We are in Hiroshima to round out Grandpa Don’s last few days in Japan. Most of the photos are on the big fancy camera, and I will write a long post about our visit with those photos when we return home to Yokohama. But I want to record my impressions of today’s visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum while my thoughts are still fresh.
I’ve visited many museums that fall under the general category of Terrible Things People Have Done to Each Other: the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and Auschwitz. This was my first time visiting such a place with the kids. I often remind them that we are all ambassadors for America while we are here, and anything they say or do can form good or bad impressions of Americans in Japanese people’s minds. Before we set out we had a quick pep talk to remind them of this, and they did a great job. Both kids were quiet and respectful as we visited the grounds and toured the museum. The Hiroshima museum does its best to present the facts of the event in as straightforward a manor as possible without judgment or commentary. Graphic photos show the gruesome injuries sustained by survivors; artifacts like bubbled roof tiles and fused masses of glass jars hint at the unimaginable conditions.
I remember hearing past controversies about the terrible treatment of indentured Korean workers immediately following the blast and in the days and months that followed. The museum in Nagasaki admitted that Koreans received no medical care at all, while the Hiroshima museum acknowledged their servitude and the number of casualties.
Toward the end of the exhibit, the American decision to use the bomb was presented as one of four options. The other three outlined were a land invasion of Japan, convincing Russia to declare war on Japan, and agreeing to allow the Japanese emperor to stay in power. (Yeah, that last one doesn’t make much sense to me either.)
The strangest part of the visit was processing my own feelings about this terrible thing done to the Japanese by Americans. Yes, deploying the bomb ended the war, prevented roughly a million casualties from a land invasion, and so on. I understand that. But it was still such a horror, even if it can be justified at some level.
My first instinct was to punt; my people weren’t even in America yet in 1945. My grandparents were still in Poland fighting on the European front, and their siblings both survived and perished in Nazi concentration camps there.
But then I realized that it doesn’t matter when my ancestors landed on American shores. I’m an American, and a veteran. It was someone like me who followed orders.
Never Again sounds glib and over used, but I can’t think of a better way to say it.