from Miguel Strother
I've waited to tell you about my trip to Hiroshima because
it has taken me this long to begin to digest it. Even now, I'm
not sure I have come close to being able to comprehend what
it was that I saw and felt in Hiroshima. Hopefully this letter
I heard and read that traveling to Hiroshima was a very sobering
experience and knew going in that I'd probably be struck by
what the city revealed. But it is impossible to prepare for
what I am now convinced is among the most important geo-political
places in the world. Going to Hiroshima is like being on the
receiving end of an open-handed blow to the sternum and for
a time left me struggling for air and incapable of words. Now
I know why it is that when I talk to somebody directly about
Hiroshima they never end up saying much. I think it's because
the human mind is nearly incapable of dealing with the kind
of horror that a place like Hiroshima outwardly presents. But
you know what? Hiroshima actually offers an incredible message
The most memorable images of Hiroshima, in my mind, are the
streetcars. The city is modern and beautiful but many of the
streetcars have the same round, gray bulkiness of wallowing
hippos and move awkwardly through the city's traffic. It is
strange because almost all of the thousands of train lines in
Japan's big cities have an ultra-modern feel. I pointed this
out to my wife almost immediately after our arrival and neither
of us could come up with an explanation as to why. When we went
to the museum my questions about the anachronistic trains were
August 7th, 1945, less than 24 hours after the atomic bomb
"little boy" exploded half a kilometer above Hiroshima
the trains started to run at regular intervals. 70,000 people
were instantly killed by the most lethal weapon ever used in
the history of warfare. Entire families were wiped out. The
center of the city was completely razed. The city's biggest
hospitals and schools were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands
of people had their skin turned to something resembling burnt
newsprint. The sun was blotted out and the sky rained toxic
black tears on the white uniforms of the school children who
survived. The course of world history was forever altered. But
the trains still ran. They ran to offer the people of Hiroshima
a sense of normalcy and hope in a time of utter chaos and hopelessness.
In my mind the trains are as incredible a symbol of human resilience
as the bomb was of human cruelty.
Many scientists believed that nothing would ever grow in the
soil of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. But even the trees
at ground zero that were scorched to something resembling used
matchsticks defiantly shot green buds through their charred
black bark soon after the tragedy. The people called them the
phoenix trees. Now the peace park directly below where the bomb
exploded is filled with foliage. When we were there cherry blossoms
were beginning to erupt and fill the park with plumes of pink.
It is such a beautiful place that it is hard to imagine it as
the center of such horror. But the skeleton of the A-bomb dome
(Genbaku dome), a once beautiful example of western architecture
that was the only building in the area to partially survive,
broods over the beauty as a permanent reminder.
Such a chilling event is bound to permeate the art and literature
of the world, but obviously that is more noticeable in Hiroshima
than anywhere else. There are statues of mothers shielding their
children from the unseen horror of the bomb and of adults sympathetically
embraced. Even more profound are those statues that basically
resemble human figures but are broken and bent in such unthinkable
ways that it takes a minute to realize that they are meant to
be humans at all. There are letters about the tragedy printed
everywhere. Millions of folded cranes, a symbol of hope, are
draped on monuments across the city. But this poem by Tamiki
Hara really stood out to me:
Is this a human being?
Look how the atom bomb has changed it.
Flesh swells tearfully
All men and women take one shape
The voice that trickles from swollen lips
On the festering charred-black face
Whispers the words
"please help me."
this, this is a human being.
This is the face of a human being.
This poem offers, just as the dropping of the bomb should have,
a feeling of despair at the entire human condition. It transforms
both the victim and the perpetrator into one hideous image.
Hiroshima made me feel so sad for several reasons. First, because
of the suffering of the Japanese people and second because something
so terrible could be developed and then deployed by fellow members
of the human race.
I guess August 6th, 1945 was the moment when the outcome of
the second great war was effectively decided. You were fighting
in that war and maybe I should be thankful that all of those
people in Hiroshima died and you did not. After all, if the
bomb hadn't been dropped then the war may have raged on and
more lives, maybe yours, would have been lost in the long run.
But there is no way that I can think like that after seeing
Hiroshima. Nothing can resemble the horror of such an event.
No death can seem so cruel.
In the museum there are pictures of the little girl who contracted
leukemia several years after the bomb was dropped and the famous
story about the thousand paper cranes she folded while she was
on her deathbed. There is a young girl's sandal with the outline
of her foot permanently burned into it. Although the sandal
was found by her mother, no part of her body was ever recovered.
The steps of the bank directly below where the bomb detonated
are cased in glass. The haunting shadow of a man who literally
evaporated after the explosion remains etched into the marble.
There are pictures of a man whose fingernails grew black from
his hands and when he tried to cut them off they would bleed
profusely. He lived with the nails for the rest of his life.
There are pieces of burnt bone, skin, fingernails, melted glass,
pictures of full-body keloid scars, warped metal lunch boxes,
and tattered school uniforms. All are only a partial testament
to the absolute horror of the bomb.
When leaving the museum we were confronted by a series of rebukes
against the US-led aggression in Iraq. On top of the sadness
of an event that occurred almost 60 years ago we had to deal
with the thought that the human species has still failed to
evolve past the preventable horrors of war. After seeing Hiroshima
it seems inexcusable. I couldn't help but feel that if the architects
of war and aggression could come to this place for just a couple
of hours that their minds might be changed. Maybe I am too idealistic,
but if I learned one thing in Hiroshima it was the power and
importance of hope.
I guess the reason that I write this letter is because there
is nobody I know who had more of an involvement in the war than
you. I write it because you shared so many stories about the
war with me over the years but will likely never see the monuments
of Hiroshima. I guess I feel the same responsibility that you
must have felt when sharing the stories of the war with somebody
that will never really know what it was like. If we don't have
at least some knowledge of what happened then how can we ever
be equipped to stop it from happening again? I guess I went
there as much for you and the other people that never will as
I did for myself. I feel a strong sense of responsibility as
a result of my trip and even as I write this have a hard time
choking back the tears. I will never be the same.
hates operating systems.