It was a beautiful, crisp summer morning. Parents were walking their kids to school, retired people were watering their plants in the garden and dads were leaving home for work, when three large planes appeared on the horizon. After a night of air-raid warnings, the “all-clear” had just been sounded, so there was no need to fear the incoming aircraft. Children waved at the approaching planes when 600 m above the center of Hiroshima the nuclear bomb detonated. In that instant 80,000 people died and Hiroshima, a city of 350,000 inhabitants, was destroyed.
The date: August 6th, 1945. The time: 8:15 am. The nuclear age was ushered in and the world was forever changed.
For Japan, this was the closing chapter in a war that the country entered with much pride and arrogance. By 1945 though, most of the bigger cities in Japan lay in ruins from weeks of air attacks and firebombing by the Americans. With a severely weakened military, for Japan, the writing was on the wall. Still, as late as July 26 the country refused to surrender, sealing Hiroshima’s fate.
Despite its military importance, Hiroshima had been spared prior bombing. The Americans wanted to have a pristine target to be able to accurately determine the damage one atom bomb can inflict. But it was not until 7:15 that morning that the city rose to the top of the list of likely targets. The determining factor: the weather.
By the end of 1945 the number of fatalities had reached 140,000. Many thousands more would die painful and agonizing deaths in the years following the war from residual radiation exposure.
Hiroshima was re-built, playing an important role in the world as a deterrent for future nuclear attacks and as an ambassador city for peace. Despite all, new threats of atomic war and destruction at a much greater scale are on the horizon. But next time, we expect bombs with 1,800 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
A few years back I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The same sadness and sense of collective shame that I felt then, I experienced this time as I walked through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. For me, taking in the images of human cruelty and suffering is not easy, but important. For the sake of our own sanity and the future of our children, I will never ever accept that nuclear war is inevitable.
I could have posted photos of bloated corpses floating in rivers or desperate mothers clutching their children as loose seared skin hangs from their bodies. Instead, I have attached a picture of a toddler chasing pigeons in front of the Peace Memorial Museum. Amazing how a shift in perspective can put a smile on your face.