No Japanese city outside of Tokyo holds as great a significance in global history as Hiroshima. A 15-minute tram ride from JR Hiroshima Station transports you from the lively bustle of the city to the calm of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. From the tram stop, the first monument you will see is the Atomic Bomb Dome, its skeletal structure appearing gradually from behind the rustling trees that gently break the silence.
On a hot day, the Ota River, beside which the Dome stands, glistens in the sun, and even the rust and dust of the dome shine — a cheerful brightness that echoes the clear summer morning on which the atomic bomb exploded above it at 580 meters on Aug. 6 1945.
In an attack that destroyed approximately 70 percent of the city’s buildings, the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall — named the Atomic Bomb Dome after the war — was the building closest to the hypocenter of the bomb which remained partially standing.
The hall’s name is ironic, since the city was chosen as the bomb target because of its industrial and military establishments. Now just broken walls and rubble, its dome-shaped roof is woven with twisted wire, resembling a bald head with the last of its prickly hair standing distressfully on end.
As familiar an image as it is, its existence remains controversial. Its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 met with opposition from Washington and Beijing. The delegate of the United States to the World Heritage Committee dissociated himself from the decision, expressing concern about “the lack of historical perspective,” while China had “reservations” since “it was the other Asian countries and peoples who suffered the greatest loss in life and property.”
Across from the river over T-shaped Aioi Bridge, whose distinct structure made it the target for the B-29 aircraft Enola Gay whose bomb directly killed 80,000 as well as another 60,000 in the following months from injuries and radiation exposure, spreads the expanse of the Peace Memorial Park.
A famous cherry-blossom site in spring, the park is separated from the city noise by thick trees with sunlight pouring down unobstructed by tall buildings. The Children’s Peace Monument, one of the dedications to the bomb’s victims nearest the foot of Aioi Bridge, was built in memory of Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 when the bomb was dropped and died of radiation poisoning 10 years later. She believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would be cured, so she made them in her hospital bed until her death.
Close by, tall glass cases stand crammed full of handmade paper cranes of all sizes and colors that are being continuously sent by those actively promoting peace — and particularly children — from across the world. After being displayed, some cranes are made into souvenir bookmarks that are sold in the nearby gift shop.
Indeed, the appeal of the Peace Memorial Park is in its emotional, visually dramatic and optimistic outlook. At the center of the park, a chest holding names of all the people killed by the bomb is protected by an arch-shaped monument through which you can see a powerful view of both the Peace Flame and the Atomic Bomb Dome. And every now and then, the warm breeze carries the sound of the Peace Bell, rung by visitors.
The factual appeal comes at the furthest end of the park, in the Peace Memorial Museum. The large building is often crowded, particularly during the holidays, and this writer overheard both heated and subdued conversations among visitors of many nationalities, including Japanese, American and Chinese.
The exhibition is extensively multimedia, with interactive in-depth information boards, video footage, displays of objects that were mangled by the heat and light from the bomb, and accounts of survivors.
Whether the museum represents the atomic bombing accurately with reagrd to all those involved and affected, is a debate that is, perhaps, irreconcilable. Some Koreans find inadequate the dedication to Korean conscripts brought to Japan during World War II to work as forced labor, who constituted one in seven of the victims of the attack on Hiroshima.
Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the event that the museum remembers is buried in such doubt and controversy that it is difficult to imagine a “fair” representation. It is generally accepted that U.S. President Harry S Truman (who took office on April 12, 1945 after Franklin D. Roosevelt) issued the Official Bombing Order on July 25 in order to end the war quickly, thus avoiding American casualties in an invasion that would otherwise occur. Yet this is challenged by those within the U.S. Army.
Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs that “[it] always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.” Even before the air raids in Tokyo in March and May that year, a 40-page memorandum was allegedly delivered to Roosevelt in January, afterward leaked by the president’s own chief of staff Adm. William D. Leahy, which outlined surrender terms offered by Japanese officials that were virtually identical to those ultimately accepted.
And yet for all the historic devastation and cries for a nonnuclear world, the reactions of the Japanese and America’s enemies were also multifold. Prime Minister Eisaku Sato won the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for drawing up the Three Non-Nuclear Principles in 1967 (later the Four-Pillars Nuclear Policy), a parliamentary resolution against nuclear possession, but only so long as they could rely on U.S. nuclear deterrent. And this agreement with the United States echoed the voices of even those who opposed the idea of the States as a nation-state.
It was anti-imperialist British writer Bertrand Russell who wrote in the essay “The Bomb and Civilization” in late 1945: “Either war or civilization must end, and if it is to be war that ends, there must be an international authority with the sole power to make the new [atomic] bombs. If one or two wars were necessary [for the United States to be the sole owner of nuclear bombs], they would be brief, and would soon end in decisive American victory.” If the United States had dropped the atomic bomb to outline the contours of the post-war world as Russell imagined it, then current world affairs certainly show that work being continued.