I went on an anti-nuclear march in London with my parents, that ended up in Hyde Park. At midday, a klaxon sounded and everybody lay down on the ground, as if to simulate what would happen in the event of a nuclear strike. Somewhere near me, the then-leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot (a committed believer in unilateral disarmament, with whom I would share a train carriage and an hour of conversation on a train back from the Glastonbury Festival many years later), lay down with the marchers.
The march left a deep impression on me and a few of years later, I created a collage of an anti-nuclear protest march in my school art class. Some of the banners in my creation included the phrase I remembered so clearly as having seen at the march – ‘No More Hiroshimas!’
As soon as I got my first three day weekend off from work after arriving in Tokyo (about 10 weeks on from my arrival in Japan), I took my first trip outside of the capital. There could be no other place to go for a first trip than Hiroshima.
The piece found below was initially written up in my diary as I sat in the Peace Park (where the epicentre of the bomb’s strike was), immersed in my thoughts. I later twisted it around a little and got it published in my trusty outlet, Tokyo Notice Board. Wasn’t sure whether they’d take something of such a heavy nature as they mostly published slightly more frivolous articles along the lines of ‘Isn’t Tokyo funny?’ or ‘What’s different between Japan and my home country’. However, publish it they did.
That visit also laid the foundations for the peace work (Peace Not War Japan) that I later started here too. Personally, I’d recommend that everyone should visit Hiroshima at some point in their life. It shows what people are capable of doing to each other and provides deep grounds for thought and reflection on the nature of war and peace.
All photos shown here are taken from that visit.
Outside the Park, the city goes about its daily business, the wheel still turning as if it had never been stopped. Modern day Hiroshima looks as if it were constructed from flat-packs, neatly yet hastily reassembled with little serious artisanship. Yet it is testament to the incredible rejuvenative powers that humans possess, the power to rebuild, to start afresh where once there was nothing. Inside the Park, an appropriate oasis of calm in a city with admittedly less of the eye-popping bustle than Tokyo, hordes of schoolchildren pass through. Some draw pictures or recite poems. Others lay wreaths at the Cenotaph. All feel the effects, the traces or the memories left by the fates that befell their ancestral countrymen, women and children.
It could have been any group of people that it was dropped on. Potentially, it could have been any nation that dropped it. Historical circumstances just so conspired that it was America that dropped the Atomic Bomb on Japan. It didn’t cause the greatest number of deaths within that section of that period of conflict. The Americans killed tens of thousands in the bombings of Tokyo. The Japanese themselves, during the Rape of Nanking, brutalised the Chinese in greater numbers than the combined mortals effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hitler’s concentration camps. Stalin’s Gulag. Leningrad. Millions were slaughtered in the name of the growth and eventual decline of the British Empire. But there is just something about Hiroshima, having been victim to the first bomb thus more so than Nagasaki, that represents the sheers horrors and inhumanity of such brazen and naked warfaring.
In the distance, another child chimes the Peace Bell.
Is any one of these children capable of growing up and taking the decision to wipe out such a vast number of his fellow species in one fell swoop (the gene surely cannot be that selfish)? Potentially, although one would certainly hope that a childhood visit to a place like this would leave enough of an impression to last long into later days, and bequeath an understanding of an unknown individual’s right to life. Japan seems quite at ease with its humiliation becoming a focus for tourism. Maybe it goes well beyond such things. It just happened to be Japan that it fell on. Japan therefore has a duty to hold a mirror up to the potentials for human folly.
It rather takes your breath away to walk around the place and think about quite how immediately levelled everything once was.
Then there’s the museum itself, set in the grounds of the Memorial Peace Park, to further knock the breath from your body. It includes an exhibited replica of ‘Little Boy’, the actual A-Bomb that exploded over the city at 8.15AM, August 6th 1945. It’s not much bigger than a Western style bathtub and almost looks like something from a cartoon, an ACME-stamped, Wile-E Coyote number. You just imagine that something that could completely level a city would be a little bigger than that.
What beasts we are. What barbarities against ourselves we are capable of. How tragic that, despite cries of ‘Never again!’ almost sixty years ago, we continue to perpetuate the cycles of violence that deny others the right to live in peace with one another. How right for so many the world over to have protested against last years war, that which we could not stop and it now developing into a struggle for liberation against occupation. How suitably appropriate to have personally bookended 2003 with the march in London and a visit to Hiroshima. Will we ever learn?