The last two weeks of my summer were spent exploring Japan. It was an exotic and enriching experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I made invaluable friendships and discovered countless cultural idiosyncrasies (some of them my own). However, one day of the journey in particular stands stark with importance in my mind: the day I visited Hiroshima, where on August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was detonated with the intent to end World War II. The city I saw was abundant with both people and development, making it hard to imagine that in one instant, 66 years ago, most of it was turned to dust.
I visited the half-ruined A-Bomb Dome, a building ironically spared due to its proximity to the detonation’s hypocenter. There, a Japanese volunteer gave me an oral overview of the history, complete with gruesome details of the day that eyewitnesses can only liken to Hell on earth. The docents at this site volunteer in order to practice their English (to me, this had its own vague irony).
From the iconic rotunda, I crossed a bridge over a river—a river that mobs of people once threw themselves into to escape the unbearable heat and raining soot resulting from the blast—and entered the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where monuments and a museum are maintained as reminders of those killed by the bomb as well as evidence for why an atomic bomb should never be used again.
As a U.S. citizen, I was anxious to see how the museum portrayed the events leading up to the momentous decision to drop the bomb. My mind was aflood with emotions ranging from anger to guilt. I thought of my grandfather, who fought against the Japanese as a naval officer—my grandfather, who waited for hours in below-freezing weather to enlist in a struggle to defend life as he knew it (Pearl Harbor had been bombed; his country was threatened).
Much to my amazement, the museum presented the facts in a strictly objective and informative manner. The commentary throughout the museum pointed fingers at nothing but nuclear weapons themselves. There was no apparent blame or resentment for the United States. That is not to say that all Japanese people, especially those that lost loved ones to the war, have forgiven the United States (as I’m sure my grandfather, were he alive, would have his own prejudices about my visiting the Land of the Rising Sun). But, in Hiroshima, I never felt accused.
I left the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with many thoughts swimming through my head, but one thing had solidified firmly in my heart: what was done to the city and people of Hiroshima can never happen again. There is a gravity to this sentiment that can only be realized by visiting the actual site of the catastrophe, which I urge every living human to do.
I am not arguing against war as a concept. To do so would be like telling a cancer patient that chemotherapy harms the body. War is an ugly answer to a hideous question. But on what better basis can we make tomorrow’s decisions than the results of yesterday’s?
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