Whither Hiroshima: Fading memories and a changing world

Monzurul HuqMonzurul Huq
THIS year marks the sixty-first anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities towards the end of World War II. The anniversary also coincides with the world entering the age of atomic destruction, as the two bombs dropped on two Japanese cities within three days were the first and only example so far of such a deadly attack capable of wiping out cities and bringing untold misery to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

Though number sixty-one doesn’t fit in well with observance of anniversaries, for Hiroshima and Nagasaki it does not matter much, as counting of years is seen quite vital these days since the memory of the nightmare unleashed by the atomic destruction is gradually fading from people’s mind and hence there is an urgency to remind people that forgetting the misery would only help those who intend to see the world full of rivalry and conflicts.

Those who remember first-hand what exactly happened on the day bombs were dropped in two Japanese cities on August 6 and August 9 have long become a minority in those cities. And with the passage of time their number is dwindling even more every year, raising the important question of who is going to tell people about the horrors of those days so that they can remain alert against any attempt to repeat the incidents of Hiroshima or Nagasaki anywhere in the world.

But as human existence is a temporary phenomenon, it is very natural that even many of those who were children of Hiroshima on that ill-fated day sixty-one years ago are already gone by now, and those still surviving are about to leave within a short period of time. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as a result, are facing the serious problem of how to keep the collective memory of the atomic bombs and their aftermath alive, so that the message of peace can be passed over from one generation to another much more effectively with the hope that this would at least show us the flickering light when everything around seem to be turning dark and bleak.

Survivors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known in Japan as Hibakushas. As their numbers are in constant decline in recent years, many are worried that soon there will be no one to remind us of what happened more than six decades ago, and also to tell us that it was indeed a crime against humanity and that, for the benefit of civilization, such things should never happen again.

But as we all know, the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not only facing the problem of the disappearance of Hibakushas to convey the message of peace worldwide. A much more serious problem is that of the changing attitude of political leadership in advanced nations, as the race for armament is taking a new unprecedented shape with the arsenal of destructive weapons now capable of creating many more Hiroshima and Nagasaki without even sending a single warplane to drop them.

This is the paradox the atomic bomb cities of Japan now faces more than six decades after they witnessed a massive destruction hitherto unheard of. As a result, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are now trying to find new ways of preserving that memory, so that they would be able to continue sending the right signal to people everywhere that unless we keep a strong vigil, there is every possibility that another nightmare of a much more destructive nature might unfold anytime soon.

It is precisely because the world now has no shortage of such destructive arsenals, each and every unit of which has the capability of causing destruction many times more what Hiroshima and Nagasaki witnessed sixty-one year ago.

The city of Nagasaki has been fortunate to get an unexpected helping hand in preserving the memories of bombing in the form of three dimensional images created by a South Korean scholar who is presently teaching at a university in the city. Professor Jun Byungdug had for quite sometime been working on old images of the city taken by US military forces a few days before the bombing and immediately after.

He has transferred those images into three-dimensional forms using advanced information technology and as a result, the method is now capable of recreating the images of the city before the bomb was dropped and also capable of showing the blast and its destruction within the vicinity of the city. Professor Jun has already shown his three-dimensional images to various people including school children and he is hopeful that his method would allow preserving the memory in an effective way even long after Hibakushas are all gone.

But how successfully preserving the memory would be able to heal the deep wound that the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and all of Japan suffered is a completely different question. The deceased Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa made a rather sentimental film in late 1980s about the spiritual scars that the atomic bomb left in Nagasaki.

The film, entitled “Rhapsody in August,” conveys Kurosawa’s deeply disturbing feeling about the way memory passes into history and history is quickly forgotten. Gabriel Garcia Marquez once interviewed Kurosawa and asked him what that historical amnesia meant to Japan. Kurosawa’s flat reply was that the drama was not going to be over until the United States apologizes to Japan.

Gone also is Kurosawa now. And another towering figure in Japanese film, Shohei Imamura, who also had raised the moral questions related to atomic bombing in his beautifully made film “The Black Rain,” has passed away recently. So, not only Hibakushas are disappearing from the scene one after another. The leading figures of Japan’s world of intelligentsia who always were focusing on the issue from the standpoint of morality are fading into the past as well.

And those who remain are hawkish politicians in Japan and elsewhere, not capable of calculating the dimension of human sufferings that bombs and arsenals of deadly weapons always bring, be it in Iraq, Lebanon or anywhere on our mother earth. Hence, there is an urgent need to restore the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before it turns out to be too late.

Monzurul Huq is a columnist of The Daily Star.


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