the reality of the bombing in a very personal way without ever pointing fingers or focusing on blame. What makes the museum so personal is that alongside information about the atomic bomb and its after-effects are items that belonged to victims of the bombing and the stories of the people they belonged to. Those items and stories make it easy to relate to the victims and understand the true significance of the bomb to the people living in Hiroshima. Despite being intensely personal, the museum always focused on the tragedy of the bombing and not who was to blame or the motivations behind it.
Working for Peace
The second thing stood out to us was the focus on peace. For a people that experienced such a massive tragedy, it was a bit surprising to us that the focus was on peace and there was no mention of resentment. Part of the museum was devoted to a discussion of nuclear proliferation and the elimination of nuclear weapons from our world, as one of the major goals of the museum is to prevent such a tragedy from happening again anywhere in the world. Outside the museum, there are also several monuments devoted to honoring the victims and calling the world to peace.
Far More Than 1,000 Paper Cranes
Of all the monuments in Peace Park, the Children’s Peace Monument was perhaps the most touching. The monument was built after the death of Sadako Sasaki, who died at age 12 of leukemia that developed after her exposure to the atomic radiation. Before she died, Sadako made over one thousand paper cranes because she believed the legend that folding one thousand cranes would make your wish come true. Despite having completed over one thousand cranes, she continued to fold paper cranes up until the last few days before her death with the hope that they would bring healing. Today, people from all over the world still send paper cranes to Hiroshima to be displayed alongside the Children’s Peace Monument in her honor.
Whenever someone mentions Hiroshima, the thought of the tragedy of August 6, 1945 is unavoidable. After visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, we all felt the weight of the atomic bombing and had a new perspective of the event. Like the number one thousand, the damage caused by the bomb is hard to understand, but this visit helped us at least begin to comprehend the reality of what happened. This was the most emotionally draining thing that we have done so far, but it was also definitely one of the most meaningful.