Letter from Hiroshima


Emily Strasser in Guernica:

Today marks seventy years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On this day seventy years ago, my grandfather was working in the top-secret lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that was responsible for enriching the uranium that fueled the Hiroshima bomb. If he understood the extent of the project before news of the bombing crackled over the radio that day, I’ll never know. He would continue a career in nuclear weapons, as Oak Ridge was enlisted in the feverish race to build bigger and bigger bombs. How much his eventual mental and emotional collapse was fed by guilt, I can only guess. Oak Ridge taught secrecy. George died nearly four years before his daughter-in-law, my mother, held me in a Chicago living room and wept in a state of postpartum despair over the possibility that she had brought a daughter into a world doomed to nuclear annihilation.

Now I am twenty-seven, one year older than George was seventy years ago, and today, I am in Hiroshima.

How do we walk through a landscape that has seen this sort of death?

Here it is bright hot summer, the air so humid I am instantly soaked through. The Peace Park, just blocks from the explosion’s hypocenter, is lush and green and thrumming with cicadas like I’ve never heard. I stand in front of the cenotaph, a stone tomb containing nearly 300,000 names of deceased A-bomb victims, those who died on August 6th and those who’ve died since; one volume is dedicated to, “a multitude of those whose names remain unaccounted for.”

It’s in the shadow of a saddle-shaped arch, which frames the Flame of Peace and the skeletal ruins of the now-iconic A-Bomb Dome behind. I watch as other visitors take turns posing in front of the arch. The gesture strikes me as strange, but I don’t know how to be in this place, either.

More here.