Updated: Apr 7, 2020
By Representative Denise Provost
As a post-World War II child, whose US Marine father was deployed in the Pacific Theater, I heard a lot about how the Japanese “deserved” the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I also saw the photos in Life Magazine of the devastated cities; people afflicted by radiation sickness; babies born with deformities; children dying of leukemia and other cancers. How could these people have “deserved” the horrors visited upon them and their families?
Spending my formative years in the days of duck-and-cover raids and fallout shelters, I needed to understand better the events that gave rise to the Atomic Age, the shadow of which is still upon us.
In 2016, I was chosen to take part in the University of the Middle East Project’s pilot Oleander Initiative program to be held in August of that year in Hiroshima. I attend the program with a dozen English-speaking teachers from the Middle East and North Africa, a handful of other Americans, and young Japanese staffers.
Hiroshima was a revelation: the first city to be destroyed by an atomic bomb had branded itself as a “city of peace” by 1947, observing the anniversary of the bombing as its “Peace Festival.” The completely devastated area beneath the bomb’s ground zero was rebuilt in 1952 as an enormous Peace Park. Hiroshima is a destination for people from all over Japan — especially in August, with its oppressive humidity, and the nonstop, high-pitched chirp of cicadas.
Punctuating that sound during our stay was the drumming and chanting of “peace marchers.” These groups of people, many of them elderly, walk to Hiroshima from other Japanese cities, carrying banners. In its own way, Hiroshima is still a kind of “ground zero,” but now for the movement to put an end to nuclear weapons.
Some at the forefront of this movement are hibakusha, survivors of the August 6, 1945, atomic blast, or their offspring. In 2014, there were still almost 60,000 hibakusha still living, although their average age was approaching 8