Commentary: Hiroshima’s Peace Park is emotional trip of a lifetime
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE – As an American stepping into the Peace Museum in the heart of Hiroshima’s Peace Park, I have never felt more like a stranger to this foreign land.
The word “stranger” is almost not enough however, as for the first time, I faced the countless images of innocent people with seared flesh, tear-filled eyes and faces pleading “make the pain stop.”
Few survivors of the attack are still alive, and the only things that remain to tell the story of their last moments are the trinkets, toys and scraps of clothes donated by the victim’s families. Each of these exhibits has a tale; each tale has a victim.
Knowing that Americans – my people, my home – dropped a bomb that caused all this devastation as a means to ending World War II in the Pacific makes any American deserving of the title “murderer.”
But when I asked a young Japanese man in the park nicknamed Rara-Chan about who was to blame for the tragedy, he said, “This is everybody’s fault, I think. Everybody decided to have a war, and this is the consequence.”
I visited the Peace Museum during an outing in November as part of the Department of Defense Education Far-East Journalism Conference.
Despite my parents being stationed in Japan at Yokosuka Naval Base, this was my first time to visit the Peace Park, which beckons tourists world-wide who seek the true story behind the horrific event that unfolded Aug. 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay detonated a nuclear weapon in the skies above the city killing at least 126,000 people, mostly civilians.
In 2016, nearly 2-million people visited the park, making it one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, with many things to see that makes it a one in a lifetime experience.
Right after you exit the Museum, visitors will see a curved stone structure across a field. This houses the flower adorned Cenotaph, a monument etched with the names of all the victims whose lives were claimed by the bomb.
In the eye of the monument rests the Peace Flame which sits in the middle of a square fountain, awaiting the day when the world will no longer know the threat of atomic annihilation.
A Belgian visitor to the park named Edith claimed that the most impactful monument was the A-Bomb Dome, the only remaining structure near ground zero.
“It is the fact they conserved it, because they were not sure to keep it some years after the bomb,” she said.
At the base of the monument, I watched children no older than 10 run and play, completely unaware that just 73 years ago more than 100,000 lives were lost here in an instant.
“They are not so frightened of this time,” said Edith, remarking on the children playing.
What I learned in just a few hours in Hiroshima is more than I ever could have learned about the bombing and aftermath in school. These grounds are more than a park. They are the echoes of those lives snuffed out in an instant and the enduring spirit of a people to overcome tragedy.
Japanese school students visit the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima in November. The park is an attractive tourist destination which hosts more than 1 million visitors a year. Photo by Makenzi Schmitz, MC Perry High School
The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is a site dedicated to the eradication of nuclear weapons. Colored streams and the beautiful billboard call for peace. Photo by Rebecca Holladay, Yokota High School
A photo of a Japanese soldier who died three days after the attack shows the horrific injuries suffered by the victims in the blast. Photo by Lance Pescosco, Kinnick High School