A letter from our intern, Dustin Hinkley, for the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The Path Forward: Young American in the Face of Hiroshima's Legacy
In May of 2019, I arrived in Hiroshima with a singular purpose in mind: to learn more about the atomic bombing that had destroyed the city over seventy years before and earned it an eternal place in global history.
I am an American, and growing up I learned about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had learned in school that it was a very unfortunate decision, but also could not have been averted, and was maybe even justified. I was taught that it was what shocked the Japanese government into surrendering, and that it prevented an American invasion of Japan itself. Later, I would also learn that these claims were not entirely true and that Japan had made overtures to surrender. I would question whether it was needed after all, and if such an act could truly be justified. So I sought to learn more.
At the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima I did not learn about strategic calculations or the political maneuverings of a power whose victory was already assured. Instead, I learned about something much more important. The stories of ordinary people who reminded me of myself and were ordinary people much like me, except for the fact of their death by nuclear weapons. I moved through a darkened corridor with other people, we saw terrible pictures of a city laid to waste and the stories hung on the wall of a student whose classroom caved in around her, of someone who only survived because she had been in a basement at the right moment. I stayed fixed for a long time on the remains of a tricycle whose rider had perished, which felt so incredibly small and fragile that I could hardly believe it was still holding itself together.
Finally, upon leaving the indoor museum and emerging into the park outside I was confronted with the genbaku dome, the closest building to the epicenter of the blast to survive. Survive is a strong word in this case, what was once the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall now stands only as a ruined stone and steel framework, held together by rebar and forbidden to trespassers. It exists as a metaphor to what is left behind when we commit ourselves to war, a lifeless husk that future generations will marvel at and wonder “what happened here?” before moving along.
Today, of course, Hiroshima is a thriving city of over a million people that is mindful of its past and committed to its modern identity as an international City of Peace and baseball powerhouse.
Around the time I went to Hiroshima I was confronting a personal struggle about what I wanted my career to be. This visit helped me decide on international relations and diplomacy, so I could learn more about the world and work to help make my own country and others better through cooperation, and to prevent wars like the Second World War and the terrible events that took place during it.
There were once many survivors of the atomic bombings, known as Hibakusha, who dedicated themselves in some way to carrying on the memory of those events and working to ensure that a similar calamity would never come anywhere else, partnering with those who have borne the impacts of nuclear testing or radiation. There are fewer of them now, and eventually there will be no more.
It is absolutely vital for a new generation of Japanese, Americans, and people from around the world, who have not experienced nuclear war firsthand but who know of its dire effects, to commit themselves to the pursuit of peace through diplomacy, activism, and international cooperation to carry on the legacy of the atomic bomb.
This is a large part of why I have come to seek a career in diplomacy, seeking nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament, and risk reduction. In doing so I hope to help build bridges to prevent future wars that would see more terrible atrocities, the use of nuclear weapons, and the moral and physical destruction of humanity should they not be prevented. In international diplomacy, it is important to be able to build bridges between how you understand the world and how others do. I think that’s why going to Hiroshima to learn more about the atomic bombing had such a large impact on me, because I went in with questions and an open mind, and came away with a new understanding.
I visited the first city to ever be attacked with nuclear weapons, but I did not go to the second, and for now, the last. It is an indisputable fact that Hiroshima was the first place where nuclear weapons were used in war, but it is not certain that Nagasaki will be the last. It might very well be the last, and I hope above all that it is, but only if we make it so.
A letter from our associate, Ciara Jacques, for the 10th anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami
Ten years ago today, Japan experienced the strongest earthquake in its recorded history. About 80 miles east of Japan’s Tohoku region, the earthquake struck below the Pacific ocean and caused a tsunami that devastated over 200 square miles of coastal land. The result was unimaginable destruction, crippling the infrastructure of the country and leaving more than 450,000 people homeless and over 15,500 dead. More than 2,500 people are still missing. The cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, caused by the tsunami and resulting in a nuclear meltdown, was the final event of this triple disaster and has had lasting consequences.
At that time, I was a sophomore in high school, vaguely familiar with Japan through watching anime and reading manga. The magnitude of the disaster astonished me, and I felt strongly that this was something more people in my school community should be talking about. I wrote an article for my school newspaper covering the topic as extensively as I could, and while researching, read through a number of interviews with locals of the Tohoku region affected by the disaster. Some were community members concerned about radiation contaminating their food, others were farmers wondering how they’ll get by if they can’t sell their crops. Some lost everything they owned, or people very dear to them.
While reading these stories, I was struck by the Japanese people’s resilience and their determination to persevere. They did not dwell on the tragedy but looked ahead to the future. I like to think of my experience writing this article as the first time I saw the spirit of Japan, and came a little closer to understanding it. It has sparked a passion in me for this country and its culture, and a fascination that I have been cultivating ever since and will last the rest of my life.
I recently learned more about Japan’s ongoing recovery efforts, including the rebuilding of cities and how the nation is coping with the radiation. Following the disaster in 2011, farmers, volunteers, and officials worked together to plant over 8 million sunflowers around Fukushima. These cheerful plants are known to soak up toxins from the ground and were also used following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. In Japan, these flowers have become a symbol of restoration and hope for a better future. They are a reminder that while nature can be an overwhelming destructive force, it is equally a force of healing, beauty, and creation.
Fukushima remains mostly deserted, but thanks to the generosity of millions of volunteers and donors from across the world, Japan has made huge strides in its recovery. Over 50 countries have contributed to relief efforts in Japan, in addition to private and corporate donations from all over the world. This example of international cooperation is a testament to the power we have to make a difference when we come together.
On this day, I hope that we can all remember the tragedy of 3/11, acknowledge the told and untold stories of its victims, respect nature’s creative and destructive power, and hold on to lessons learned. I also hope that we can look ahead to a future of continued international cooperation, unprecedented generosity, and fields of sunflowers.