As a peace advocate, nothing can replace the experience of seeing firsthand the impact of violence on individuals and communities. While academic studies can communicate the social and public health consequences of conflict, only personal stories and images can communicate the emotional side of violence—the gravity of conflicts’ affects on the individual.
I came to Hiroshima on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the United States during WWII which occurred nine days after the world’s first atomic bombing. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was teaming with Japanese gathered to commemorate the devastating attack on Hiroshima and who hoped to teach their children about the importance of peace.
The memorial site is comprised of a Memorial Park and Memorial Museum located on the grounds of the hypercenter of the bombing. At 8:15am on August 15, 1945, 600 meters above the city, the atomic bomb detonated, exhibiting one of the greatest advancements in human science of the 20th Century. The site of nuclear fission created temperatures of 3000 degrees Celsius, enough to burn and destroy nearly every building and life within 2 kilometers of the epicenter. Today, one partially destroyed building remains, known as the A-bomb dome, a lasting memorial of the destructive force of the acute effects of the bombing.
My visit to the memorial museum was particularly unique because I was traveling with a group of about 12 University of Tokyo students who peppered me with questions about how the United States educates children about the bombing, what progress Obama has made toward nuclear deterrence, and how I hoped to share the message of my visit to Hiroshima with those back in the United States. I was particularly fortunate to hear the testimony of a woman who was eight years old at the time of the attack, one of 200,000 individuals living in the city who managed to survive the acute affects of the blast and radiation. She shared about how she witnessed storms of people running with their arms extended as the skin melted off their bodies, the smell of burning hair that filled the city for days, and the many years of devastation and suffering that followed as the world learned of the full effects of nuclear weaponry. One story that particularly stood out to me was that of her childhood friend, an eight year old boy who watched as his mother died from burn wounds. In Shinto/Buddhist tradition, bodies must be cremated, but so many had died that the little boy could not find any combustible materials left in the area. He is still haunted today by the memory of only managing to cremate half of her body, a task that I could never imagine a child undertaking alone.
The children of Kids for Peace sent me with gifts for the children of Japan, especially those affected by the earthquake. One of their gifts was a beautiful 6-foot banner they painted, a tree of love that expressed the love they felt for the Japanese and wishes for peace, hope, and happiness.
The Children’s Memorial in the Peace Park contains a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a paper crane, a young girl who died of radiation-related leukemia after folding over 1,000 origami cranes in hopes of a cure. Around the statue, individuals from around the world had created cranes of peace in sorrowful remembrance of the children who died from the bombing, and the museum staff felt that this would be the perfect location to house Kids for Peace’s banner.
The Japanese I spoke with all loved the children’s artwork and expressed deep gratitude for the children’s dedication to peacemaking. I was humbled to deliver the symbol of peace on their behalf, and promised to share the story of Hiroshima’s children with Kids for Peace children around the world.