Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I was not fully aware of the circumstances and the devastation that happened with the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima at 8:15am on August 6, 1945.
“A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly when … “
When I stood looking at the skeletal remains of the A-bomb Dome, listening to a volunteer guide whose mother was in the 3km range of the epicentre when the bomb dropped, I was shocked. Shocked to learn that people had no warning before they were blasted with incredibly powerful radiation, what could be called a test study carried out by the US Government. People in the hypocentre were vapourised, or deformed beyond recognition – children out clearing the streets as part of Japan's war effort, innocent civilians in a busy urban area. Others still being counted have suffered the slow and insidious onset of radiation disease – suddenly arising cancers that are often lethal. The official numbers are now close to 200,000 dead, as a result of one bomb.
In the museum you can see the dark shadow of a person seated on some concrete steps – that was what tremendous impact the bomb had – burning shadows into stone. There are iron shutters bent outwards from the blast, pieces of melted debris and tattered school uniforms, remnants like lunch boxes all that was found by parents out looking for their children. There is part of a white wall in the museum that is stained with long drips of black rain – radioactive precipitation that fell on those still alive that were reeling from the impact of the explosion. The before and after photos show a landscape utterly destroyed, with some burned and tattered people scrounging in the wreckage. It's hard to imagine how dramatically and completely things changed for people in this city, with an early death toll of about 140,000 of a population of 350,000.
There is the story of Sadako Sasaki who was diagnosed with leukaemia at age 12, and started folding paper cranes – if she folded 1,000 cranes she believed her wish to live would be granted. She died, but her classmates continued folding cranes in her honour and a children's peace memorial was established in the park near the A-bomb Dome. Today it is filled with ribbons and poster designs made of paper cranes by people from all over the world.
In the museum you can see official correspondence between US Government officials providing their rationale and justification for the dropping of the bomb. The dropping or 'testing' of the bomb was seen as necessary in order to justify to the American people the enormous expense incurred in developing the bomb. There was an urgency to test the bomb before Japan surrendered, as they were on the brink of giving in, and there would be no excuse left to use it. Nowhere did I see a mention of the impact of the bomb on human life in Japan – I think this toll was considered part of the cost of war.
The museum also houses a more recent raft of letters – from the mayors of Hiroshima to Governments across the world in response to any nuclear test that is carried out, asking them to abandon nuclear weaponry. Hiroshima has become a city with a goal to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used.
In talking about this visit since I have been reminded that the museum contains no acknowledgement of atrocities carried out during the war by Japan, of which there were many. A good reminder, yet it still defies reason that such a weapon could be used at all.