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Wincent

In honor of Veterans' Day

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Wincent    2
In honor of Veterans' Day

Today at 1:05am

For those who don't know, I'm in Hiroshima, Japan this week at a conference. I've been trying to keep a record of what I do/see/eat while I'm visiting Japan, and I haven't really posted anything yet, but I had an experience today that I absolutely needed to capture. This being Veterans' Day, I felt compelled to post it here. I'll post some pictures later, but I wanted to get this out while it was fresh in my mind.

 

Today, I found myself with some free time because I didn’t have any sessions I needed to attend immediately after lunch. So I took the opportunity to walk over to the memorial set up for the dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which consists of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Peace Memorial Park, and the A-Bomb dome. Little did I realize what an effect it would have on me. I started out by being mildly amused at the irony of visiting this memorial on November 11th, which is the day set aside to honor our war veterans in the US. It stopped being amusing, and started being more appropriate than I realized nearly as soon as I set foot on that hallowed ground. I have some mixed emotions, because I do have a WWII veteran in my family. My grandfather, Wesley E. George, Jr. served in the Navy aboard the USS Sigbee, which was attacked by a Japanese Kamikaze plane, and nearly sank. He survived, but that made this somehow all the more powerful.

 

As a citizen and representative of the country responsible for this unspeakable act of violence, that caused death and destruction and impacted so many innocent people on such a massive scale, I somehow felt like my mere presence was an affront; that I was intruding on something very private, like walking into the middle of a stranger’s funeral. This isn’t because of anything anyone said or did, it was just the way I felt – very much a foreigner, stranger in a strange land.

 

My only hope was to learn about those who suffered and died, to honor their memory, and to absorb the spirit behind the memorial – one of peace and in support of abolishing nuclear weapons so that those many thousands of people did not die in vain. I walked through the Peace Memorial garden, looking at the different monuments and statues erected to honor the dead. At the Children’s Peace Memorial, which is to honor the children killed in the bombing, there was a school group (one of several that were touring the area) assembled, and singing a song. I have no idea what the song was, or what it meant, but it just felt…right.

 

Across the river is the A-Bomb dome, which is the ruined outer structure of one of the few buildings left standing after the bomb. This is near the hypocenter of the bomb detonation, and gives a real sense of the destruction that the bomb created. Nearby is a statue and some gravestones which were exposed to the heat and radiation, and have obvious permanent shadows and damage to what was previously smooth stone.

 

As I was struggling to take this all in, and make some sense of something that really seems senseless, all the while still feeling like an intruder, something happened which helped to set things right in my mind. As I walked through the park, I was repeatedly approached by groups of schoolchildren, probably late primary or early secondary school-aged, who wanted to say hello, ask where I was from, what was my name, etc, in order to practice their English. They would then want to shake my hand, and have their picture taken with me, giggling all the while at the funny way English sounded and the nervousness of talking to a tall stranger in a foreign language. They were even more amused that I attempted to say a few words in Japanese. You can’t help but smile, and be encouraged that the emphasis of this memorial – peace, was found in that small way.

 

From there, I went into the actual museum. I didn’t have time to walk through the entire thing, but there was a special exhibit in the basement, featuring two things. First was a series of pictures taken at different points after the bomb – immediately, a few years post, and approximately 10 years post. It showed the desolate wasteland, and its transformation as the city began to rebuild. The next exhibit really struck me. It was a collection of drawings from the survivors of the bombing. It included notes that they had written on the back, and each one was a picture and a first-hand account of the absolute horror, talking about those who survived only to die shortly later in agony, thirst, and either alone, or in the company of those who were powerless to help them.

I couldn’t even bring myself to take pictures here – it felt like a desecration, but I can say that some of those images will haunt me for a long time to come.

There was a map which showed the hypocenter, as well as a radius – you would never know that my hotel was less than 1 Km from that point. Hiroshima now is a vibrant, bustling, beautiful city.

I can only use this as a reminder of how lucky I am – that this, the Holocaust museum, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, are probably the closest I have ever really been to the hell that is war, and the evil that we are capable of inflicting on our fellow man.

 

I know of know better way to close than this – Thank you to all of the Veterans who have suffered and died that I might know peace, and thank you to the people of Hiroshima for inviting me to understand in some small way what they went through, and to honor their innocent dead. I pray that this will be the last time such methods will be used, no matter the cause.

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