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Hiroshima

JAPAN | Monday, 16 September 2002 | Views [1044]

When I hear the word "Hiroshima," I think of a billowing mushroom cloud and the accompanying shock wave devastating everything within reach.  I think of the dead Japanese strewn everywhere.  And after visiting the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, I can accurately say that this image of mine gleaned from books is very true.

The beginning of the exhibit gave much history of the Japanese military and of events leading up to the war.  Then it merged into the events of August 6, 1945.  A before and after scale model of the hypocenter and surrounding areas filled the center of the first room.  It showed how the atomic bomb exploded 580 meters above the ground and devastated all the city located within a 2 km radius.  Out of the metropolis of buildings in the area, only between 10 and 15 structures remained standing, though burned out and weakened themselves.  Temperatures reached 5,000 degrees Celsius on the surface and the blast pressure reached over 20 tons per square meter.  It is the first time a nuclear weapon was used for warfare, and it is amazing, or maybe tragic, that anyone survived.

Hiroshima had a population of over 350,000.  Of that number, over 140,000 were killed, and another 150-200,000 would be plagued by the effects of the extreme radiation for generations to come.  The museum shoed artifacts from the victims like tattered clothes, charred lunches, and even a watch that had stopped precisely at 8:15 AM when the bomb was dropped.  Metal was bent and twisted with the extreme force, cement had been chipped by flying shards of glass, and shadows seared into the sides of buildings and on sidewalks left haunting reminders of the people and things that had existed only seconds before.

But out of it all, the most disturbing, yet necessary, aspect of the museum was the pictures.  Pictures of men with black and bubbling burns all over their bodies.  Pictures of women with patters from their kimonoes tattoed into their skin by the intense heat.  Pictures of children with no faces.  We Americans are not told of this when we learn about Hiroshima.  We are never shown the pictures, and deep down we probably never wanted to see them in the first place in fear of what we really did on August 6, 1945 and August 9 in Nagasaki.  They are gruesome and revealing and sickening, and if you don't walk away with eyes lowered, you can't help but stand there, eyes wide, absorbing the full horror of it all.  It disturbs me to even remember and write about those pictures, but it happened and these people were real. 

This day made the stories come alive, to actually see the devastation, the charred clothes, the wax figures with melted skin, and especially to see the pain portrayed so vividly in those photos.  "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."  I hope for the sake of all people, that the knowledge of what really happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 will not be forever confined there.  

Tags: japan, once in a lifetime

 

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