2009/02/27

Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part IV

This is the final installment of this series of posts. Earlier posts can be found here:
Dai Hiroshima Ondo
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part II
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part III


On our third day in Hiroshima, we revisited the Peace Park. This time we also took in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which has so much information and so many displays that we broke it up into two visits.

In an age when thousands of nuclear weapons, all magnitudes more powerful than the ones used on Japan, stand in silos, airbase bunkers, and submarines, ready to be launched within minutes, and some people actually glibly call for their use, it is good to learn about what the effects of these weapons are. The museum is an excellent source of in depth knowledge on that topic, made personal by the stories of victims and artifacts of daily life - watches stopped at 8:15 AM, the time of attack - melted bottles, even melted roof tiles - an intact lunch box still containing rice, which a mother found under the burned body of her fourteen year old son.

And recollections of victims, like these:

"A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly when . . . ."

From Yoshito Matsushige, the sole surviving photographer who could only bring himself to take five photographs, "I fought with myself for thirty minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forward and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears."

And a this, “I went with my uncle to the charred rubble of his house, where my aunt had been. Near the back door, we halted. “Ah! Ahh…” We couldn’t speak. There before our eyes were the skeletal remains of my aunt, still standing. With large teardrops flowing down his cheeks, my uncle said, “Oh, how hot you must have been! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” My uncle gently tried to clasp her skull with both hands, but it suddenly fell apart into pieces on the ground.”


The main wing of the museum as seen from the Peace Flame.



Looking from the museum over the Memorial Cenotaph, Peace Flame with the Atomic Dome in the distance.


The area that is now the Peace Park was a residential neighborhood of wooden houses. On August 6, 1945, people, many of them children, were busy demolishing some of the homes to make fire breaks in anticipation of a conventional bomb attack.

Atomic Dome


On our last day, we visited the Atomic Dome once more then headed north from the park toward Hiroshima Castle. The castle, origianlly built in the late 16th century, was destroyed by the Atomic bomb, of course, and was rebuilt in 1958. It houses a museum of the city's pre-war history. We were not interested in the castle itself, however, but something on the castle grounds that I had read about and was curious to see. To get out of the August sun, we walked part of the way through an underground shopping mall.

Guard house of Hiroshima Castle


The moat around the guard house also separates it from the castle.


If you enlarge the picture above (click on it) you can see a berm or mound above the wall in the center of the picture. During WWII this was a communications bunker.
Once open to the public, the bunker is now sealed and marked with a plaque.



This housed the communication room of the Chugoku Regional Military Headquarters. Chugoku is the name for the entire region of west Honshu from Kyoto to the west end of the island.

Soldiers in the bunker were assisted by Hijiyama Girls' High School students mobilized for the war effort. The atomic bomb destroyed telephone and telegraph lines, but the students, using the barely intact military phone system, managed to relay news of the destruction of Hiroshima. Theirs seems to have been the first report of the atomic bombing.

Photo of the communications bunker taken by a US Army photographer, October 1945


The bunker was 700 meters from the hypocenter. We slipped though a narrow passageway between two sections of the bunker, only to find a dead end alley with an incinerator at the end. On the West side I found two sealed windows. However, there was slit that was just large enough to allow me to take a photo of the interior.


Inside the bunker.


In addition to carp, there are lots of turtles in the moat.


After lunch I took a few last pictures of Hiroshima and some monuments.

The Gates of Peace, constructed in 2005, says "peace" in 49 languages.


Mother and Child in the Storm - a mother with one child at her side and another trying to cling to her back, bends forward against the blast.


Over the last century, the proportion of civilian deaths in war has increased dramatically. In WWI it was 14%; in WWII, 67%; in the Vietnam War, the US dropped the equivalent of one 500 lb. bomb for every person in the country and killed three million Southeast Asians. In the 1980's civilian deaths accounted for 75% of war casualties, and now, the proportion is over 90%. With nuclear weapons, the victims are almost all civilians. This post is not to lay blame on this country or that, but rather to draw attention to the universal suffering caused by war and the fact that innocents are increasingly its victims.

During World War II, the United States totally destroyed five cities - Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

'President Truman was aboard the cruiser Augusta, returning from the Potsdam conference, when he was informed of the United States' incineration of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. Truman was exultant. He declared, "This is the greatest thing in history!" He went from person to person on the ship, officers and crew alike, telling them the great news like a town crier.'
~JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why it Matters James W. Douglass 2008


The full realities of the effects of nuclear weapons were hidden from the public for decades, and a mythology justifying their use on Japan was spun, as cold warriors planned for World War IV. Only in the last decade or so have documents become unclassified which reveal the truth. To those still clinging to the mythology of necessity, I urge you to do some reading. Soon after WWII Truman threatened the USSR with annihilation over, of all places, Iran. The British were in southern Iran at the time getting oil leases. The USSR had its army in northern Iran, seeking the same thing. Truman summoned Ambassador Andrei Gromyko to the White House and told him that the USSR had 48 hours to remove their troops, or the US would drop the only atomic weapon it had left on Russia. This from the same man who supposedly bombed Japan only as a last resort to "save lives".

Unless nuclear weapons are eliminated, it will only be a matter of time before they are used again, somewhere. Ironically, perhaps, it was military men - those in charge in the various theaters of the war in fact - who opposed the first use of them. Today, it is retired (of course) military men who lead the efforts to eliminate them - men like Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (USA, ret.), who is Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Jack Shanahan, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), but it will take public pressure on politicians to reverse the hold of the military-industrial complex which profits from these weapons systems.

Leaving Hiroshima, I was left not with feelings of grief so much as hope. It is a city that has emerged from utter destruction to become a vibrant place full of life and yet at the same time has not forgotten its tragic place in history and which works tirelessly to remind the rest of the world of that event until the day that nuclear weapons are no longer a threat to life on Earth.

We took a taxi from our ryokan to the train station. As we entered the parking lot and approached the line of taxis waiting to drop off their passengers, our driver shut down the meter to spare us from paying for waiting in line. Would that acts of compassion were practiced on a broader, larger scale. Peace.

A Hiroshima street corner with lots of examples of my favorite truly eco-friendly, recyclable, and sustainable transportation. ;^)

Heiwa Dori (Peace Boulevard). Considered extravagant when built in a cash-strapped rebuilding Hiroshima, it now is source of local pride and enjoyment for those who use it. Wide, tree shaded, landscaped strips with meandering lanes for bicycles and pedestrians flank each side. Pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, a motorcycle, cars, a bus and a street car can all be seen in this picture.


"We cannot and must not allow ourselves to have the message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fade completely from our minds, and we cannot allow our vision or ideals to fade, either. For if we do, we have but one course left for us. And that flash of light will not only rob us of our vision, but it will rob us of our lives, our progeny, and our very existence."

~Takatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima City

9 comments:

Arkonbey said...

I've often thought that Nagasaki would be a better monument to the horrors of nuclear weapons.

There can be arguments, however tenuous, for the military necessity of dropping that terrible weapon on Hiroshima, but Nagasaki was a blatant act of terrorism.

It is made especially more so by the fact that they knew, absolutely, the weapon's destructiveness after what it did to Hiroshima.

Don Snabulus said...

I wasn't aware of the nuclear threat against Russia...though I am not surprised.

90% innocent people die now...I wonder how many people would join the military if they knew straight up that 90% of the people they might kill or help kill would be innocent. The nation's 17 year old kids ought to know this.

Olivia said...

Your intro was very powerful.

I recently saw a documentary in which a female survivor, who had been pulling the night shift in that same bunker, waited for her replacement who never came. The blast actually threw her against an opposite wall, but she was spared the radiation. And then she had survivor's guilt when she emerged.

Pandabonium said...

Arkonbey - Thanks for your comments.

Nagasaki should be remembered and brought into focus more than it is. But Hiroshima had the dubious honor of being first, so it became the center of the anti-nuke movement. Also, Nagasaki, being located at the far end of the main islands of Japan is much more difficult to get to. These cities were isolated from the rest of Japan for a long time (partly due to US Army orders) and spreading awareness even within Japan itself took a long time, so having Hiroshima as a learning center is a good idea.

There wasn't pausing for a surrender between bombings and they knew the bombs would destroy an entire city before Hiroshima. If there had been more nukes available, they would have continued dropping them. Truman's order was to use the atomic weapons "as they became available". It just happened that only two were available before the war ended.

Snabby - I recently read about the Russia threat. Truman bragged about it to Senator Henry Jackson at a later date, letting it slip.

I agree that recruits need to know. It is up to the parents, teachers and spiritual counsel to tell them. This is why in all wars every country demonizes and dehumanizes their opponent to make the killing justifiable and acceptable at some level. No wonder there are so many vets with mental disorders and suicide rates are high.

Olivia - thanks. that's a very interesting piece of information about the girl in the bunker. Many hibakusha have expressed feelings of guilt over having survived, especially parents who lost children.

Martin J Frid said...

Thank you for 4 very insightful posts. I bet they were difficult to write, but you managed to convey so many emotions and information - deeply.

The new book by Douglass seems absolutely fascinating. I searched and found it over at Amazon.com and the comment section is impressive. Clearly this is a book that digs deep into the issues you are mentioning in these 4 posts: How did these horrible nuclear weapons become the main part of the military thinking, without any effective civil protests? Or, should I say, "in spite of" all the protests. It makes me MAD...

Reading about Douglass' book, I was also reminded of the thinking of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and his deep desire for global peace.

http://www.hundredmountain.com/Pages/pageone_stuff/mertonpages_fall00/merton_fall00.html

http://www.cpfphila.org/NL0812/NL0812_205.html

"Pax Intrantibus"

Pandabonium said...

Martin - thank you for your kind words and insights. That book is fascinating. You can borrow it from me if you like.

The protests came too late - long after atomic weapons became the focus of the military. How they did it is through secrecy, deception, and massive propaganda.

For decades, the top brass in the US even pressed presidents for a "first strike" against the USSR.

Thomas Merton is mentioned a lot by Douglass, partly because Merton was a major influence on him, but mostly because Merton was an influence on JFK with regard to nuclear disarmament through his correspondence with JFK's sister-in-law, Ethel.

Thanks for the links. Correction to the 2nd one:
http://www.cpfphila.org/NL0812/NL0812%205.html

The Moody Minstrel said...

Hiroshima is such a memorable city. I've been there many times since, for the better part of a decade, I wound up going there every year chaperoning school field trips. I had the honor of receiving a tour of the Peace Park personally guided by a hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) four times.

If the facts of the Park and the contents of the museum aren't enough to open your eyes, hearing a first-hand account from someone who was there definitely will.

On one of those occasions one of my students fainted.

(I know I've posted about my visits to Hiroshima enough times.)

Even without...or possibly thanks in part to...the A-bomb, Hiroshima is a unique city with a very rich local culture. The fact that they have a very unique dialect of their own (including more distinct words for seafood than can be found anywhere else in the country) is testament enough. You could spend months there and still find plenty to surprise you.

Oh, and in response to Arkonbey, I don't mean to dismiss or trivialize the Nagasaki attack, but it paled in comparison with the Hiroshima attack even though a more powerful bomb was used. The people of Nagasaki benefited from the fact that their topography shielded them. On the other hand, one of the reasons Hiroshima was spared from conventional bombing despite its obvious strategic importance was that it is flat, wide, and surrounded by a natural amphitheater (heck, the name "Hiroshima" means "wide [or spacious] island"), i.e. it was a perfect test subject for the full effects of a nuclear device. As a result, the casualty count at Hiroshima was much higher than that of Nagasaki (about twice in the immediate attack).

Martin J Frid said...

Moody makes some very good points about the difference in geography between Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Arkonbey, in fact, Nagasaki has a terrific monument too, and if you get a chance, please visit. Their Atomic Bomb Museum is on the web as well:

http://www1.city.nagasaki.nagasaki.jp/na-bomb/museum/museume01.html

http://www.exploratorium.edu/nagasaki/mainn.html

"Blatant act of terrorism" - indeed.

Pandabonium said...

Moody - I don't tire of your Hiroshima posts. Your numerous visits and experience with a hibakusha guides offer much. Thank you for sharing them.

Martin - thanks for those links. One of these days we'll get to Nagasaki.