At 8 a.m. on a rainy and dark August 6, I walked into Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. I was shown to a seat toward the front of the park, as I and the people I was with were considered guests for the day.
Around us, statues were hung with origami chains of a thousand cranes, the symbols of peace, sent from all over Japan. their quiet beauty contrasted markedly with the somber music which a high school band was playing. I stared ahead at the speaker, wondering what he might say to us in the next half-hour. Behind him, a flame burned in a memorial stone urn. Silhouetting the flame was a huge, gutted building, the only standing reminder, other than the museum in the park, of the devastation of Hiroshima in 1945.
At 8:14, a plane circled overhead; and at 8:15, the time the bomb actually dropped, there was silence for one minute. No music, no speaking, no plane.
Just silence, and deep thought, and perhaps prayer.
And then the speaker began. He spoke of Hiroshima's role, along with Nagasaki, in the history of nuclear weapons and their destructive powers. He mentioned the efforts the city was making to help the survivors of the bombing. He pointed out that the schools were implementing what they called peace education. He discussed the statistics of rebuilding the area after it was safe to return. He reminded us that there were people still alive who knew what the experience meant, and didn't talk about it just in statistical terms.
But what struck me, as I sat there, was that I lost my sense of guilt at being an American in Hiroshima, particularly on that day. I was not being condemned, neither were the people who were actually responsible for the bomb. No one was being accused. The speaker, and many people I talked with afterwards , even mentioned that perhaps it had been necessary. Many said it hadn't. But regardless of opinion, one message came through and remained with us all day, from the early morning to the late evening when families went down to the river that runs through the city to float colored paper lanterns in memory of those who didn't survive.
They wanted us to consider -- not who did what, and who was to blame; but rather, the meaning of atomic weapons, and the destruction that some people understood from personal experience. They did not want to talk about weapons that could do hundreds of times the damage of the Hiroshima bomb -- whatever that might mean -- but wanted instead to think about their limitation, their control perhaps even their elimination. It was suggested that man could control the weapons, instead of allowing them to control him.
It was a simple message.