The Peace Park Story

Today I’m going to write about something a bit serious and somber.

Thanks to having parents who fully supported my desire to become fluent in Japanese, I had the good fortune of going abroad to Japan for two summers in high school (and then for my entire junior year of college–see more stories about that here.) I spent both of those summers going to high school in Hiroshima.

Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I was so eager to spent my summer break in classes that I barely understood. But I was.

There is a place in Hiroshima called the Peace Park. It’s at the epicenter of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and it remains as a memorial to those who were killed that day. It’s a beautiful, sprawling park with an amazing museum, tons of paper cranes (which people make to honor the dead), and the Gembaku Dome, one of the few buildings that survived the blast.

The first time I went to the park, I was moved beyond words. It’s hard to comprehend the feeling of standing on the hollowed ground where so many thousands of people shared the same moment of death. A death at the hands of America, my home country. I wept the first time I walked through the museum, a place where you can not only see the shadows of people who were instantly killed by the blast forever burnt into stone steps, but also where you can read statements from Japanese leaders about how they hold no hard feelings against America. How they simply want peace.

I passed the park–specifically, the Gembaku Dome–almost every day that I spent in Hiroshima. I passed it to go to school. I passed it to go to the mall. I passed it to meet friends.

The park became part of my daily routine. And so every day I thought less and less about what it meant, about what had transpired there. I didn’t want that to happen, but it did.

I try not to be political on this blog. I stay away from saying anything controversial because I truly don’t want to incite hatred or offend anyone. But I want to say this, just once:

I think that dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was a terrible, terrible thing to do.

In Hiroshima, 66,000 citizens–not military–were instantly killed. Three days later in Nagasaki, 39,000 people died on impact. Hundreds of thousands of people died soon afterwards in both cities, both from the radiation and from dehydration.

I’ve heard the arguments that are pro-bomb, I really have. The war undoubtedly would have continued for a while had the bombs not been dropped. There may have been long-term implications involving other growing powers in Asia. The world would most certainly be a different place.

But I really just have a hard time reconciling the idea that instantly killing 105,000 civilians–or any type of human being–is the right choice. I can’t even wrap my mind around it.

Why does this matter today? Well, I’m thinking about it because we just passed the anniversary of those bombs. But I think it truly matters because I would love to be an American in a country where my fellow citizens acknowledge that we did something wrong 65 years ago. I’d love to be an American in a country where we had the balls to apologize for our forefathers’ mistake just as we’ve reconciled for other monumental mistakes (see: slavery). Maybe that’s just me.

Where do you stand?