The sixth of August marked the 65th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans on the city of Hiroshima, in Japan. Yesterday, August ninth, was the 65th anniversary of the second atomic bomb dropped by the Americans in Japan, this time on the city of Nagasaki.
Without getting into a political or moral discussion on the use of atomic bombs in times of war, I want to focus on some of the effects these actions provoked from people from all over the world.
Most of us have seen footage of the big white cloud spreading over the entire city of Hiroshima, seconds after the bomb was dropped. Most of us have seen daunting images of people dead in the streets, burnt to a crisp, or disfigured beyond belief. We also know of the many genetic and cellular mutations that brought about forms of cancer at levels never seen before for years after the bomb was dropped, and the birth defects that occurred for a long time.
The entire city was leveled, but if you go to Hiroshima today, you will see a modern city that does not have any reminder of this tragic past, with one exception. At the epicenter of the bomb, while everything else was destroyed, one building stood, and it is till there today. Now this building is the center of a memorial park dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb. Here and there are statues and thousands and thousands of paper crane garlands, brought by school children in commemoration of a little girl who died of cancer a few years after the bomb. In Japan, paper cranes are thought to bring good health to sick people. When this girl was still alive, children made origami paper cranes and brought them to the park, wishing she would get healthy again. When she died, this tradition continued, the paper cranes being offered to whomever still suffered from the after effects of the bomb.
When I visited the park and the museum, two things surprised me: a profound silence, and people’s attitudes. People were shuffling around from one exhibit to the next without making any noise, or wandered under the trees outside in complete silence. They did not talk to one another. They were in a state of shock. I felt the same. The enormity of what I was seeing – pictures of children screaming terrified, with their skin falling off their little bodies; mothers holding their dead babies, terror in their eyes and confusion because they couldn’t understand what was happening, houses burning, entire areas reduced to rubble in a matter of few seconds – was such that my mind could not process it in any logical manner. I felt overwhelmed by intense emotions that prevented me from thinking about what was going on. Like a traumatized person, I felt frozen.
The other thing that surprised me was the kindness in the eyes of people I met there, young and old alike, toward me. I expected them to look at me with reproaching eyes, with anger, even hatred, because I looked American, but I saw and felt none of that. It was a though we were all together in this, Japanese, Americans and everybody else.
It felt to me as though the enormity of this event had for a moment blurred our ethnic differences. The tragedy of the destruction caused by the bomb somehow united us in grief and determination not to make it happen again. In the end, we were all human, and it was our humanity that united us.