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A walk through Hiroshima

August 22, 2012

By Mathias Pollock

As I sat reading John Hersey’s recounting of individual experiences in his book Hiroshima on the transpacific flight, I was struck by how much the event sounded like a natural disaster. It was a horrible event that devastated an innocent civilian population. But unlike tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, this wasn’t unfortunate chance- this was preventable.

Flying over Hiroshima, it is hard to imagine that a city so verdant and alive today is less than 70 years removed from the deadliest single act of war in world history. The countryside conjures unsettled Appalachian ranges and the city has rebuilt around a resilient people, and while the scars may be fading, the echoes resonate

Nuclear weapons are unacceptable because they produce catastrophic humanitarian harm. While this is something that we all inherently know, most of us cannot really comprehend suffering on such a grand scale. Our minds just can’t wrap themselves around such tragedy. But being here in Hiroshima makes this issue palpable; like the August humidity, it envelops your body and permeates your skin.

In one day this issue became tangible to me. As I walked past the Genbaku Dome, the skeletal ruin of the old prefectural hall, in Peace Park today on the way to the conference center, my breath caught in my tightened chest.

I hadn’t been in the city more than 20 minutes, but seeing a group of Japanese students listening in rapt attention to a survivor’s story, sitting at the site of the original destruction, struck a chord.

Then we got to the ICAN conference, and it was kicked off by a very moving speech from Tsuboi Sunao, a hibakusha, an affected person, a first hand witness to the bombing. He spoke of unimaginable pain and I could see it in his eyes. He spoke of thermal burns and his face displayed the scars.

To the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these stories aren’t just memories- they are the reality they have lived with every day for 67 years. Those who suffer to recollect these events do so not seeking our prayers, but our promise- that we, as a global community, will never let this happen again.

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