Author: Jon Wesick
Location: Carlsbad, California
Jon Wesick has a PhD in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. His short stories have appeared in Zahir, American Drivel Review, Aphelion Webzine, Lullaby Hearse, Oracular Tree, MiniMAG, SamizDADA, Tidepools,
and The Writers Post Journal.
He has published over a hundred poems in small press journals such as Pearl, Pudding,
One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. His poetry chapbooks have been runners-up twice in the San Diego Book Awards.
Hiroshima Forty Years After
I don’t know what to expect as I walk along the same river the Enola Gay followed to its target forty years ago. I was attending a nuclear physics conference in Osaka just before finishing up my postdoc. I decided to visit Hiroshima before the conference started.
It is a hot August day when I get off the train in Hiroshima. The big events marking the fortieth anniversary of the bombing had already taken place a few weeks earlier. Following my tourist map, I walk towards the Peace Park, the site of the bombing. These days Hiroshima is a prosperous and busy, modern city. People from all over the world have offered memorials and good wishes, but I sense Hiroshima has never recovered from the deep hurt and shock of the bombing. I arrive at the baseball stadium across from the famous dome above which the bomb exploded, ground zero.
I take out my camera and cross the street. Walking around the dome I snap pictures. Click, wind, click. I hear the peace bell’s somber ringing. This ominous sound and the devastated building present a grim vision of one possible future. To me it sounds as if it belongs in a funeral, but little kids stand in line to ring the Japanese-style bell with a suspended log. I suppose to them it feels hopeful.
A man asks for a donation for the atomic bomb survivors. I give him twenty dollars and sign his list of donors. He wants to know what a physicist does.
Most tourists enter the main museum to look at stopped watches, melted statues, and other curiosities. I wander into a little building to the side, where the survivors’ drawings are displayed. Since most of these people were not artists, many paintings look as if grade school children made them. However, most children do not draw pictures of corpses by the river, babies at the breast of their dead mother, or naked people whose clothes and even skin were burned off by the nuclear flash. A jar contains the nine hundred paper cranes a little girl with radiation-induced leukemia folded before she died. She thought she would be granted a wish if she folded a thousand. A beautiful folding screen moves me. It depicts Kanzeon--the Bodhisattva of Compassion--on one side, and a mushroom cloud on the other. I do not think the artist intended this as an either-or statement. That is, it’s not a statement of gentleness versus destruction. Somehow it says that compassion exists even in the midst of destruction.
I wait around the Peace Park wondering if I can do something, can give some help. When emotion overcomes me, I enter an animation festival. I don’t have to pay at the theater showing commercials with the message, “BUY JAPANESE.” I realize I can’t help. Fleeing this city’s anguish, I go back to the train station. Crossing bells haunt me with a sound like air raid sirens. I board the train and return to the emotional safety of Osaka, where I will keep my mouth shut in a few days when an angry-looking man from Los Alamos, New Mexico, explains to a group of shocked Japanese that America must have the will to use nuclear weapons again.
Most of the people I will talk with hadn’t gone to Hiroshima. Those who did never saw the survivors’ paintings, never really examined the place’s suffering. I think they missed the point.
Yes, I know about Pearl Harbor. Yes, I know about the rape of Nanking. Yes, the suffering of the servicemen killed and wounded in the war is just as real as that of the atomic bomb victims. And yes, I would have done anything I could to end the war sooner, if I had been Harry Truman. I just wish the world could be different somehow.
The Enola Gay lies in pieces in a Washington DC museum,
while beside a shattered dome
someone contemplates knowledge’s misuse
and mourns the victims of mankind's folly.
Much later I wonder
whether we can only find peace
within our own hearts.
Can you hear the end of war?
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