Lesson from Hiroshima [Archives:2003/658/Opinion]

August 11 2003

By Abdulrehman Thabet
Although she addressed us with a very sad tone and a rattling voice, we understood every single word she said. She was talking one of the most terrifying days she ever came across in her entire life, the 6th of August 1945. She is one of those people who witnessed that inauspicious day, the day when the war machine decided to use the first atomic bomb against a human population. She spent the night before that disaster at her aunt's house. Next morning, she woke up early at around 7:15 a.m. she asked her aunt's daughter to join her for a game in front of the house. It was a clear morning, bright and cloudless, something that encourages any body to have a day out. Suddenly, a flash of light pierced her eyes. The next moment the entire house collapsed on their tiny little bodies. They were trapped underneath. She did not know for how long she remained unconscious. She struggled to pull her self together again. When she managed to do that, she found that cuts are throbbing her face and hands. Her shirt was soaked in blood. Motionless, her aunt's daughter was lying some meters away. She died immediately after that terrible bang. The body was so burned she could not recognize it; she only knew her by that little silver necklace surrounding her neck. It lost its shining silver color and became as dim as an early September evening. She was able to poke he head out of the wreckage and tried to crawl to the nearby city center. At the beginning, she thought that some natural disaster targeted their house only and caused that much of damage. But when she freed herself of the debris and opened her eyes, the neighboring buildings that should have stood there were nowhere to be seen. Every thing looked like a sea of flames. For a while she thought that she did not wake up from her short coma because what was happening in front of her eyes was beyond belief. Thousands of people were hurling through the air, naked and burnt. The blast has blown their burned clothing to tatters.
In the city, where nearly all-standing structures were toppled, thousands were trapped under the debris. Unable to free themselves, they burned to death in the sea of fire. She was panicked people running here and there with their skins peeling off and left hanging in strips. Glass windows were shattered and many victims were left with hundreds of glass fragments lodged in their bodies. Decades later survivors still occasionally have such fragments surgically removed from deep in their flesh; some continue to live with fragments embedded in them.
The old lady was speaking to us in one of the halls of the Peace Memorial Museum, built in Hiroshima to “narrate” the horror of that event and to show the human kind deepest wish to eliminate nuclear weapons in order to realize a genuine peaceful international community.
The 6th of August and the days that followed were times the survivors find difficult to recall. Despite the pain, many have devoted their lives to the task of describing the experience. They come every now and then to the Museum to recall these memories and relive the horror times to convince the world never again to permit the use of nuclear weapon.
They recall things like the utter destruction, the tragedy, the overwhelming numbers of dead, the grief of family members they were unable to save, the physical disabilities and the constant fear of aftereffects. Mrs. Tanaka, the lady speaking to us that day, is one of them. Comprising of three buildings, the museum is located inside the Peace Memorial Park where the A-bomb Dome stands, the same place that received the hit. The three buildings contain a variety of functions, displayed and narrated by visual means in a very well manner, through which the city works to preserve the memory of the A-bomb and bring about world peace. The buildings also display belongings left by the victims and other materials that convey the horrors of that event. One of these things that touched my feelings deeply was a bicycle that belonged to one of the kids that were near the scene. Pieces of his skin, stains of blood and remains of his cloths were stuck on his bicycle. Maybe he was going to his school or to bring home something that his mother asked him to bring. No body knows because both of them were killed immediately right as soon as the blasts happened. In one of the corners stood a concrete pillar on which hundreds of letters are stuck on it. They are addressed by the Mayor of Hiroshima to various world leaders urging them to work for peace and to get rid of any mass destructive weapons. Later I understood that this is his daily main duty that he is performing, daily, with real enthusiasm and devoting. Like the rest of the people in Hiroshima, the atomic bomb experience convinced them that human beings could not coexist with nuclear weapons. Hence, Hiroshima, a city known for education, became better known for its efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons and bring about lasting world peace.
The victims Monument stands close to the center of the Peace Memorial Park. At its center lies a stone chamber that holds the Register of the A-bomb Victims. Each year on August 6 the names of victims who died because of the aftereffects are reported by their friends and families and added to the long list. The Japanese characters carved on the front of the chamber say, “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not reveal the evil”. These words pledge never again to repeat the evil of war. Visitors take this pledge as they pray for the repose of the souls of the A-bomb victims. The pledge expresses the determination of the Japanese to endure the sorrows of the past, transcend all rang and hatred, and work tirelessly for peace and mutual prosperity. The children's Peace Monument, the most popular monument, also stands at the other edge of the park. The monument was inspired by Sadako Sasaki, a vivacious young girl suddenly struck down by radiation aftereffects. She developed leukemia about ten years later. In the hospital she used medicine-wrapping paper to fold over thousands of paper cranes in the desperate hope that doing so would cure here. Her class mates similar paper cranes from children from all over the world who tried to stand with her during her crisis.
That activity continued until she died on October 25, 1955. Sadako's grieving classmates decided to build a monument in her honor. Their sincere patience led to a nationwide fund raising campaign to build a monument for her and the thousands of other children lost due to the atomic bombing. As a result to these efforts, the monument was built and revealed on May 5, 1958. On top of its concrete tower stands the bronze status of a young girl holding over her head a huge paper crane symbolizing the hope of all children for a peaceful future.
In comparison caused by disasters or conventional weapons, the tragedy that Hiroshima witnessed on August 6, 1945, and few days later on Nagasaki, represented an entirely unprecedented disaster. The potential effects of the radiation threaten the health of survivors to this day, and the mere threat has inflicted tremendous psychological damage. The suffering caused by radiation is immeasurable. In addition to that, the dropping of those atomic bombs thrust our world into the nuclear age. By developing nuclear weapons, human beings placed themselves on the brink of self-extinction. Hence, we must give a deep thought to this issue, not just on the A-bombs that were dropped on Japan but on war in general and actions that lead to war. We should manifest the spirit of Hiroshima and powerfully support Hiroshima's mission, the effort to help all peoples around the world join hands to make peace a permanent reality.