Six and a Half Decades after 'Little Boy' Hiroshima Fights to Keep Memory of Nuclear Attack Alive

Hiroshima was largely destroyed 65 years ago in the world's first attack using a nuclear bomb. The bomb, dropped by an American plane, killed tens of thousands and destroyed an entire generation in the city. Six decades later, Hiroshima is fighting to keep the memory of the attack alive.

By Till Mayer in Hiroshima, Japan

Till Mayer

The nuclear bomb and small origami cranes -- for Kyoko Niiyama, the two images are inseparable. "Each of the paper birds tells the sad story of my city, but they also represent its hopes and strengths," the 20-year-old says.

When she was at school, she also tried to fold her own cranes, she says. Just as Sadako Sasaki once did. Every child in Hiroshima knows Sasaki's story -- and entire classrooms make pilgrimages each year to the section of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial dedicated to her, where they hang their own origami cranes on strings.

Sadoko Sasaki was two years old when the first atomic bomb exploded in her hometown. She died at the age of 12 of leukemia, a disease many children fell victim to due to radiation from the bomb. During her final days in the hospital, a friend told Sasaki that anyone who folded 1,000 origami cranes could make a wish to God.

For origami paper, she used packing materials, newspapers and magazines. Other patients and friends brought her sheets of paper. The 12-year-old valiantly folded her origami, day in, day out. She managed to fold 1,000 cranes within the course of a month. But her wish of recovery was never fulfilled. Sasaki died on Oct. 25, 1955. As her parents encouraged her to eat more on the day of her death, she asked for tea with rice. "It tastes very good," were the girl's final words.

Kyoko Niiyama knows the story well, but sometimes she still struggles to control herself when she tells it. Possibly because it reminds her of her grandmother, who herself is a hibakusha, the Japanese word used to describe those who survived the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One of the stories her grandmother told her about August 6, 1945, is the one about her great-grandfather, whose body was never found. His body was either burned to the point of non-recognition or was completely incinerated by the explosion. "My grandmother still says today that she was never able to accept the death of her father because his fate was never clarified," the 20-year-old says. "It is a pain that never goes away."

Will Hollywood Ever Make an Objective Movie about Hiroshima?

"Hiroshima is a special city with a message," says Niiyama, who wants to become a journalist. She is currently completing an internship at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum. It's an enormous, modern building, filled inside with exhibits on the unimaginable. One exhibit is a glass display case holding cranes that were folded by Sadoko Sasaki. The museum is also filled with photos, giant models and even tiles that were melted in the heat of the firestorm created by the blast.

The exhibits at the museum are very moving, and that is important to Niiyama. "We cannot forget the past," she says. "Of course we must also remember the crimes that were committed by our own military during World War II." Even 65 years after the end of the war, Japan still has a hard time coming to terms with its own history.

It's a problem, however, that isn't exlusive to Japan. Niiyama learned that during a year abroad, when she studied at a college in the United States. "To me, Hiroshima's message is not an indictment, but rather a warning for peace and against the nuclear bomb," she says. "I would have really liked to have told my fellow students in the US a lot about my hometown and its history," she says. But she says people had little interest in those stories.

Niiyama said her experience was that America's telling of history comes through overblown movies like "Pearl Harbor." She says she found there was a lack of any real discussion about the dropping of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "We will probably have to wait an eternity for an objective Hollywood film about the victims of Hiroshima," Niiyama says, sounding a little bitter.

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Clarence De Barrows 08/06/2010
1. Hiroshima
The story of Hiroshima is truly sad, but revisionist comments decrying the heartless A bomb dropping do nothing to enlighten as to why the attack was necessary. The Japanese were offered the opportunity to surrender unconditionally, but they refused that course. Had they accepted the attack would never have occurred. They started the war with a sneak attack and the U.S. ended it after Japan stubbornly refused to unconditionally surrender. End of report. President Harry Truman's main concern, notwithstanding revisionist commentary to the contrary, was "to bring the boys home." That is exactly what he did.
Norberto_Tyr 08/09/2010
2. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tallboy and fat boy, two cynical names
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tallboy and fat boy, two cynical names for the most criminal experiment ever attempted by the human race and one real name, Harry Truman, to remember. For the legalists, using these weapons on an open city was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention; if gas was banned, much more plasma, super heated gas. Yes, the war was over, Nazi Germany defeated, the USSR was moving the American provided war paraphernalia to the East to share the spoils banquet as victors as planned in Yalta (the main reason for the entrance of USA in the war, namely save the USSR), a luxury graciously granted by the incompetence, selfishness and blindness of Japan’s strategists. Please forgive me this digression, I always wondered what could have happened if Germany had finished the UK jumping the channel and Japan had attacked the USSR from the East instead of attacking the aircraft-carrier-deserted Pearl Harbour, that red herring. The irony is that the main enforcer and prickly nation regarding the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), namely USA, is the main culprit since, to be honest, none of the rather weak excuses given for this unforgivable attack comes close enough to justify such a crime against humanity. On the other hand, USA now decides who can and who cannot process nuclear fuel within their sovereign territory in a rather erratically manner, to say the least. For instance Israel can if they do not tell, Vietnam can, India can, but Iran, ummmm, no, we do not let them, … why ? Because we can ! (on paper though). And India, Pakistan, Russia, China and North Korea? Well, they can because we can’t. And the UK, who still have the responsibility to recover nuclear junk (HMS Sheffield) rotting in Antarctic waters (in clear violation to the Antarctic Treaty) as a consequence of Malvina’s war, 1982 ? Well, yes, they can because the British and also the French, of course, are our good friends. With this type of primary school policy and rhetoric USA pretends to lead the world in terms of nuclear safety, human rights, while Guantanamo, Cuba, still fully operational in 2010, and also likes to be seen as the champion for the freedom of the press while hushing Afghan and Iraq reports. Well, to anyone with common sense, the least common of the senses, these policies do not add-up, it is simply too inconsistent to be taken seriously; we can also recall the careless dispersal of toxic assets assisted by British products and manufactures, namely buying and selling ‘promises’ (derivatives is the technical name) between notoriously unreliable and dishonest people. In my view, remembering the Hiroshima mass murder is a fantastic opportunity for responsible nations to enter the international arena providing true leadership and most importantly, CONSISTENCY and common sense, the least common of the senses into international relationships. Simply put, we have been having too much Hollywood the last half a century and the camel is nearly breaking its back. It is time to do something rational NOW ! Norberto
Quadrat10 08/09/2010
3. Forgetting is forgiving - German point of view
Zitat von sysopHiroshima was largely destroyed 65 years ago in the world's first attack using a nuclear bomb. The bomb, dropped by a US Air Force plane, killed tens of thousands and destroyed an entire generation in the city. Six decades later, Hiroshima is fighting to keep the memory of the attack alive. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,710498,00.html
As a German citizen I just can't think of a peaceful European Union when all wartime atrocities starting with WWI to WWII would be part of a common daily consciousness instead of being a distant memory on national holidays for the very old folks and history for the "young" folks, the generations born after 1945. I do believe the same is true for Asia and Korean, Philippine and Chinese citizen who suffered the Japanese invasion in WWII. *As hard as it is for the survivors of any war, that their personal history will only remembered by some grandchildren - it is healing among the nations.* And that war movies do produce the images of a new artificial memory is true. Just think of the wildly popular American TV-Movie "Band of brothers" (the extended TV serial version of "Saving Private Ryan"). All german soldiers seem to be cruel and dumb and easy targets. Even if you believe they were all cruel and dumb (what about 18yrs old boys drafted to war?), why did the war last so long after the invasion of the Allied troops (D-Day) in France? May the german Wehrmacht soldiers were just not the faceless clay pigeon as they are portrayed. They were either fanatics, motivated by the propagand to fight for Hitler and their home country Germany or they were simply forced. And a lot of them were experienced and hardened (sent from Russia to France) soldiers who were ready to fight by all means. Any deserter would be killed immidiately by his fellow comrad, officers or german MP. I do recommend this new book about D-Day with stories about wartime atrocities on BOTH sides: D-Day: The Battle for Normandy / Antony Beevor http://www.amazon.com/D-Day-Battle-Normandy-Antony-Beevor/dp/0670021199/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1281334870&sr=8-3
BTraven 08/11/2010
4.
Zitat von Norberto_TyrHiroshima and Nagasaki, tallboy and fat boy, two cynical names for the most criminal experiment ever attempted by the human race and one real name, Harry Truman, to remember. For the legalists, using these weapons on an open city was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention; if gas was banned, much more plasma, super heated gas. Yes, the war was over, Nazi Germany defeated, the USSR was moving the American provided war paraphernalia to the East to share the spoils banquet as victors as planned in Yalta (the main reason for the entrance of USA in the war, namely save the USSR), a luxury graciously granted by the incompetence, selfishness and blindness of Japan’s strategists. Please forgive me this digression, I always wondered what could have happened if Germany had finished the UK jumping the channel and Japan had attacked the USSR from the East instead of attacking the aircraft-carrier-deserted Pearl Harbour, that red herring. The irony is that the main enforcer and prickly nation regarding the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), namely USA, is the main culprit since, to be honest, none of the rather weak excuses given for this unforgivable attack comes close enough to justify such a crime against humanity. On the other hand, USA now decides who can and who cannot process nuclear fuel within their sovereign territory in a rather erratically manner, to say the least. For instance Israel can if they do not tell, Vietnam can, India can, but Iran, ummmm, no, we do not let them, … why ? Because we can ! (on paper though). And India, Pakistan, Russia, China and North Korea? Well, they can because we can’t. And the UK, who still have the responsibility to recover nuclear junk (HMS Sheffield) rotting in Antarctic waters (in clear violation to the Antarctic Treaty) as a consequence of Malvina’s war, 1982 ? Well, yes, they can because the British and also the French, of course, are our good friends. With this type of primary school policy and rhetoric USA pretends to lead the world in terms of nuclear safety, human rights, while Guantanamo, Cuba, still fully operational in 2010, and also likes to be seen as the champion for the freedom of the press while hushing Afghan and Iraq reports. Well, to anyone with common sense, the least common of the senses, these policies do not add-up, it is simply too inconsistent to be taken seriously; we can also recall the careless dispersal of toxic assets assisted by British products and manufactures, namely buying and selling ‘promises’ (derivatives is the technical name) between notoriously unreliable and dishonest people. In my view, remembering the Hiroshima mass murder is a fantastic opportunity for responsible nations to enter the international arena providing true leadership and most importantly, CONSISTENCY and common sense, the least common of the senses into international relationships. Simply put, we have been having too much Hollywood the last half a century and the camel is nearly breaking its back. It is time to do something rational NOW ! Norberto
Had the Japanese known about the oil just waiting to be extracted from the Tundra they would have probably focused on conquering large parts of Siberia. But at that time the Far East of Russia was regarded as a place not worth investing because of its harsh environment and the lack of natural resources except timber, of course. Japan needed oil, and the States decided which country should get access to the wells. In a certain sense the decision to barrage the fleet which was anchoring in Pearl Harbour was reasonable. Bad luck for them that the aircraft carriers had left the port. I cannot imagine that Japan, despite all its modernity, allows that the generation who was born fifty years after the catastrophe will forget what happened. The days when the bombs were dropped will still be commemorated in the future and pupils will be taught about the terrible aftermaths the radiation caused by those who survived but were suffering later very much from diseases like cancer. It’s a tradition which will be kept up for eternity.
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