We stared with hands clasped over our open mouths and eyes glued to the figures before us. They were bathed in the red of their own blood, burned skin, and the flames that surrounded them. Their clothes and skin hung from their bodies in ragged pieces and their mouths hung open in silent screams. A melancholy voice droned in our ears, drowning out the sounds of the surrounding crowd with the saddest poem we had ever heard. All the while we watched the figures frozen in time, their bloodshot eyes begging for a quick end to their painful suffering.
This is the first display in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first and deadliest nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The city itself housed a major military base and was one of few major Japanese cities that the Americans hadn’t hit during the World War II. On August 5th, 2015 almost seventy years after that fateful day, a small group of 21 American high school students stepped into the museum, donned headphones and toured the museum commemorating the bombing. I was one of them.
Along with the first display of four individuals staggering in the aftermath of the bomb, there are countless artifacts: charred baseball uniforms, family heirlooms, building shards stained with the black rain that fell a few days after the bomb hit. Those who survived were left with horrible burns, and those who were not severely burned became outcasts wherever they went due to the level of radiation they had received that could be passed down for generations to come. Those who survived are known collectively as the Hibakusha.
Every step through the museum leads you through the minds of the Hibakusha. With the initial display you are wrapped in terror, you feel the fire on your skin, the ash in your hair and you are afraid and confused. As you move through the displays and exhibits you begin to feel that hopelessness and confusion. There is nothing these people could have done to deserve this pain and nothing they could have done to stop it from happening. The exhibits explain the science that went into the bomb, the warnings top scientists gave before it was dropped, and the effects it had on the people of Hiroshima. There was nothing they could do to change the past and yet they still blamed themselves for the bombing.
As the years wore on, the Hibakusha began to realize that it was no good to dwell in their own pain or to worry about the things of the past they couldn’t fix or prevent. Instead they focused on creating a future where bombings like those of Nagasaki and Hiroshima could never happen again. They wanted to put an end to the production and use of nuclear weapons to make up for the mistakes of the past. The spirit of Hiroshima City and Hiroshima Prefecture is that of peace and forgiveness and of glancing back for a short time to remind us to keep moving forward.
The spirit of Hiroshima followed me throughout the rest of the trip and even once I returned home. The world dwells in war and hate because there is so much from the past that we can never change. We can’t change slavery or past prejudice but we can’t forget the lives that were lost in the past trying to end those things. We can only use those memories to inspire us to create the kind of world we want to live in.
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