Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Hiroshima Day

Remembering Hiroshima & Nagasaki

By David Kriege

Just as most [of these] students do not take personal ethical responsibility to protest involvement in nuclear weapons research and development by their university, most leaders and potential leaders of nuclear weapons states do not accept the necessity of challenging the nuclear status quo and working to achieve nuclear disarmament.
What helped me to understand the horrendous consequences and risks of nuclear weapons was a visit to the memorial museums at Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I was 21 years old. These museums keep alive the memory of the destructiveness of the relatively small nuclear weapons that were used on these two cities. They also provide a glimpse into the human suffering caused by nuclear weapons. I have long believed that a visit to one or both of these museums should be a requirement for any leader of a nuclear weapons state. Without visiting these museums and being exposed by film, artifacts and displays to the devastation that nuclear weapons cause, it is difficult to grasp the extent of the destructiveness of these devices. One realizes that nuclear weapons are not even weapons at all, but something far more ominous. They are instruments of genocide and perhaps omnicide, the destruction of all.
To the best of my knowledge, no head of state or government of a nuclear weapons state has actually visited these museums before or during his or her term in office. If political leaders will not make the effort to visit the sites of nuclear devastation, then it is necessary for the people of their countries to bring the message of these cities to them. But first, of course, the people must themselves be exposed to the stories and messages of these cities. It is unrealistic to expect that many people will travel to Hiroshima or Nagasaki to visit the memorial museums, but it is not unrealistic to bring the messages of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to communities all over the world.
In Santa Barbara, where the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is located, we have tried to bring the message of Hiroshima to our community and beyond. On the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima we created a peace memorial garden that we named Sadako Peace Garden. The name Sadako comes from that of a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed to radiation as a two-year-old in Hiroshima when the bomb fell. Sadako lived a normal life for the next ten years until she developed leukemia as a result of the radiation exposure. During her hospitalization, Sadako folded paper cranes in the hopes of recovering her health. The crane is a symbol of health and longevity in Japan, and it is believed that if one folds one thousand paper cranes they will have their wish come true. Sadako wished to regain her health and for peace in the world. On one of her paper cranes she wrote this short poem, “I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world.”
Sadako did not finish folding her one thousand paper cranes before her short life came to an end. Her classmates, however, responded to Sadako’s courage and her wish for peace by finishing the job of folding the thousand paper cranes. Soon Sadako’s story began to spread, and throughout Japan children folded paper cranes in remembrance of her and her wish for peace. Tens of thousands of paper cranes poured into Hiroshima from all over Japan. Eventually, Sadako’s story spread throughout the world, and today many children in distant lands have heard of Sadako and have folded paper cranes in her memory.
In Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park there stands a monument to Sadako. At the base of that monument is this message, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. For peace in this world.” It is the message of children throughout the world who honor Sadako’s memory.
Sadako Peace Garden in Santa Barbara is a beautiful, tranquil place. In this garden are some large rocks, and cranes are carved in relief onto their surfaces. Each year on August 6th, Hiroshima Day, we celebrate Sadako Peace Day, a day of remembrance of Sadako and other innocent victims of war. Each year on Sadako Peace Day we have music, reflection and poetry at Sadako Peace Garden. In this way, we seek to keep the memory of Hiroshima alive in our community.
In addition to creating Sadako Peace Garden and holding an annual commemoration on Hiroshima Day, we also made arrangements with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums to bring an exhibition about the destruction caused by the atomic weapons to our community. The museums sent an impressive exhibition that included artifacts, photographs and videos. The exhibit helped make what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki real to many members of our community.
At the time of the exhibit, several hibakusha, survivors of the bombings, visited our community and spoke in public about their experiences. They brought to life the horrors of nuclear weapons by relating their personal experiences. There are also many books that collect the stories of atomic bomb survivors. It is nearly impossible to hear or read of their experiences without being deeply moved.
Here is the description of one hibakusha, Miyoko Matsubara, who was a 12-year-old schoolgirl in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. Her description begins upon awakening from being unconscious after the bombing:
“I had no idea how long I had lain unconscious, but when I regained consciousness the bright sunny morning had turned into night. Takiko, who had stood next to me, had simply disappeared from my sight. I could see none of my friends nor any other students. Perhaps they had been blown away by the blast.
“I rose to my feet surprised. All that was left of my jacket was the upper part around my chest. And my baggy working trousers were gone, leaving only the waistband and a few patches of cloth. The only clothes left on me were dirty white underwear.
“Then I realized that my face, hands, and legs had been burned, and were swollen with the skin peeled off and hanging down in shreds. I was bleeding and some areas had turned yellow. Terror struck me, and I felt that I had to go home. And the next moment, I frantically started running away from the scene forgetting all about the heat and pain.
“On my way home, I saw a lot of people. All of them were almost naked and looked like characters out of horror movies with their skin and flesh horribly burned and blistered. The place around the Tsurumi bridge was crowded with many injured people. They held their arms aloft in front of them. Their hair stood on end. They were groaning and cursing. With pain in their eyes and furious looks on their faces, they were crying out for their mothers to help them.
“I was feeling unbearably hot, so I went down to the river. There were a lot of people in the water crying and shouting for help. Countless dead bodies were being carried away by the water - some floating, some sinking. Some bodies had been badly hurt, and their intestines were exposed. It was a horrible sight, yet I had to jump in the water to save myself from heat I felt all over.”
After describing her personal struggle as a survivor of the bombing, Miyoko Matsubara offered this message to the young people of the world: “Nuclear weapons do not deter war. Nuclear weapons and human beings cannot co-exist. We all must learn the value of human life. If you do not agree with me on this, please come to Hiroshima and see for yourself the destructive power of these deadly weapons at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.”
A Simple Proposal
I would like to offer a simple proposal related to remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is also a way to confront the deadening myths in our culture that surround the bombing of these cities. I suggest that every community throughout the globe commemorate the period August 6th through August 9th as Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days. The commemoration can be short or long, simple or elaborate, but these days should not be forgotten. By looking back we can also look forward and remain cognizant of the risks that are before us. These commemorations also provide a time to focus on what needs to be done to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity and all life. By keeping the memory of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki alive we may also be helping to keep humanity alive. This is a critical part of our responsibility as citizens of Earth living in the Nuclear Age.
Each year on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days, August 6th and 9th respectively, the mayors of these two cities deliver proclamations on behalf of their cities. These proclamations are distributed via the internet and by other means. Copies may be obtained in advance and shared on the occasion of a community commemoration of these days. It is also a time in which stories of the hibakusha, the survivors, may be shared and a time to bring experts to speak on current nuclear threats.
The world needs common symbols to bring us together. One such common symbol is the photograph of the Earth from outer space. It is a symbol that makes us understand immediately that we all share a common planet and a common future. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are other common symbols. We know that these names stand for more than cities in Japan; they stand for the massive destructiveness of nuclear weapons and for the human strength and spirit needed to overcome this destructiveness.
The world needs to recall and reflect on the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as symbols of human strength and indomitable spirit. We need to be able to remember truly what happened to these cities if we are going to unite to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity and all life. We need to understand that it is not necessary to be victims of our own technologies, that we are capable of controlling even the most dangerous of them.
In their book, Hiroshima in America, Lifton and Mitchell conclude:
 “Confronting Hiroshima can be a powerful source of renewal. It can enable us to emerge from nuclear entrapment and rediscover our imaginative capacities on behalf of human good. We can overcome our moral inversion and cease to justify weapons or actions of mass killing. We can condemn and then step back from acts of desecration and recognize what Camus called a ‘philosophy of limits.’ In that way we can also take steps to cease betraying ourselves, cease harming and deceiving our own people. We can also free our society from its apocalyptic concealment, and in the process enlarge our vision. We can break out of our long-standing numbing in the vitalizing endeavor of learning, or relearning, to feel. And we can divest ourselves of a debilitating sense of futurelessness and once more feel bonded to past and future generations.”
The future is in our hands. We must not be content to drift along on the path of nuclear terror. Our responsibility as citizens of Earth and of all nations is to grasp the enormity of our challenge in the Nuclear Age and to rise to that challenge on behalf of ourselves, our children and all future generations. Our task must be to reclaim our humanity and assure our common future by ridding the world of these inhumane instruments of indiscriminate death and destruction. The path to assuring humanity’s future runs through Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s past.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is the co-author of Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age (Middleway Press, 2002) and the editor of Hope in a Dark Time, Reflections on Humanity’s Future (Capra Press, 2003). This article is being published as Blackaby Paper #4 by Abolition 2000-UK.
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