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Reflections on Hiroshima

Jim Thurlow — August 1984

As I stepped off the train at Hiroshima station for the first time, in the fall of 1953, it was almost like walking on sacred ground, and I was filled with a sense of awe. This was where it happened. This was a city of suffering so massive that I really could not imagine it. Here was a symbol of man’s inhumanity to man and I felt a sense of shame and guilt for my country’s part in producing the weapon which caused so much suffering and loss.

In the years since, and particularly after my marriage to Setsuko, a survivor of Hiroshima, I have pondered much on the meaning of Hiroshima. It is a symbol of many things. It is a symbol of rebirth, of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, of the triumph the human spirit sometimes has over suffering and adversity. It is a symbol of the suffering brought by the nuclear age.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only examples we have of the actual experience of nuclear war, but these examples were on such a small scale, compared with the effects of today’s nuclear weapons, that they become almost irrelevant and may be very misleading examples of nuclear war. By this I mean that the modern visitor to Hiroshima sees a modern, bustling city and may acquire the quite erroneous impression that nuclear war is survivable, that a city can recover from a nuclear holocaust.

Hiroshima is a city of endless grieving. The lanterns floating down the rivers on the evening of August 6th represent the thousands of citizens who jumped into the rivers to escape the heat and fire on that fateful day, died, and were carried out to sea to an unmarked watery grave. I remember the memorial service at Hiroshima Jogakuin, a girls’ school and my wife’s alma mater. There was a choir of young teen-age girls — their faces and voices lovely and fresh and clear, just like those others who perished in the inferno. And there were the aging parents, remembering their beloved daughters as they once were. It was only with the greatest humility that I could bring myself to place my flower on the cenotaph stone.

The city of Hiroshima may seem exotic and distant to many but there are, in fact, many links between Canada and Hiroshima. Of late there has been an increasing interest in exploring the meaning of Hiroshima and numerous Canadians have visited that city in recent years.

Two gentlemen from the Hiroshima city government recently visited Mayor Eggleton of Toronto with a proposal for an international mayors’ conference of solidarity against nuclear weapons. This suggestion was warmly received by the mayors of Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and several smaller municipalities. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as Japanese citizens’ groups, have been generous in sending us various resources such as films, tapes, photographs and books, many of which are available from Hiroshima-Nagasaki Relived (416-xxx-xxxx).