Remembering Hiroshima: 6 August 1945

2013-08-05 20:08

In 2012 I had the privilege to spend 15 days in Japan—two of which were spent in Hiroshima—as part of the F1 Leadership for Change Programme of the University of the Free State. The programme has an ambitious vision of introducing first-year students to other cultures in different countries so as to strengthen their views around issues of race, reconciliation and citizenship.

When our mentor, Dineo Gaofhiwe-Ingram, mentioned that a trip to Hiroshima was organised and fully paid for by The Africa Association, a group of Japanese men who own businesses in Africa, I couldn’t hide my excitement. The prospect of setting my foot on the historical soil of the City of Hiroshima overrode all other contents of the programme.

Obviously I was keen to see this city I used to read about in my Human and Social Sciences books in primary school. I wanted to hear first-person accounts of the atomic bombing, the casualties, and the subsequent effects emanating from radiation.

Travelling inside the ‘Bullet Train’ from Tokyo to Hiroshima set the standard high, as the speedy train went through tunnel after tunnel. After a relatively short four hours, we disembarked right in the city once struck by calamity. We were in Hiroshima.

The day we went to The Hiroshima Peace Museum is one of the most emotionally overwhelming days of my life. The atmosphere in the building pricked me from inside my eyes for tears to flow their way down my cheeks. Seeing the images electronically displayed and gathering anecdotes from murmurs, whispers, and exclamations, I found myself reciting a sorrowful poem I had never heard before.

As a result, I recorded on the Facebook note entitled 6 August 1945: Humanism v/s Animalism that: “Tears knocked from the inside of my eyes as I perused the images depicting the saddest moment in the history of Japan. At some point I felt weak; like a baby in pursuit of mobility I kept trying to move on in dismal failure. My eyes were fixated upon the wall that not only is a stronghold of premises preserving the only remainders of a barbaric act undertaken by the US, but also a fountain of memoirs that resurrect the August 6 1945 atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima. Around me I saw my fellow students and tourists drowning in a confusion of emotional outbursts; and censored sorrows. We all kept quiet. We all observed the repercussions of human animalism.”

Well, our host, Professor Nagao, had made arrangements for us to meet and have a discussion with one of the survivors of the infamous A-Bomb, Keijiro Matsushima, who took us down the brutalities of the day.

In his The A-Bomb That I Experienced: A Report from Hiroshima, Matsushima captured: “I was shocked to see all those severely destroyed houses and a great many injured people—mostly burnt people who looked like smoked and broiled pigs. I cannot remember them crying or sobbing. Their faces were all damaged, swollen up, and disfigured so badly. Without exceptions, they had thrust out their both arms Perhaps so that the wound would not touch their bodies. Their smoked bodies had swollen and the skin nearly peeling off.”

Given the chemically unprecedented nature of the atomic bomb, then termed “a special bomb”, which Americans dropped on the city, doctors struggled to treat consequent illnesses as radiation-related diseases were but a foreign concept to them during those years, 1945 to be precise. This then explains the reported 140 000 number of deaths resulting from the bombing by the end of 1945.

If hearing the news about the explosion made me that emotional, I thought to myself, how wounding must it have been to the families of those who lost their lives due to the cruelty of war?

Moving Forward

During our interaction with the survivor in one of the rooms at the peace museum, I asked him whether the Japanese have forgiven the USA for the 6 August 1945 regrettable incident. Without hesitation, he replied that they, Japanese, have never held any grudge against the Americans. However, they unequivocally hate the A-Bomb.

Rather than focusing on equipping themselves with weapons for revenge, the Japanese rather directed their energies to the struggle for peace in the world. I remember how all 14 of us, University of the Free State young leaders, then assuming ambassadorial responsibilities, looked at each other with a ‘Wow’ facial expression upon hearing how a city once engulfed in man-made flames opted for a reconstruction over retaliation.

To us Hiroshima epitomised healing and reconciliation. It embodied a human spirit of the unconditional pursuit and restoration of humanity even in the most tragic of circumstances. I have to be frank that of all the interactions we had with different groups and institutes in Japan as part of the leadership course, Hiroshima excelled in meeting the objectives we had of the programme.

Against that sad history, and as we are about to mark 68 years since the inhumane operation by the USA on defenceless and unaware human beings, it’s imperative that we recommit ourselves to the unapologetic fight for peace in the world. From Africa to Middle East, the call for peaceful human relations must be sounded.

I personally applaud Japan for surrendering after the later bombing of Nagasaki.

I regret all bombings during the war. I may not have been there, but history teaches me to sympathise with victims and celebrate with heroes, and so I shall do.

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