Traces of War: Hiroshima Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum


 

Ghostly Shell of an A-Bombed School

Ghostly Shell of an A-Bombed School

It seemed that the space was haunted. The sounds of laughing children lost so long ago wafting down through the still blown out windows. Searching through the gloom of the dark basement, we could almost see the ghosts of happy children – young souls innocent of the war mongering of the age, taking their seats for class or running and playing. None of them knew what fate had in store for them.

Before and After Views; Honkawa Elementary can be seen just across the River

Before and After Views; Honkawa Elementary is Labeled in Blue just across the River

The atomic bomb exploded in a blinding flash of light and heat. Virtually all buildings within 1.2 miles of the blast were destroyed, and the city as a whole, completely burnt down since most flammable objects within 0.6 miles burst into flame. At 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1945, about 400 students and more than 10 teachers were killed instantly at the Honkawa Elementary School, and while the building took great amounts of damage, it remained standing. Students and teachers who were outdoors were completely scorched by the radiated heat of the fireball, and along with all those outside within one kilometer of the blast suffered almost 100% lethality. More than 70,000 people were killed within a few days; by December 1945, over 140,000 people would be dead from this one attack.

Honkawa can be seen over the Devastation in the Center Background

Honkawa can be seen over the Devastation in the Center Background

But the sounds we heard were not of phantom students, but living students arriving for school during our early morning visit on Monday morning. The school has been rebuilt, restored, and repopulated. Elementary-aged children, all wearing the same brightly colored yellow school cap and wearing the unique leather backups so ubiquitous throughout Japan, were running about, laughing and chatting as they maneuvered through their friends to find their classrooms. Pointing my camera in their direction, I lowered it just as quickly without pressing the shutter release, wanting to respect the happy moment for these children, so fortunate to be born in a different time.

Urban Preservation

Urban Preservation

The Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum (本川小学校平和資料館 Honkawa Shogakkou Heiwa Shiryokan) is a peace memorial and museum located on the grounds of a still-active elementary school in Hiroshima, Japan. In 1945, it was the school which was closest to the hypocenter of the first atomic bomb used in wartime.

Scorched Basemen Switchboard

Scorched Basemen Switchboard

Against all odds, two students who were in the basement – the site of the present day museum, miraculously managed to survive. A memorial service for those killed here is held each year at the school on August 5, a day before the larger, more overwhelming services which occur in the nearby Peace Memorial Park (see my blog Atomics Footprints in the Sands of Time for more about that feature of the country’s atomic past).

Basement Diorama of Post-Bombed Hiroshima

Basement Diorama of Post-Bombed Hiroshima

Artifacts still being Recovered on School Grounds

Artifacts still being Recovered on School Grounds

The Peace Museum, which opened to the public in 1988, is housed in a very small part of the ground floor and basement of the original reinforced concrete structure, preserved with much of the damage suffered in 1945 still intact. It serves a dual purpose of helping to inform the students who study there, and as a memorial so that all who visit can learn about the importance of peace. The exhibition rooms are primarily found in the basement and include pre- and post-bombing photos, a large collection of school-related items affected by the bombing, and a massive diorama of the city after the attack.

Original Stairs leading to the School's Basement

Original Stairs leading to the School’s Basement

Hiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, original stairwell WM

Charred Doorframe

Charred Doorframe

The L-shaped building was constructed in 1928 as the first three-story reinforced concrete public elementary school in Hiroshima. In the days leading up to August 1945, as the food supplies gradually decreased and the threat of allied bombing loomed more lethal, an evacuation of children throughout Hiroshima began. The students that left generally traveled without their parents, attending ad hoc schools set up in countryside temples, segregated by sex. Meals were supplemented with plucked wild grasses, but consisted mainly of leaves with a bit of rice, sometimes mixed with soybeans. A favorite ploy among the youngsters: those who got sick were often given sweetened rice porridge, so stomach aches were faked on more than a few occasions! Some students became so homesick in their unfamiliar surroundings that they ran away from their temporary lodgings and attempted to return to Hiroshima, often blindly following railways. Searches in most cases resulted in their safe return to exile. The real tragedy however occurred after the bombing. As an example, of the 40 students evacuated to Saifuku-ji temple, there was only a single child which still had both parents alive. Seven were reduced to a single parent, with the rest having become instant orphans, having lost not only their parents, but often their entire families.

Memorials at the Museum's Entrance

Memorials at the Museum’s Entrance

Energy ReleasedHiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, bombing artifacts from the schoolyard WMThe atomic bomb blast occurred less than ¼ mile to the school’s southeast, and at about 2,000 feet overhead. The air blast is a not-so-known feature of nuclear weapons which allow the weapon’s fireball to expand to its full potential, thereby maximizing the bomb’s destructive power. The school’s proximity to the fireball subjected those students and staff present at school to lethal bursts of gamma rays, incinerating temperatures and a severe over pressure, followed by strong winds driving firestorms, and finally radioactive fallout. While the building’s frame survived due to its modern sturdy construction, the inside of the building was completely gutted, leaving only a skeleton in place. It was one of only a few standing buildings left after the A-bombing of Hiroshima.

Crematory on School Grounds

Crematory on School Grounds

Atomic DamageHiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, atomic pipe WMWith only the iron frame of the school remaining, all the people, furniture and implements in the school were lost. Those in the schoolyard all were killed instantly, burning to carbonized black, with some people turning to nothing but charred bones. Those inside the school fared no better, most dying instantly. Those surviving incurred serious mortal injury from glass fragments piercing into their bodies, third degree burns and blast-related wounds, crying as they headed towards and into the nearby river – the only place not on fire. But the waters were already full of corpses and injured people, floating by one after another….

Devastation near Ground Zero

Devastation near Ground Zero; The school is Labeled in Japanese

The day after the bombing the school became a temporary first-aid station, still having walls and a partial roof to provide some semblance of shelter. The school quickly filled with the dead and dying.

Classes Resume in the Ruins

Classes Resume in the Ruins

In February of the following year, however, classes resumed at the school. Four teachers and 45 students, most of who had been evacuated prior to the bombing, were all that was left to make up the entirety of the combined faculty and student body when the doors reopened. The staff, in attempting to restart the school, was deeply affected by the almost impossible task they faced. In their words:

Upon entering the school building, we were at a loss for words. The walls had burned and fallen, the floor had burned to the earth, having the appearance of an accumulation of volcanic ash. Among this, 14-15 children’s desks and chairs that seemed to have been brought in from an evacuation area were lined up. In the front, a blackboard composed of a board painted with black ink was resting on the desks, leaning diagonally. Outside, nothing could be seen. On the window, a bent frame of iron remained. Of the glass, however, not even broken fragments were left. Old straw mats were hung up to block the cold north wind, and its waving back and forth pierced the heart. Children were studying earnestly, trembling in the cold. None of the children had a normal complexion. The teachers were wearing either a soldier uniform for the males, or women’s work pants for the females. Everyone’s face looked to be the color of dry grass. In particular, a male teacher’s face color was completely lacking in vitality, looking as if he were supporting himself purely through willpower. One of the female teachers was holding a cane, and had a strong limp. This was the condition of Honkawa Elementary School at the time.

Hiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, atomic bombed classroom

One student described the miserable conditions in 1947: “When it rained, we would study under umbrellas. Even during the cold winters when snow would blow into the room through the open window, we sat in the broken glass on top of burnt bricks. Nevertheless, we had a fun time at school. We hope that the school will be restored to how it was before.”

Jody across from the Diorama

Jody across from the Diorama

Fire Damage

Fire Damage

Hiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, artifact displays 2 WMA large diorama of the destroyed city, even larger than the one found at the nearby Peace Memorial Museum, with a red ball showing the burst point of the atomic bomb is housed in the museum’s basement. The bare concrete slab walls and blown-out windows still open to the sky above combine with the facility’s gloomy spot-lighting to make a visit here, in many ways, more moving than to other A-bomb sites in the city. While the masses shuffle through more popular sites in Hiroshima, the solitude one can find here makes any stopover so much more…personal. But what makes this place so eerily dark is the chance to actually stand in a building that suffered the full brunt of the atomic energy and its associated death and destruction unleashed in the closing days of World War II.

Cutaway Showing Original Fire Damage

Cutaway Showing Original Fire Damage

080707Hiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, artifact displays WMA visit to the museum is self-guided. After checking in with the school’s main office, you are left on your own to transit the lively school grounds, part of the intimate experience of visiting. Inside the museum’s entrance is a small desk where leaflets in English can be found, alongside a large collection of donated colorful memorial origami cranes so common at war memorials in Japan. They are a constant and visual reminder that underscores the significance of the place and peoples’ wishes for peace. During our visit as students were arriving and being greeted by school staff at the main entrance, several pupils bowed to welcome me and Jody, and took the opportunity to practice their English “hello.” Remember, there is no “L” sound in Japanese, making our standard greeting very hard to pronounce for most Japanese!

Hiroshima 2015, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, memorial origami WM

 

This school, along with its sister museum housed at the Fukuro-machi Elementary School, are well worth visiting in conjunction with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and in many ways, more moving and respective. The promise of youthful life here more than balances the scales against the weight of such dark death and demise.

Youthful Hope Restored

Youthful Hope Restored

 

Helpful Information

Address: 〒730-0802 1-5-39 Honkawa-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City

Phone: 082-232-3431

Open: School days 0900-1700, except for national holidays and during school vacations. Please check in at the school’s office just inside and to the right of the front gate before entering the museum. The museum is also open to the public during summer recess from August 1 to 10.

Fee: Free of charge

Phone: +81-(0)82-232-3431

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Honkawa-Elementary-School-Peace-Museum/105650649468063

Map

Sources: Quotes, stories, facts and figures are all transcribed from on-site museum displays and pamphlets.

Atomic Footprints on the Sands of Time: A Visit to Hiroshima


“When the rich wage war it’s the poor die.” ~Linkin Park, Hands Held High

“Holy cow, there it is,” I said to Jody as I caught sight through our airliner’s window of the distinct “T-bridge” which served as the aiming point for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima is 1945. “What an incredibly easy feature to spot,” I thought to myself rather coldly in a manner reminiscent of my bombardier/navigator background flying nuclear-armed attack aircraft with the US Navy. I hadn’t expected to spot this little-known aspect of that fateful bombing on our flight into Hiroshima, but what better way to start our Far East Fling in this iconic Japanese city.

The T-Bridge Aiming Point, just Northeast of the Actual Hypcenter  shown by the Rings

The T-Bridge Aiming Point, just Northeast of the Actual Hypcenter shown by the Rings

13This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Little Boy atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a single weapon dropped from a single aircraft that effectively destroyed the city and killed an estimated 140,000 human beings. All politics and revisionist history aside, August 6th should serve as a time for everyone to reflect on the very nature of these devastatingly inhuman weapons. And our visits to the city’s ground- zero park and monuments provided another uniquely Japanese perspective. If you are interested in the scale of destruction visited upon Hiroshima during WWII, check out what would happen to your own hometown if attacked by the same sized weapon, see Hometown Atomic Bombing. Keep in mind that modern air-delivered nuclear weapons are many orders of magnitude more powerful than those of WWII; their use on densely populated urban centers would result in casualties numbering a million or more.

The Hiroshima Bomb if Dropped on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan

The Hiroshima Bomb if Dropped on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan

Before I continue, and regardless of your perspective on the use of nuclear weapons, there exists an inextricably truism about war, one that has remained unchanged as long as there has been armed conflict:

When the rich wage war, it is (primarily) the poor (and innocent) that die.

Sure, there is a cadre of well-educated and financially secure people who chose the military as a profession or answer a patriotic call. And yes, generals do from time to time die in conflict. Politicians? Almost never, unless executed afterwards. But such losses of the more elite sectors of society pale in comparison to the suffering of the masses. The vast number of casualties grieved in war has always been that of bystander civilians…either through direct action – like the intentional bombing of civilian populations, or through secondary effects of war – such as disease, famine, and the hazards of unexploded ordnance.

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The City, Before and After the Atomic Bombing

I’ve blogged about the atomic bombings of Japan before (see They Deserved It for more). We dropped the bombs at the time in order to avoid what would have been a bloody ground assault on the Japanese mainland, which would have cost millions of lives at a minimum. Putting aside the still-raging debate of whether or not Japan would have surrendered the fall of 1945 or winter of ’46 without the atomic attacks, the bombs worked in avoiding countless deaths…on both sides of the Pacific.

First View of the A-Bomb Dome

First View of the A-Bomb Dome

But there’s nothing like visiting Hiroshima to underscore the stark reality of nuclear warfare. Taking a small ferry into the city from nearby Miyajima Island, our first eyewitness views of the iconic “A-Bomb Dome” came into view as we rounded Hiroshima’s peace memorial park. The memorial, still standing tall under bright blue skies, is eerily silent in its nearly demolished state.

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08The A-Bomb Dome is an iconic structure, left nearly as it was in 1945 (see Ie Island’s Municipal Pawn Shop for another example of leaving only a single unaltered structure as a war memorial). Internationally recognized as a symbol of war, it immediately exudes the inexplicably suffering that the modern atomic age can bring. But our day and night-time visits there were only the beginning of our growing awareness of the multi-dimensional anguish experienced there during the closing days of WWII.

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14The Peace Memorial Park – of which the A-Bomb Dome is part, is a huge greenspace near the city center of Hiroshima. Surrounded by rivers and canals, the park exhibits various memorials, sculptures, and testimonies, along with the remains of tens of thousands of victims hastily cremated in the days following the attack. The combined ashes of over 70,000 people are still kept in within a burial mound found in a quiet corner of the park; there are still over 800 individual containers of ashes of known (named) people still unclaimed.

Burial Mound in Peace Memorial Park

Burial Mound in Peace Memorial Park

17The Children’s Peace Monument in the park is one of the more popular and most visited. Here under the “Atomic Bomb Children Statue” is told the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died of leukemia caused by bomb-produced radiation. She is immortalized at the top of the statue found there, holding a wire crane above her head. In the days prior to her death, Sadako attempted to create a thousand folded paper cranes in hopes of helping to rid the world of nuclear weapons; tradition in Japan holds that if one folds such a number of origami cranes, they are granted on wish. Sadako achieved her goal and continued to fold even more cranes in the last months of her life. But ultimately she passed away in October 1955, her one wish left not granted…. Her story is presented in more detail and accompanied by many photos in the nearby Peace Memorial Museum.

Children's Peace Monument

Children’s Peace Monument

Today the Children’s Peace Monument serves to commemorate both Sadako and the thousands of other child victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. People from all over the world offer thousands of brightly colored origami cranes, both in honor of those children, and in the hopes of a safe, more peaceful world.

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Atomic bombing survivors, referred to as hibakusha in Japan, today number only about 183,000. Their average age is 80, very close to Japan’s average life expectancy. And many are still fighting illnesses and injuries traced to the bombings seven decades ago. We encountered a few of these hibakusha during our walks through the Peace Memorial Park, where they set up small ad hoc displays and tell their stories. Some even sell books, or offer internet sites dedicated to their story and/or cause.

Visiting One of the Many Memorials

Visiting One of the Many Memorials

One survivor we met was only a small child at the time of the attack, while another was yet to be born, still inside her mother’s womb. These witnesses, both of which spoke very good English, provided a unique, live first-hand account of the bombing that cannot be experienced in any other way. Hiroshima is doing all they can to record these personal accounts; it is important these stories do not disappear, lost to time and circumstance.

The Now-Dated Peace Memorial Museum

The Now-Dated Peace Memorial Museum

31But it was visiting the Peace Memorial Museum located in the park that the horrors of Hiroshima are presented on a personal, human level. Perhaps the most moving – in a long line of terribly tragic stories, mostly involving children and teenagers, is that concerning a lone tricycle, mangled and rusted, displayed in a Plexiglas case under subdued lighting. This child’s bike remains in silent tribute to the demise of just one 3-year-old boy, but is analogous to the misery felt throughout the city so long ago in August of 1945. The boy’s name was Shinichi Tetsutani, and was nicknamed “Shin” by his family (see Shin’s Tricycle for an illustrated account by Shin’s father).

Shin's Tragic Trike on Display

Shin’s Tragic Trike on Display

29“The air was filled with the sandpapery sounds of cicadas rubbing their legs together in the nearby trees,” states Shin’s father, Nobuo Tetsunani, describing the calm and sunny morning of the bombing. Shin and his best friend, a little neighbor girl named Kimi, were outside playing with his favorite toy, a tricycle with red handlebars, no different from one might find in the hands of an American child deep in the heart of the United States. At 8:15 that morning, though, the first atomic bomb used in anger detonated high over the city. In a bright flash, everything changed for everyone. Forever.

Horrors of the Atomic Age

Horrors of the Atomic Age

The massive over-pressure created by the blast and expanding fireball created an “explosion so terrible, a flash so blindingly bright, I thought the world had ended,” the boy’s father said. “Then, just a quickly, everything went black.” Shin’s home collapsed in on the entire family.

Finding Shin

Finding Shin

In the chaos following the attack Shin could not be located. His family frantically searched among the wreckage of their destroyed home, where they found the small boy pinned under a heavy and fractured beam of the house. He was badly hurt. “His face was bleeding and swollen,” his father solemnly recalls. “He was too weak to talk but his hand still held just the red handlebar grip from his tricycle. Kimi was gone too, lost somewhere under the house.” Shin would not survive the night.

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Shin needed to be buried, but Nobuo could not bear the thought of his son being left so alone in a faraway grave. Instead, he decided to bury Shin in a grave in the backyard of their flattened home. He was placed to rest with Kimi, both lying beside his beloved tricycle.

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22Decades later, in 1985, Shin‘s father decided to move his son’s remains and entomb them more properly in the family grave. He and Kimi‘s mother unearthed the backyard grave, where they found “the little white bones of Kimi and Shin, hand in hand as we had placed them.” But Shin‘s father had all but forgotten about the tricycle. The very next day he donated the trike to the Peace Memorial Museum in the hopes of making the world a safe place for all children to play. And today, the legacy of this 3-year-old boy continues to remind us all of the horrors of war and of the atomic age.

The Fireball to Scale over Hiroshima

The Fireball to Scale over Hiroshima

27Yes, the stories featured in the museum primarily focus on children and teenagers, which of course maximizes the emotional impact on visitors and makes it appear, on the surface, that every victim of the bombing was wholly innocent of wrongdoing in WWII. The museum focuses little on Japan’s significant military presence in Hiroshima, nor on their culpability in causing the War in the Pacific or the long history of crimes against humanity committed by their forces in the region starting in Manchuria in 1931. But, as the opening quote states, those most responsible remained unaffected. It was, by and large, innocent civilian bystanders, those trying to live their lives as best they could under extreme circumstance beyond their control or influence, who suffered the most.

Fused Sake Cups

Fused Sake Cups

Interesting, an oral survey was offered us by Japanese volunteers upon exiting the museum. Only a couple of questions was asked, one of which was, “Did today’s visit change your opinion of nuclear weapons?” I answered truthfully and said, “No,” but quickly qualified my answer that I was already anti-nuclear weapons before visiting. I wonder if most Japanese think America and most Americans as pro-nuclear.

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Unfortunately, we have a long way to go to ridding ourselves of the atomic plague. The world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, and countries in possession all seem reluctant to break their collective addiction to the notion of nuclear deterrence or strength and security through the atom (see Fortress of Peace for a future than can be quite different). Worse, other nations who wish to be recognized actors on the global stage take every effort in obtaining such destructive technologies. A visit to Hiroshima can help to change both perspectives, even if it is one person at a time.

And maybe, in a not-to-distant future, the rich will stop waging wars so that we all can live.

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Nuking Japan: They deserved it??


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“The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” ~ Carl Sagan

“They deserved it,” I said coldly, almost mumbling. We continued to walk the sacred grounds of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, seat of the Shoguns and the leadership of Japan for centuries, absorbing our conversation quietly in the gentle rain.

I almost immediately regretted saying it. And after a few moments, I told Jody, my wife, the same. I sensed she was rather shocked at my matter-of-fact cold-blooded conclusion at the destruction of two Japanese cities in 1945 by atomic bombs, resulting in some 200,000 fatalities….

Devastation at Nagasaki

Devastation at Nagasaki

Some of the 300,000 Chinese civilians raped, tortured and murdered by the Japanese

Some of the 300,000 Chinese civilians raped, tortured and murdered by the Japanese

I do regret saying it, along with my rather immature emotional reaction at the time  Thinking only of the brutality of the Imperial Japanese movement of that time after having recently seen the movie “The Flowers of War,” I felt the unmistakable tinge of vengeance, which just as quickly subsided, replaced by a more reasoned and tolerant understanding.  But as terrible as the atomic bombings were, I cannot be party to the more popular notions of revisionist history and say that I fault or morally judge those who made the decision to conduct such horrific attacks.

The role of the atomic bombings in Japan’s surrender and the US’s ethical justification for the first (and only) use of nuclear weapons has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades. The fundamental issue is whether the use of “the bomb” was necessary to achieve victory in the war in the Pacific on terms satisfactory to the United States.

American B-29s dropping incendiary bombs over Japan

American B-29s dropping incendiary bombs over Japan

Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by Fat Man on Nagasaki on August 9. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred immediately or during the first day of each bombing. In the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, all compounded by illness, poor diet and unsafe sanitation. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima did have a sizeable military garrison.

Poorly armed and trained, but willing to die

Poorly armed and trained, but willing to die

Supporters of the bombings generally assert that they caused the Japanese surrender, preventing casualties on both sides during Operation Downfall, the impending invasion of the main islands of Japan. The Japanese propaganda of the time stated, “One hundred million [Japanese] will die for the Emperor and Nation.” Although this was clearly hyperbole, President Truman stated in his 1955 Memoirs that “the atomic bomb probably saved half a million US lives,” while Prime Minister Churchill talked of saving “one million American and half that number of British lives.” And these numbers don’t even begin to discuss the losses the Japanese would have suffered had the allies invaded Japan proper. In total, there were over 2.3 million Japanese Army troops alone prepared to defend the Japanese home islands, backed by an active civilian militia of 28 million men, women and children. Japanese casualty predictions varied widely, but all were extremely high; the Vice Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, predicted up to 20 million Japanese deaths alone. From our own War Department estimates of 1945, the invading Allies would suffer between 1.7 and 4 million casualties, including between 400,000 and 800,000 dead; Japanese casualties would range from 5 to 10 million, most dying in a feeble attempt to defend their homeland.

Dresden, Germany.  Conventional bombs with atomic results.

Dresden, Germany. Conventional bombs with atomic results.

Hamburg after a firestorm

Hamburg after a firestorm

Those who oppose the bombings cite a number of reasons, among them a belief that atomic bombing is fundamentally immoral, that the bombings counted as war crimes, that they were militarily unnecessary, that they constituted state terrorism, and that they involved racism against and the dehumanization of the Japanese people. Some of these reasons are quite ludicrous. Military leaders of the time argued that it was simply an extension of the already fierce conventional bombing campaign, an assertion to which I agree. The indiscriminate bombing of cities is another matter, but as a fact, such “crimes” were committed on all sides.  For example, although the atomic bombings themselves are absolutely horrific, the Operation Meetinghouse fire-bombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9–10, 1945, was and remains the single deadliest air raid of World War II and the history of warfare, resulting in a far greater area of fire damage and loss of life than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Similarly, the conventional bomb-induced firestorm destruction of Hamburg and Dresden in Germany were no less horrific.

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts. And the way to make sure it never starts is to abolish the dangerous costly nuclear stockpiles which imprison mankind.” ~ General Omar Bradley, speech on Armistice Day, 1948

It’s easy to look back from the safety of island fortress America in 2014 and say that use of the bombs was wrong, immoral, and/or unnecessary. I refuse to partake is such missives. While some may argue that time and distance lends clarity and objectivity which allow for moral judgments of actions taken during war, it is the absence of that very same objectivity, not available to the leaders in 1945, which results in the “fog of war.” Without proper context but with expansive hindsight, it is much too easy to place blame and fault, much like a Monday-morning Quarterback does after watching the previous Sunday’s games….

Me and the Mighty A-6E Intruder loaded for a strike.  A conventional one....

Me and the Mighty A-6E Intruder loaded for a strike. A conventional one….

However, I have changed, quite significantly so, in my own personal feelings of the use of nuclear weapons. I flew Navy medium-sized, carrier-based attack bombers – the mighty all-weather A-6E Intruder – in the 1990s, and perhaps the most serious tasking we had was the carriage and employment of nuclear weapons. Back then, as an invincible 24-year old, I was actually excited about being on the tip of the United States’ nuclear-tipped spear. In fact, I was so gung-ho about our mission and (nuclear) warfare that I was actually disappointed in the size (yield) of the nuclear weapons we would carry.

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely.” ~ Ronald Reagan, State of the Union Address, 1984

“What? It’s not even a megaton yield?!?” I question rather rhetorically upon learning that the nukes we would carry and drop would be well below the magical one megaton rating of the larger ballistic missile warheads. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, in hindsight, it is.  Almost as silly as proclaiming that there can no be fighting in the war room!

The B-61 "Silver Bullet" Nuclear Bomb

The B-61 “Silver Bullet” Nuclear Bomb

B-61_componentsB-61_bombThe weapon I’m talking about is what we referred to as “the silver bullet.” For obvious reasons. The B61 nuclear bomb was one of the primary thermonuclear weapons in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile during the cold war, and remains in significant numbers even today. It is an “intermediate yield” strategic (think whole-city devastation) and tactical (think airfield or naval base annihilation) nuclear weapon, the difference being what we callously referred to as “dial-a-yield.”. In other words, the explosive potential of the bomb could be rather easily set by an amazingly simple rotating dial, varying the boom between 0.3 to 340 kilotons. For comparison, Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 16 kilotons, while Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki had a yield of 21 kilotons.

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In other words, the bombs I carried – the very ones I complained were not powerful enough – where about 20 times as powerful as the bombs utilized in WWII.

The B-61 turns out to be QUITE powerful....

The B-61 turns out to be QUITE powerful….

I admit I am ashamed of how I felt as a youngster. Looking back, with the clarity and objectivity I have now, including a healthy dose of combat and the experience of the black death and wanton destruction which war inevitably brings, there just isn’t enough reason – or more so, safeguards – to carry and employ such weapons of mass destruction so easily (read here).

It's Bonnie's birthday on this blog's posting day - have a happy and non-nuclear one!

It’s Bonnie’s birthday on this blog’s posting day – have a happy and non-nuclear one!

“In a world which had become a nuclear powder keg…it [is] a mistake–perhaps one of suicidal proportions–to believe there [is] a difference between good shooters and bad shooters. There [are] too many shaky hands holding the lighters near too many fuses.” ~ Stephen King, The Drawing of the Three

Some claim that the conventional bombing of Japan together with the sea blockade, the collapse of Germany (with its implications regarding redeployment of additional allied forces to the Pacific), and the Soviet Union’s surprise attack against the Japanese Army in Manchuria (China) would have brought Japan to surrender. With or without invasion of their homeland? That’s the million-dollar…and multi-million death question.

The War Operations Plan Response computer playing a game of thermonuclear war

The War Operations Plan Response computer playing a game of thermonuclear war

Whatever you may believe, however, I must agree with Emperor Hirohito’s characterization of the new nuclear age expressed in his plea to the people of Japan to embrace surrender in 1945:

Portrai“Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of [surrender].”

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“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” ~ American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s recollection upon viewing the first atomic bomb test in 1945

No one deserves to be nuked, not even the vehemently violent and extremist Japanese minority of World War II. In the final analysis, there is a conclusion that cannot be avoided, regardless of your political point of view or religiosity: when the rich wage war, it is the poor that die. In other words, it’s always the innocent that suffer the most and the longest in war. War is, after all, an extension of political will when diplomacy has failed. And seldom, if ever, do the ends justify the means.

b61patchUnfortunately the dawn of the nuclear age occurred in 1945, and cannot be undone. In the poetic words of The Offspring, “the genie’s out of the bottle and we can’t put it back.” While the weapons of August 1945 have evolved and endured, and continue to threaten our very existence, I no longer embrace the use of such savage weapons of war. Thankfully, I no longer have to face becoming death, the destroyer of worlds.

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For more, please see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadako_Sasaki

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki

Twice Surviving Atomic Odds: Niju Hibakusha (被爆者)


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“I was lucky as a lot of others died instantly, but I still want to know why such a horrible thing happened to me twice….”  ~ Kazuko Uragashira, a niju hibakusha

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”  ~ J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb

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On March 24, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Tsutomu Yamaguchi as a double (nijū) hibakusha. He not only survived one of two nuclear bombings in the deep history of mankind, he survived both.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi-san, the first officially recognized survivor of BOTH atomic blasts in Japan.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi-san, the first officially recognized survivor of BOTH atomic blasts in Japan.

I discovered this doing some research on a blog I’m drafting about my own conflicted feelings of nuclear weapons and their past and postulated utilization. And besides incredibly witnessing and surviving the only two nuclear attacks in history, these unlucky souls suffer further injury and injustice from an enemy within: from unfounded and quite incredulous discrimination within and throughout Japan based on foolish fear, idiotic ignorance, and a sheer lack of compassion, especially in modern times.

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SC106 Hiroyuki Higaki_77_Hiroshima Hibakusha_Geoff Read 2012In Japan, the survivors of the atomic bombings are called hibakusha (被爆者), or literally “explosion-affected people.” The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as those within a few kilometers of the hypocenters at the time of the bombings; those who traveled within 2 km of hypocenters within two weeks of the bombings; those exposed to radiation from fallout; and those not yet born but carried by pregnant women in any of the former categories. As of 2013, over 200,000 hibakusha were officially recognized by the Japanese government, most living in Japan, with roughly 1% having illnesses caused by radiation. The atomic memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha who are known to have died since the bombings; these monuments are sadly updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings as the last of the hibakusha pass away. As of August 2013, the memorials record almost 450,000 deceased hibakusha.

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5842678368_1e67745f7b_bYamaguchi-san was confirmed to be 3 km (1.9 mi) from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when Little Boy was detonated. Yamaguchi recalls seeing a bomber and two small parachutes, and then “a great flash in the sky, and [he] was blown over.” The explosion ruptured his eardrums, blinded him temporarily, and left him with serious burns. After regaining his sense, he crawled to a shelter to rest, where after he set out to find business colleagues before returning to Nagasaki the following day. In Nagasaki, he received treatment for his wounds, and despite being heavily bandaged, he reported for work on August 9, the day Fat Man was dropped. Ironically enough, that morning Yamaguchi was describing the atomic blast in Hiroshima to his coworkers when Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki about 3 km away. This time he was unhurt by the immediate explosion, but Yamaguchi he did suffer injuries from radiation fallout while searching for friends and relatives.

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Documents-519Yamaguchi-san lost hearing in his left ear as a result of the Hiroshima explosion, and found himself bald at a very young age. His wife suffered severe radiation poisoning from “black rain” after the Nagasaki explosion, and died in 2008 (at 88) of kidney and liver cancer after a lifetime of radiation-sourced illness. Late in his life, Yamaguchi began to suffer from radiation-related ailments, including cataracts and acute leukemia. He became the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings, and died in 2010 at the age of 93 after battling multiple cancers. Since his infamous designation, there have been an additional 165 nijū hibakusha documented and declared.

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SadakoHibakusha and their offspring remain victims of severe discrimination in Japan due to public ignorance about the consequences of radiation sickness. In a shameful corner of a proud and peaceful people, many in Japan continue to believe radiation-based injury and disease to be hereditary, or worse, even contagious. This all despite facts to the contrary; there have been no statistically demonstrable increases in birth defects or congenital malformations among the later conceived children born to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hiroshima hibakusha atomic bomb survivor Koko Tanimoto Kondo

Hiroshima hibakusha atomic bomb survivor Koko Tanimoto Kondo

It’s bad enough to experience and survive a nuclear blast quite injured. It’s unbelievable to witness and endure two such blasts in three days. But perhaps the most dubious part of this story is how the world can turn their collective backs to the very horrors brought and wrought by they themselves. While mankind owes the nijū hibakusha a debt that cannot be repaid, the Japanese government can at least make restitution (and it has attempted to do just that). However, it is up to the Japanese people – each and every one – to afford these (un)luckiest of the lucky the compassion, empathy, and respect which they so fully deserve.

Honeymoon’s Atomic Fireworks Saves Kyoto


Devastation at Nagasaki

Devastation at Nagasaki

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  ~ Margaret Mead

“Too fucking busy, and vice versa. [Reply to her editor who was bugging her for her belated work while she was on her honeymoon]”  ~ Dorothy Parker, Writer

“I told him [General Groves] there was one city that they must not bomb without my permission and that was Kyoto.”  ~ Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, 1945

The Stimsons meeting with Mrs. Tao Ming Wei, wife of Chinese Ambassador to the US during WWII

The Stimsons meeting with Mrs. Tao Ming Wei, wife of Chinese Ambassador to the US during WWII

A honeymoon saving a city?  A romantic notion, certainly, but like most romances, one seen through rose-colored glasses…the kind that distort the fuller and less sexy truth.

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Visiting the Golden Pavilion on a Perfect Honeymoon Day!

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014,_4190My wife and I just spent our 3rd Honeymoon and my 48th Birthday (we try to have one of each, every year) in the Imperial City (Emeritus) of Kyoto.  As a result of being saved from conventional and atomic bombing in World War II, it is one of the few Japanese cities that still have an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional machiya townhouses and entire old-fashioned neighborhoods where we stayed, as well as a plethora of original temples and shrines, along with the imperial residence and Shogun castle prior to 1868.  Because of this, Kyoto has always been on my top-ten list of places to see in the world, and after visiting, should be the first place anyone visits when coming to Japan.

Nothing says Honeymoon like an authentic machiya deep-soak tub, this one set about 24 inches into concrete.

Nothing says Honeymoon like an authentic machiya deep-soak tub, this one set about 24 inches into concrete.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014,_4244And almost as romantic as my and my wife’s 3rd honeymoon (less the fireworks!), Kyoto was indeed spared by the emotional reactions of just one man.  Because that one man traveled and honeymooned abroad, and like all those who hanker to see and experience the world hold dear and true, traveling changes your life…and others’…sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

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909The Targeting Committee for use of the atomic bombs in World War II listed Kyoto, Japan, as their number one choice in 1945:

“(1) Kyoto – This target is an urban industrial area with a population of 1,000,000. It is the former capital of Japan and many people and industries are now being moved there as other areas are being destroyed.  From the psychological point of view there is the advantage that Kyoto is an intellectual center for Japan and the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget.”

Since the city was being “groomed” for an atomic attack, it was largely spared from the devastating conventional fire-bombing that was widespread throughout wider Japan in 1945.  This so the effects of such a new “gadget” could be more accurately measured on a relatively undamaged city.

Enjoying the 1,000 Tori

Enjoying the 1,000 Tori

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014,_4172However, Henry L. Stimson, the then United States Secretary of War during WWII, vehemently opposed the strong and repeated Kyoto target nomination by General Groves.  Even though Stimson personally was at great odds with Japan and it’s militaristic culture and unabashed aggression of the time, he, like most who travel, had formed an emotional connection with Kyoto (Japan) from his visits there as a statesman, and quite possibly more so from more personal visits to the city’s cultural centers with his wife, exactly akin to my wife and I characterizing our recent visit as “honeymoons.”  Kyoto is a magical place, and it is not hard to fathom how Mr. Stimson could find himself enchanted with the long and mysterious traditions of the Far East.

Silver Pavilion

Silver Pavilion

Henry_Stimson,_Harris_&_Ewing_bw_photo_portrait,_1929Henry Lewis Stimson (1867 – 1950) was an American statesman, lawyer and spokesman on foreign policy.  He served as Secretary of War (1911–1913) and as Governor-General of the Philippines (1927–1929).  As Secretary of State (1929–1933) he gained further exposure to the Pacific, in particular to Japan during three official visits there.  He again served as Secretary of War (1940–1945) during World War II under Roosevelt, where he took charge of raising and training 13 million soldiers and airmen, supervised the spending of a third of the nation’s GDP annually on the country’s armed forces, helped formulate military strategy, and took personal control of building and using the atomic bomb.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014,_4449In official documents, Secretary Stimson cited a number of “official” reasons why Kyoto should be taken off the A-bomb list, but most certainly one of the primary reasons he was so moved to fight the nomination committee’s flag officers and scientists at the time was that he had actually been to Kyoto.  Stimson did not refer to his emotional ties to Kyoto in formal texts, but a review of his dairies and those who were close to the events suggest his emotional decision to remove Kyoto was immediate and the “official” rationale came much later.  As Secretary of War, Stimson had no compunction with using such an awesomely destructive device on a Japanese city, but as a world traveler, informed leader, and educated statesman, certainly Secretary Stimson was swayed away from even entertaining the idea of utterly destroying a city he – and the rest of the world – enjoyed so much.  In this way, the emotions of time and place often outweigh the cold logic of calculation, and thankfully so.

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Tori across town from atop the Kyoto Tower

However, in breaking with the romantic notions of the story and the man, Stimson’s diary and papers also contain reference to a much more official rationale – and one no less valid – noted during a discussion with then President Truman (my own editorial notes in brackets):

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014,_4404“We had a few words more about the S-1 program, and I again gave him my reasons for eliminating one of the proposed targets [Kyoto].  He again reiterated with the utmost emphasis his own concurring belief on that subject, and he was particularly emphatic in agreeing with my suggestion that if elimination was not done, the bitterness which would be caused by such a wanton act [the destruction of Japan’s cultural center] might make it impossible during the long post-war period to reconcile the Japanese to us in that area rather than to the Russians.  It might thus, I pointed out, be the means of preventing what our policy demanded, namely a sympathetic Japan to the United States in case there should be any aggression by Russia in Manchuria [which Russia was about to invade as part of the Yalta Conference agreement with the U.S. and Great Britain].”

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Gate at Nijo Castle

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014,_4259It’s hard to say what can become of one’s Flirtations and Flings in the Far East.  But romance and love are certainly much kinder and more altruistic motivations than such talk of war and capitulation.  And believe me, Kyoto is full of life, vitality, and love.  With such notions afoot, it’s certainly interesting to think about the ramifications of Stimson and his wife deciding to honeymoon somewhere closer to home…or of having had terrible lodgings and room service in Kyoto…or having had problems in the bedroom while abroad in Japan!  Sometimes the fates of great cities and nations rest in what seems to be trivial yet tragic circumstances….

Devastation at Nagasaki

Devastation at Nagasaki

Like that of Nagasaki, Japan.  The city of Kokura was the primary target for the 2nd atomic bombing, and only because the cloud cover over that city prevented visual dropping of the weapon was Nagasaki bombed, as the secondary target that day…and as the replacement city for Kyoto.

We must always remember that we all have impact; when thoughtfully acted and committed with focus, each of us can each change the world.  Thank you Mr. Stimson for saving Kyoto.  It is, after all, an enchanted place to honeymoon!

Zen Buddhism:  even a Small Thing can have Great Impact

Zen Buddhism: even a Small Thing can have Great Impact