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CC. Forgetmagazine
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 will help.

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 of hope.

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 answered.

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.

Miguel Strother hates operating systems.



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