I recently visited Hiroshima to give a speech. It is a city that I have visited many times in the past, and I am always amazed by its resilience. The city represents for me the human power of recovery and forgiveness.
The first thing one is likely to notice about Hiroshima is that it is a beautiful city. It has rivers running through it and many trees and areas of green space. Without the reminders that have been left in place, one would not know that it is a city that was completely destroyed and flattened in 1945 by the first atomic bomb used in warfare.
I was the guest of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center of the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the region with a circulation of some 600,000. Walking from my hotel to the newspaper headquarters, I entered the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and passed the famous Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings that survived the bombing. The Dome was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
In the Peace Memorial Park there is a Children’s Peace Monument, a statue dedicated to Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of child victims of the bombing. Sadako, who was two years old when the bomb was dropped, lived a normal life until she came down with radiation-induced leukemia at the age of twelve and was hospitalized. Sadako folded paper cranes, which Japanese legend says will give one health and longevity if one folds 1,000 of them. On one of her paper cranes Sadako wrote: “I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.”
Unfortunately, Sadako died without recovering her health, but her cranes have indeed flown all over the world. In Santa Barbara, for example, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and La Casa de Maria Retreat Center have created a beautiful Sadako Peace Garden, where each year on August 6th, the anniversary of the day Hiroshima was bombed, a commemoration is held comprised of music, poetry and reflections.
In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, groups of students visit the Children’s Peace Monument. I watched several groups of students pause in front of the statue to sing and pay their respects to the memory of Sadako and other child victims. All around the statue were brightly-colored strands of paper cranes, brought in honor of Sadako and other innocent children.
The Peace Memorial Cenotaph in the park contains a listing of all the people known to have died as a result of the bombing. Inscribed on the cenotaph are these words: “Let all souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.” Many people come to the cenotaph, bow and pray for those who died as a result of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Through the cenotaph one can see a Peace Flame first lit in 1964. When all nuclear weapons are abolished, the flame will be extinguished.
On the grounds of the Peace Memorial Park is a museum, which tells the story of the bombing of Hiroshima from the perspective of the victims – those who were under the bomb, the people of the city. With the city rebuilt and beautiful, the museum is an important reminder of the tragedy of the bombing, which caused some 70,000 deaths immediately and some 140,000 by the end of 1945.
The most impressive part of the experience of being in Hiroshima, though, is not the statues, the cenotaph, the peace flame or the museum exhibits. It is the survivors of the bombing with their remarkable spirit of forgiveness. Many of the survivors have mastered English and other languages so as to be able to travel the world and share their memories of the bombing. They do so in order to prevent their past from becoming someone else’s future. Though the survivors are growing elderly, their good will and their concern for the future is evident. They deserve our respect and our commitment to creating a world without nuclear weapons.