The Real Wish of Hiroshima Survivors

I write exactly 37 years after this city was devastated by an atomic bomb dropped from an American B-29. I am with a team of journalists visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the anniversaries of the bombings, August 6 and 9, and talking face-to-face with many of the A-bomb survivors known as hibakusha (pronounced he-bak'-sha).

Physically, Hiroshima has been completely rebuilt. Emotionally, however, those who experienced the bombing are haunted by depressing memories of unbelievable horror and suffering.

When you look over this large, densely populated city from one of the surrounding hills and realize firsthand the scope of the destruction and human misery caused by the A-bomb, you immediately see the madness of war and the inhumanity of the decision that brought searing death to a largely civilian population. You also see the insensitivity of the U.S. officials who yesterday, August 5, made a nuclear test in Nevada just hours before the memorial rites began here. This was widely reported in Hiroshima and perceived as a deliberate insult to the victims of the first atomic bombing and their families.

There are those who contend that the United States should not be singled out as if it were the only nation to bring about mass, indiscriminate destruction of human life; and, of course, the argument has some validity. The hibakusha themselves commonly direct their anger or dismay not only at the American leaders who dropped the bomb, but also at their leaders for inititiating the hostilities and committing atrocities of their own.


One thing the visitor to Hiroshima cannot deny, though, is the special and unprecedented magnitude of the first atomic bombing. On August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, 100,000 human beings died. The suffereings and horrors of that fiery moment are indescribable. But a second horror also followed from the dropping of that bomb—the launching of the atomic era and a nuclear arms race that could potentially wipe out all earthly life. The A-bomb blasted open the doorway to the ultimate horror—the engulfing of the whole planet in a hellish holocaust.

An American Catholic sister working in Japan for 30 years suggested to me that we Americas ought to accept responsibility for the bombing and express our deep sorrow for doing it. This may free other countries to confess their wrongs also and help the process of reconciliation.

The most profound wish of the A-bomb survivors is not to assign blame or guilt but that the worst tragedy of this century will not be repeated. The marvelous thing is that Hiroshima's citizens have made it the peace capital of the world. At the center of the city in its famous peace park is the sacred memorial cenotaph enshrining a stone coffin that contains a list, updated each year, of those who died from the atomic bombing.

The Japanese inscription on the coffin reads: "Rest in peace, for this evil wil not be repeated." All that the hibakusha ask is that we join the growing peace movement and help reverse the insane race toward self-destruction. Only then will they be consoled—knowing that they have not suffered in vain.—J.W.


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