Thursday, May 06, 2010

Aloha Hiroshima!

I had expected my visit to Hiroshima to leave me horrified, or at least disconcerted. It did not.

What I saw instead was a cheerful, touristy city with wide, neat roads; streetcars ambling past at a leisurely pace; a flower festival showcasing international dances - naked Latino's doing the salsa followed by overdressed Tibetan troupes swirling in their skirts and cap-ribbons; in the subway Japanese girls dressed as Hawaiian dancers swaying their grass skirts to music as the shoppers and tourists looked on...

Was this really the city where, 64 years, an American B-29 bomber, swooped down to drop the first nuclear bomb in history, killing more than 80,000 people? Was this the city that Radio Tokyo reported later as the place where "practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death"?

Walking down the sunny avenues of Hiroshima it is really hard to believe that such a horror ever happened here. There is, of course, the iconic `A-Dome`, and a short walk away is the museum with its many models, photos, diagrams and displays. Then there are also mutilated trees and the handful of surviving Hibakusha (`explosion-affected-people) who sit under a nuclear umbrella and campaign relentlessly for total N-disarmament.

The museum did have its surprises though. I did not know, for instance, that about 20,000 Koreans died in the bombing (1 for every 4 Japanese!) - most of them were working in Hiroshima as forced labourers or conscripted soldiers. Another surprise was that the whole narrative of the exhibition was less emotional and more rational when it came to answering some critical questions:

Q- Why was the A-bomb dropped on Japan instead of Germany?
A- The Allies knew that the Germans had a nuclear program and were wary of a scenario where an unexploded bomb could yield valuable secrets to the enemy. All available information suggested that the Japanese did not have the resources for such a program.

Q- Why was Hiroshima chosen?
A- Hiroshima had a large military-industrial complex; it was the HQ of the 5th Division of the Imperial Army, and it was believed to be one of the few cities that did not have allied POWs (actually it did - 260 allied POWs were killed).

Apparently, prior to 6 August 1945, the relentless fire-bombing of over 60 Japanese cities had not brought about an unconditional surrender - despite the loss of over 800,000 civilian lives. So the idea was to pick-out peripheral cities one by one and move towards the more critical ones (Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo) until imperial Japan was forced to wave the white flag.

That is one way of explaining things. A more balse - and plausible - explanatiion was that so much money and resources had already been invested in the top-secret "Manhattan Project" that the US top-brass knew they would be hauled over the coals after the war, unless, of course, there was some dramatic output. So they sent out a Little Boy and a Fat Man to do the talking...

Whaterver the reasons for the bombings, in the ultimate reckoning the Hiroshima of today is neither a `City of Peace` nor a `living symbol of the follies of a nuclear war` is a showcase of pure pragmatism.

Somebody has already observed that the A-dome seems to be getting smaller every year. So the city officials seem to be saying to each other - `well, what has happened has what is the best way of roping in the tourists and getting them to spend more in Hiroshima?`


Hibakusha in NY conference

First A-Bombing - Wiki -


The Museum

Hiroshima at 8:14 AM on 6 Aug., 1945. The `T`-shaped Aioi Bridge was the original target

Red Ball = Ground Zero

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