On the 6th August 1945, at 8:15am, America dropped the first atomic bomb to be used against humankind on Hiroshima. You know this story; it was the story we grew up hearing about, learning about in school. It’s the photo’s we’ve seen. It’s a story of war, of horror & evil, of grief and devastation. But there is so much more to the story than I ever knew, so much more we should all be told, be talking about every day. When the bomb exploded, it was 600m above the earth. The order had been given a few days before. The A-bomb would be dropped on Hiroshima, Nagasaki or KoKura, depending on visibility although Hiroshima was the primary target. The scientists working on the bomb at the time had warned the government that a warning should be given or America would risk backlash from the rest of the world for their actions but they ignored it. On July 16th the first ever atomic detonation was tested in a remote part of New Mexico; an open, empty space that couldn’t have indicated the true devastation the bomb would bring,not that they were testing for that – more for the reaction of the explosion and whether it would work at all. Japan refused to sign the Instrument of Surrender to bring about the end of the war and unbeknownst to them, they sealed the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forever. In one of the letters displayed in the museum from one American official to another, it is said that they had spent 2 billion dollars developing the a-bomb, they had to use it otherwise their would be questions as to why such a large amount of money was spent creating it. They had to use it. On the 6th of August the skies were clear and Hiroshima was sealed as the target. There were three jets – one with the bomb, one with observation equipment and another with scientific equipment. When it exploded, the temperature at the epicentre reached near 4000°C. Survivors have drawn images of people running away, their skin melting off their bodies. They paint pictures of people diving into the river to escape the heat only to find the water near boiling. They describe a river full of floating bodies. People 1.5kms away suffered burns. When the bomb exploded, it erased an entire city. It erased around 100,000 of the 350,000 people that lived there, their lives taken from them in an instant and it went on to claim the lives of 140,000 more in the 6 months following. 3 days later, they dropped another one on Nagasaki. What scares me more than anything though is that the nuclear bombs we have today are 1000 times more powerful. If the a-bomb could destroy an entire city in an instant – what could they do today?
Despite the devastation and the horror, the Hiroshima of today paints a picture of peace. Everything is designed as not to simply impress upon you the horror of what happened, but to express the need for peace. It screams it. As the bomb exploded almost directly over the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, most of the building was left in tact. It was one of a very few that remained when everything else turned to ash. Today it stands, not as a reminder of the horror but for the importance of peace; a plaque telling of the intention for it to remain standing forever, to never let the world forget it’s message. I can’t describe to you how it feels to stand and look at the ruins of a building partially destroyed by an atomic bomb. I absolutely cannot describe the emotion I felt when I stood looking at the Peace ‘Watch’ Tower, realising that it has only been 29 days since the last nuclear test was conducted, and by America at that. The most incredible part is that the museum, which holds an entire history of Hiroshima, not just of the bomb, does not paint Japan as innocent in any way. They are completely open about their involvement in the war and it’s surprising. It makes the message here so much stronger when they are openly admitting how wrong they were to want war. They realised that nuclear weapons will mean the end of humankind and they are trying to make us realise it too. On a wall in the museum, they have reproduced every letter sent in protest to the American government, the last being on the 6th October I believe to Barack Obama. I don’t know why but it hadn’t occurred to me that this man, someone whom I believed would take the world in a new direction, would be involved in the remaining of nuclear bombs to this day but he is.
Three days after the bomb exploded, the streetcars resumed operation and power was restored. Even though they believed nothing would grow for decades, grass began to sprout in the weeks following the explosion. Japan signed the agreement; part of which detailed conditions that Japan was not allowed to have an army and American occupation began. They tried to suppress information being communicated about the bomb and it’s effects and they started to study the effects of exposure to radiation had on the survivors. When they left in 1967, Japanese scientists continued the American research and have been able to determine that there does not appear to be any indication that any illness due to exposure will become hereditary. Recently the agreement expired but Japan has chosen to continue as they are, the only military bases existing here being of American control.
This is only a mere snapshot of what I took in over the day I spent in Hiroshima at the A-bomb dome and in the museum. I was so mentally exhausted afterwards I could only sit in the common of the hostel, have a few beers and float away. The facts and figures of the event are overwhelming and far too great to list in a post on my blog. It is seriously important for us to understand the events of the pacific war if we are ever going to prevent a nuclear holocaust. I would seriously recommend anyone to go to Hiroshima and to experience it for yourself (the Jetstar fares are seriously cheap at the moment I hear!) In Australia, I fear that we have almost suffered a similar fate to that of the American public in the memory of the bombing of Hiroshima that has been given to us and I am so grateful that I understand more of what happened on and leading up to that day. I know it’s a bit of a ‘you put down your gun and I’ll put down mine’ situation which is why I believe the abolition of nuclear weapons will never occur but I hope for my future and the future of people to come that it will.
The strange thing is, today, we were sitting in the train station waiting for our Shinkansen to Kyoto when a lady and her granddaughter sat beside us. The lady struck up a conversation with us and we discovered that she was born in January 1946, her mother was 5 months pregnant with her when the city was bombed. I guess that’s Hiroshima though.