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
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
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 bombthe 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 horrorthe 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
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 consoledknowing that they have not suffered in vain.J.W.
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