It was 64 years ago today: the Allies dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in efforts to force Japan into surrender. The bomb was dropped by the Enola Gay at 8:15 in the morning, just as schoolchildren were arriving at school and businessmen were walking to work. About 80,000 people were killed instantly (about 30% of the city’s population at the time), and in the bomb’s aftermath many thousands more would perish.
I read a great article today entitled “Remembering Hiroshima Rightly.” The author wisely points out that, amid all the political talk of nuclear weapon proliferation and the rightness or wrongness of the decision to drop the bomb, we should mostly just remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki “as two events involving massive suffering and loss of life, situated within the vast tapestry of suffering and death that was World War II.”
In our world of desensitized violence, partisan bickering and over-mediated orgies of commoditized discourse, we so often forget to remember: People died. People are dying. We should all agree on and share in the necessary mourning of humanity lost.
Two years ago, I was in Hiroshima. It was a short stop during a long trip to Japan, but it was one of the most meaningful travel experiences I’ve ever had.
The city is modern now, and bustling, full of life and food and promise. But on the day I was there, it was cloudy and rainy, suitably morose. My friends and I walked around the various memorials in the “Peace Park,” under the “52 Gates of Peace,” and in the vast museum that stands not too far from ground zero of the bomb. It was fascinating, draining, heartbreaking, hopeful, and wet (raining the whole time).
At one point an elderly Japanese woman came up to me in one of the garden areas, and tugged at my shirt.
“American?” she asked. I nodded, wondering if she was going to slap me or spit on me or something.
Instead she took my hand and clasped it in hers.
“Thank you for coming here,” she said. “Thank you seeing this.”
She smiled at me and left it at that, and I wondered what in the world that exchange meant. It was already weird enough being there, as an American, two generations removed from the Americans who made the decision to drop the bomb. It was weird that I was from Kansas City, the hometown of Harry Truman, the man who said yes to dropping the bomb.
But mostly it was just a reminder that I was alive. I was a survivor just like this old Japanese woman. I was born in a place that didn’t get bombed and I’ve thus far avoided mortal calamity. And it’s not because of anything that I’ve done. It’s just by the grace of God. In a world as unfathomable and unforgiving as this one, that’s one bit of understandable comfort that I cling to.