Thursday, 23 August 2012

Hiroshima: A Different Type of Flame.

by Alex Cross

Watch that stopped at the moment of the Bomb's impact: 8.15 am 

“How many died?” Eerily this is the question which I remember from my dream as I awake at a very early hour to take a Shinkansen train from Kyoto to Hiroshima on August 6th, 2012. I must have been dreaming about the event that is commemorated on August the 6th in Japan. As we check out and head for the station opposite it’s strange how the heat and the business of the streets are calmed at this time. As we hurtle towards Hiroshima at 240 miles per hour, it seems that we are being transported to more than just another Japanese city.

Campaigning for peace
We arrive minutes after the remembered time of 815am, the moment the first bomb was dropped on this once industrial city. On approach to the Peace Memorial Park, we are surrounded by manifestations. Listening to the chanting and looking at the banners it seems these people are campaigning for peace. The park is full of people being addressed in English and Japanese by a UN official. In the heat, people listen attentively and fan themselves slowly as the choir begins to sing. It’s a busy, but welcoming, place.

Grassy mound housing
the ashes of the victims
As the ceremony ends, the crowd begins to disperse and form lines, queuing for the museum and various monuments around the park. I am drawn to an especially long queue heading towards the middle of the park. Instead, we begin to visit the various monuments around the park which remember the people who were killed in this area in 1945, including the grassy mound which houses their combined ashes.

6th August Memorial Museum
and Eternal Flame
The museum relives the story and the history of that day and demonstrates the terrible effects the nuclear bomb had on both Hiroshima and the people in the surrounding area. The museum is filled with fragments of the buildings which were directly affected by the fall-out of the bomb. Photos depicting some of the known effects on humans are demonstrated although the real extent of the damage close to the epi-centre is not described and remains an unknown horror. Letters line the walls of the museum calling for the end of such radical weapons and campaigning for the end of this destructive force. As I leave the museum, I am struck by a poem which is on the picture as we exit:

That autumn
In Hiroshima where it was said
“For seventy five years nothing will grow”
New buds sprouted
In the green that came back to life
Among the charred ruins
People recovered
Their living hopes and courage

Sculpture of mother protecting children
Reading this poem, I am struck by how this disaster on 6th August 1945 was accepted and how far the Japanese defied the world’s expectations to mourn but instead embraced their defeat and rebuilt Hiroshima from the ashes. As John Dower noted, “The Potsdam Proclamation was by no means a tame document. I assured the Japanese they would not be enslaved or destroyed as a nation, although they would lose their empire… “stern justice” would be meted out to war criminals… the economy would be demilitarised but eventually permitted to return to world trade, and the government would be required to … establish freedom of speech, religion, and thought, as well as fundamental human rights”.

Folded paper cranes,
representing prayers for peace
and memorialising Sadako Sasaki
It was within this proclamation that Japan accepted and appreciated General MacArthur’s concern for the country and its emperor and began to rebuild itself.  Military stockpiles were hidden or moved to the black market and big business became passive, leaving entrepreneurial initiative to small and medium size businesses. The censors set limits as new publications contributed to the chorus heralding change. Despite MacArthur’s assumption that occupation would last no more than three years, Japan grew tired of foreign control as three years realistically became six, until the conflict in Korea ushered in a new military distraction.  It was this acceptance and determination by Japan to embrace defeat and grow from the ashes which allowed it the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that the nation had survived the defeat and emerged essentially unchanged. It seems this ability to cope and re-grow following disaster has not disappeared in Japan as the recent fight to recover after the Fukushima disaster has shown.

The Dome

As we leave the museum, I head towards the dome of the only remained standing building after the bombs were dropped, which has been preserved in its bombed form as a UNESCO World Heritage site: a stark reminder of the effect such weapons can have. Peace demonstrators continue to fill the park, speaking openly about the desire and need for an end to nuclear weapons and the establishment of world peace. Finally, I follow the previously busy area in the centre of the park which leads me to the Eternal Flame, protected by phoenix trees and reflected in a pool of water stretching behind the flame. Unlike the Olympic flame, though, it’s one I desperately hope will be extinguished in the future. This flame will, however, only be extinguished once the use and existence of nuclear weapons cease. In the evening, this flame is remembered further as people place decorated lanterns into the river in their hope that the flame will be extinguished and also in memory of the people who were unable to embrace the defeat and rise from the aftermath of August 6th, 1945.

“How many died?” Too many.

Memorial lanterns floating on the Ota River

(All images provided courtesy of the author)

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