The first floor of the museum continued to show a variety of consequences of the bombing, but I’d like to focus on the letters that make up the wall undergirding the model of the A-Bomb Dome. They are written on behalf of the people of Hiroshima to protest every nuclear weapons test. The letters continue until present day and are primarily not driven by states like North Korea, but instead are by ongoing sub-critical tests by Russia, China, and the United States. Such test produce no yield of fissile material and are allowed under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. However, while such tests are safer than other forms of testing, the city government objects to their intent as it seeks nuclear disarmament. I’d be interesting in discussing those issues in further depth at some point, although it was not my international relations focus and at my think tank (who I continue not to write on behalf of) the topic is handled by a different program. However, suffice to say, the topic is not a flight of fancy. The arsenals of the U.S. and the former Soviet Union have shrunk dramatically and there are any number of steps that disarmament advocates call for, such as de-alert weapons or ruling out first use, short of total abolition.
The second level dealt with Hiroshima under Allied occupation, specifically British Commonwealth forces in this city’s case. This is a topic I am somewhat familiar with, although it has been several years since I read Embracing Defeat. The exhibit focused on the ramifications of the bombing, from the Red Cross hospital where survivors were treated on the left, to the U.S. government studies of the effects of radiation poisoning that at times prioritized secrecy of treatment of the afflicted. Particularly hard-hitting for us, due to my Mom’s prior work at the United States Information Agency (not extant at the time), was the discussion of censorship on reporting of the extent of the damage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Restrictions imposed after the outbreak of the Korean War also prevented public gatherings including the 1950 peace festival, although the mayor did travel abroad to speak on the topic in France. The occupations of Japan and Germany are widely viewed as the best examples of the potential of rebuilding an enemy after a war. I still agree with that assessment, although I think there are many factors that resulted it in not being an applicable model elsewhere and it’s important to remember that even after the war ended there remained policies that put security concerns above ethical ones.
Finally, the top floor focused on the current state of nuclear weapons in the world, with the globe on the right showing declared stockpiles. I found this part to be informative and well-argued. I also particularly appreciated the sheer number of languages offered in the digital displays. That said, there’s a few other books I’ll be ordering and a few debates I wish to watch before I write in greater detail on these topics. The next portion was the museum shop, from which we acquired a good number of bilingual children’s books on the Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and other materials before proceeding to the second building. That one was rawer now that the the context has been established, and included more artifacts. It reminded both Moti and myself of nothing so much as the Holocaust Museum, both in content and caliber. I am yet unsure if I can do it justice in this format. I may continue on with the trip in the next post and save any further discussion for writing that is not travelogue.
To end on a slightly more hopeful note, I do want to emphasize the extent to which the de-escalation and then end of the Cold War has dramatically reduced the global stock of nuclear weapons. This should not encourage complacency; North Korea has gone nuclear and even now the world powers are in talks to reach a deal with Iran to prevent further proliferation in the Middle East. But if anyone tells you that the world is scarier now than it was at the height of the Cold War, they are trying to sell you something or just don’t know what they’re talking about. The progress we’ve made on preventing the annihilation of the human race is vital, and some credit must go to those who have made it their lives’ work to convince leaders and peoples of the world that these weapons must be constrained.