Travel: Peace Memorial of Hiroshima Demands a Pilgrimage

The monuments of the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima will not let the world forget the Atomic Bomb or the international cost of war.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

There is travel that entertains you. There is travel that relaxes you. There is talent that educates you. Then there is travel that stops you and demands you to consider your humanity.

The region of Hiroshima immediately below the detonation point of the world’s first atomic bomb leaves evidence of its horror in plain sight, while presenting a series of memorials calling for the world to find some way to live in peace.

The central piece of the memorial is the A-Bomb Dome (above), an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prior to August 6, 1945, the build served as the city’s Product Exhibition Hall.  At 8:15 a.m., as much of the city was heading to work and school, a bombardier used the nearby, T-shaped Aloi Bridge as a target crosshairs and dropped the atomic bomb Little Boy.

Also: Travel: Treading Softly at Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine

History says the bomb descended for roughly 45 seconds before detonating about 600 yards above the building’s dome with the force of 12,500 tons of TNT. With seconds, between 135,00 and 150,000 people were dead or severely injured. Most of the dead were incinerated instantly. Many of the wounded died without 48 hours, killed by radiation.

Total dead is difficult to calculate because many injured fled the city, only to die in the surrounding countryside. Many more died of radiation-related illnesses months or years later.

The only building left standing in the entirely of central Hiroshima was the Exhibition Hall, though the blast was hot enough to melt the concrete and exterior iron work. 

abombmonument

In the years following the blast, original plans were to demolish the dome during the rebuilding of Hiroshima. However, it was decided to preserve the A-Bomb Dome as a monument and memorial.

The dropping of the bomb remains controversial amongst historians. While the bomb was obviously a nightmarishly powerful weapon and killed 135,000+ men, women and children, this bomb and the weapon dropped on Nagasaki days later ended the war without the need of a mainland Japan invasion. 

While planning the invasion that never happened against an enemy that refused to surrender, the Allies order an initial body bag count of 250,000. Those potential early casualties didn’t include the projected number of Japanese military and civilian dead.

The Hiroshima peace sites don’t waste time debating the use of the bomb. They only recognize the dead and call for the horrors of war to end. A series of monuments leads from the A-Bomb Dome to The Peace Memorial Museum that documents the artifacts of the bomb. 

Most travelers who visit the site remain silent and respectful. I spent most of my visit trying to get my mind around the scope of the destruction. Occasionally, I would see the younger visitors passing by without lingering — as though looking to pass through the recognition as quickly as possible.

With the younger school children, I could understand the failure to take in the scene. How can a child imagine 130,000 burned corpses? But, I hoped the millennials in the crowd could focus with more reverence. Few of them seemed locked in to the significance of the site.

Perhaps they can’t approach that depth of tragedy  because few experienced anything remotely similar. The wars of the last 30 years are minor skirmishes compared to World War II. Then again, maybe they move more lightly past the A-Bomb Dome because their lives have been too comfortable and too constructive to comprehend the scene in August, 1945.

Perhaps that comfort is exactly what those behind the Peace Memorial hope every young man or woman experiences in a lifetime.

You can experience more sights from the memorial in the gallery below.

All photos by John Scott Lewinski