By Olivia Kemp
“You are only given one life, so cherish this moment, cherish this day,
be kind to others, be kind to yourself.“
— the testimony of Nagasaki survivor, Yasujiro Tanaka.
76 years ago, the United States of America decreed the wanton destruction of two Japanese cities in order to jolt the USSR into a submissive posture. At 08:15 on the morning of 6th August 1945, the ‘Enola Gay’ – an American B-29 – dropped a parachute, which bore the deadliest weapon ever unleashed upon humanity, over the city of Hiroshima. Three days later an additional nuclear bomb was released over Nagasaki; such weapons instantly killed c. 210,000 people. Whilst this figure encompasses those directly killed upon impact, thousands more have since died from blast, fire, and radiation injuries. Abetted by perversions of science, these weapons of indiscriminate slaughter changed the world forever.
Today, Japan is striving for world peace whilst still battling a sense of profound grief. On 6th August 2021, the annual Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony commenced at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park; this years’ service saw an attempt to bring new momentum to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty, adopted by the United Nations on 7th July 2017, is a legally binding document to prohibit the production, testing, acquiring, transfer, and use of nuclear weapons globally.
As Japan commemorated the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings this month, the Mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, pleaded with world leaders to commit to this treaty. Although it has been ratified by more than fifty countries, the treaty notably lacks the signatures of the United Kingdom, the USA, and other prominent world powers. Since 1945, the USA and various other countries have sent large quantities of relief goods to Hiroshima. It seems, however, that no gift would be more valued than the complete signing and ratification of this treaty.
The significance of the annual ceremony is profound. 76 years after the atomic bombs annihilated their last victims, world leaders and decedents of survivors still gather in commemoration. As bells ring out in Japanese temples and citizens observe a solemn minute of silence at the precise moment of 08:15 on 6th August each year, the importance of remembrance is solidified. With a strong sense of hope for world peace in one’s heart, one must only affirm the importance of our generation being able to reflect on the events of August 1945. The hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable human lives lost must never be forgotten.
Although beautifully represented, one must argue that the memorial is not for the dead alone. The most profound function of the service is perhaps even for those of us who were not there at all; for those of us who were yet to be born. Each year, then, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony functions to deepen our humanity and to transmit a signal of hope from generation to generation across the world.
So, what can we learn from the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings? In the words of Japanese philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda:
“Oh, look sharply beyond the distant horizon,
And you will see a flower garden of harmony
Beginning to spread widely from this doomed land
To the rest of the country and the entire world.”
Fewer than ten days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, red canna flowers began to bloom in the charred rubble. This “flower garden of harmony” symbolises a universal sense of grief, whilst also functioning as a sanctuary of bright hope.
It appears that there are few choices available to the world in this atomic age — rubble or flowers; war or peace; destruction or progress; hate or love.
Image: Cory Denton via Flickr