If the United States had not dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, I, in all likelihood, would never have been born. My father (photos at right) was drafted in September of 1941. After Pearl Harbor, he was deployed to the Pacific. He was on the front lines of the invasions of Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. As a staff sergeant, leading a small group of men to free some trapped Marines, he was awarded a Bronze Star. Infected with jungle rot and exhausted in a way that I will never be, he was in an army hospital in the Philippines on August 6, 1945. Had there been no surrender, he would have been thrust with tens of thousands of other men into an invasion of Honshu. In his condition, I doubt he would have survived.
In August of 1990, I went to Hiroshima. Lugging a hardcover copy of an American history textbook around because I had to teach the survey course later that month at the University of Buffalo, I boarded the Shinkansen from Tokyo and took a taxis into town. I was visiting Japan with my fiancé who was there on business and held up Tokyo for work reasons. Not knowing more than polite phrases in Japanese, I toured the Dome in contemplative quiet of my own mind. I spent some time at the Children’s Peace Monument and, although terrible at anything artistic, made some paper cranes. For some time, I simply sat in the park. As a freshly minted historian, I was there to soak up the grim history, to feel, not just think, about the extremely marginal but distinctly individual role that the atomic bomb detonation over this city played for my family.
Headed next to the port where I would catch a ferry to Miyajima, I decided to take a bus rather than a taxi. It was Sunday and many Japanese were out to the park for the day. The bus was packed to the gills, so with my bag, weighted down by that history textbook, I stood in the aisle. A few stops in, a young woman about my age caught my eye. I probably looked tired. I had gotten up very early, traveled and walked all day. She scooched over a bit and wordlessly indicated that I should sit down. Although much thinner at 32 than I am now, my Irish and Italian stocky frame made up at least two for every one Japanese, but she, and then some others, made room for me. We sat in silence. I began to cry. Not sobs, just the quiet release of all I had come to absorb, and felt, on that day. And then so did she.
Arigatou gozaimasu, President Obama, for reminding us of our humanity.
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