Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hiroshima...mes amours...


Hiroshima is a charming and lively city, surrounded by lush tree covered high hills, with several rivers running through the center of town, creating a similar aquapolis feel to Osaka. Were it not for the event of Aug 6, 1945, this city would be just another of Japan's prosperous coastal southwestern towns. But of course it can never again be just one among many. It is singular, but not a tragic place now.

We arrived mid afternoon Monday and after checking in at our lovely ryokan (more on that later) we headed for the A bomb site and memorial park. The A Bomb Dome, famous all over the world, sits on a small plot of land right along the riverbank, across from the park that was built on the promontory created by the intersection of two main rivers flowing through the city. The surviving structure is a fairly modest sized 3-4 story building which is now extensively braced on the interior to prevent collapse.

The bomb detonated about 1500 feet directly above the Dome, searing or flattening everything within a several mile radius. Today, the city has been completely rebuilt, filled with office buildings, shopping and entertainment complexes etc. Aside from the Dome and the adjacent park and museum, there are no other visible reminders. Even the Japanese prime minister, who used to meet annually with the surviving victims of the bomb, has discontinued this practice. The deep wound has been mostly healed by now.

I wanted to see all of this for myself. Part of a larger goal that over the last 2 years has taken me to London's Churchill war rooms, to Auschwitz in southern Poland, to Berlin, and now here. Not sure why, since I am not particularly a WW II buff. I guess I thought I might achieve a better understanding of the war, the destruction, and the people who masterminded it, and in a sense I now do. And in my small and mostly inconsequential way, I wanted to pay respect to the victims.

Hiroshima and Auschwitz are not morally equivalent in terms of the destruction of innocent human life that occurred in both places. To me, though, Hiroshima is the outcome of what we get when each side dehumanizes its enemy in time of war. And sets on a course to win, unconditionally, at all costs. The Hiroshima decision will be second guessed and debated among historians for hundreds more years; Auschwitz will simply be mourned.

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