Monday, June 30, 2008
Strings of Time
Saturday morning, while her sister played with the kids in Peace Park - climbing trees and eating heaps of strawberry ice cream - she and David went to the the Hall of Remembrance to hear an Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor), Emiko Okada, speak about her experience. She was 8 years old when she saw the sky blast and rip open and turn her world into ashes, death and poison. The following is elin's scribbling notes as the translator spoke:
"I am here today to speak about my A-bomb experience but also about what to do about our future. I was 8 years old when the bomb was dropped. In 10 seconds the red area here on this map was completely burned - everything in a 2 kilometre radius from the hypocenter. The winds from the blast, heat rays and radiation were the 3 elements that destroyed everything. Radiation was scattered in a 4 kilometre radius. 70,000 people died instantly. Another 70,000 died by the end of 1945 (140,000!)."
She can not believe her ears even though she knows these figures, these numbers, these deaths, these truths. She has heard and read about them so often, especially here in Hiroshima, but this morning, this figure shocks her. She can not help but think of the few thousand dead on 9/11 and the enormous grief of the American people. But this is almost 50 times that and she only knows about one amazing Swiss doctor, Dr. Junod, who came a few days after the A-bomb with tons of medical supplies to help. Where was - is the American grief and guilt about this massive murder? Yes, we were at war with Japan, but Japan was ready to surrender and everyone knew that - at least everyone in the military. Even the scientists and military generals advised President Truman not to drop the bomb. Her mind soars in anger and empathy and she feels chilled. At least another 140,000 have died as a result of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. The blood and suffering seems endless and looming.
"It has been 63 years since the bomb and 4,000 people are added each year to the registry of victims of the A-bomb (that is stored beneath the cenotaph beside the flame that will burn until all nuclear weapons are abolished.)
I had 6 people in my family and we lived 2.8 km from the hypocenter, behind Hiroshima Station: my parents, an older sister and 2 younger brothers. Day after day the war was being fought. The only information we had was from the radio, so we knew about heavy bombardments in Tokyo and Osaka. There were many planes over Hiroshima, but no bombings. The young men were all in the military. At the homefront, women, like my mother, were doing regular drill practices, defense drills with spearheads and fire extinguishers and water buckets. Middle school students were mobilized to work at ammunition factories, clothing depots and to demolish houses for fire lanes. Soldiers were the #1 hero to me then. Day after day I saw the soldiers off to war. In the 3rd grade I was evacuated to the outskirts of the city.
August 5, the night before, many planes flew over. It was a sleepless night. All of us were dressed in clothes that had been altered from kimonos because kimonos were not suitable for work. All boys were dressed like soldiers. On the morning of the 6th there was an air raid warning but then it was lifted. We were all preparing for the day's work. I heard the noise of a plane. I saw shiny airplanes flying over in the blue sky. With my 2 brothers I looked up and saw the shiny planes and thought, 'oh, planes,' and then there was an enormous flash; my mother was covered with blood from shattered glass. She took us and fled. In 10 seconds enormous flames came towards us. Those who didn't die instantly tried to flee to the outskirts of the city, crying, yelling for help as the headed towards the mountains. Children were crying for their mothers, 'mother, mother, mother,' in desperation towards the mountainside. People were badly burned, flesh and bones exposed. What I remember about myself is I was very nauseous and vomited. I saw 2 horses who died with their intestines exposed. People were dieing and calling feebly for help, 'water, water'. There was a charred four year old but the eyeballs came out drooping and I could not tell if it was a boy or a girl.
Nobody knew what happened.
My family: my 4 years older sister had left home that morning with a cheerful goodbye. She was supposed to be near ground zero. She never came back and the city burned all night and was levelled. After the fires subsided, I saw nothing but wasted remains of buildings and I could see all the way to Ugina port. My mother went out to search for my sister and saw many, many bodies everywhere, including in all the rivers. THE RIVER WAS RED. My mother tried almost 3 months to find her daughter, as far as Ninoshima Island (where some orphans were sent), to find some clues of her daughter, but THERE WAS NO TRACE. After months of searching she became very sick. I think she had a miscarriage. We stayed in a bamboo grove. My brother had burns and maggots bred in his injuries. There was no medicine, no doctors, no way to treat the injuries. THE ONLY TREATMENT WAS POWDER MADE OUT OF HUMAN BONES. Myself, I had bleeding gums around the clock so my mouth was always sticky. My hair fell out. I was tired all the time and had no strength. We did know what it was. People said it was a poison.
One by one people came back to burned ruins. We did not know about Nagasaki. Ten days later Japan surrendered and the war ended. There was a rumour that there would be no plants in Hiroshima for 75 years. We had no hope. Hiroshima - everything was burned. There was nothing in the ruins, nothing to eat. When I first saw the green grass growing alongside the railroad tracks, I thought it was a sign of new life and it gave me relief. Children who had been evacuated to outskirt temples were brought back after the war and were orphans. They hung out around Hiroshima Station. They did not know that radiation was everywhere. They had no food and were easily used by the wrong hands, gangs. Two orphans were taken by a temple but the rest had a very hard time to eat. THE WHOLE CITY WAS IN CHAOS FOR YEARS. 2,000 of the 6,500 known orphans were lost - nobody know what became of them. For several years after the war everyone was obsessed with hatred and misfortune - fighting and robbery were everyday occurances. After 6 years,people began to think that nothing would lead them to anywhere and they turned towards a positive way of living.
In the rebuilding process, from the river and earth, many things have been dug out - belt buckles, buttons. Parents who lost children, old parents, rush to see with slight hope if they can find a clue of their children. These parents are in their 80s and 90s now.
I do not only want to speak about the A-bomb. HOW DO WE MAKE A NUCLEAR FREE, PEACEFUL WORLD? There are 30,000 nuclear weapons in this world. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not past events. They are about today's situation. Three years ago I visited India and Pakistan with a World Friendship Center delegation. Both countries have nuclear weapons and these weapon systems require lots of money so I thought these countries would be rich.But in New Delhi I saw people and animals lying on the street. I observed India's Independence Parade and it was beautiful and proud. The missile was in the parade and the people were excited and proud and cheering. Behind that children were looking for something to eat in the garbage. A girls' mother hit and kicked her when she did not find food in the garbage. I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN OF THIS WORLD ARE TREASURE. The next place was a temple that protected girls. Girls in India, beautiful girls in saris, stand along the streets as prostitutes. We went to a school for high-ranking families and the children were being taught that all other countries were their enemies,College students and adults believe nuclear weapons help to defend the country. Most of them know the name Hiroshima but not more than that.We met politicians and leaned about military expenditures and we said, 'please take some of that money to the children, for the peoples' welfare.' They said, 'We expect you foreigners to tell that to our government.' We said to the children, 'After India we got to Pakistan and we want you to make friends.' They said, 'They are our enemies. We can not make friends with them.' In Pakistan, it was worse than in India. There are many refugees from Afghanistan in camps that look like graveyards. Little girls with their own babies on their backs. No water. Little food. Pakistan sends weapons to North Korea for nuclear testing while children suffer.
How do we solve these difficult problems in the world? We would like to solve it with all of you. SPREAD LOVE IS OUR MOTIVE. THINK ABOUT PEACE." The hibakusha gives them each a paper airplane made by a bomb-orphan, now in his old age. When you spread the plane's wings a paper crane rests on the plane's spine. Swords into ploughshares, birds instead of missiles.
Needless to say she wants to return to the U.S. and work on having all NC mayors join the Mayors Conference for Peace that meets annually in Hiroshima. And even that seems like nothing, not enough. She is anxious to see her children, her treasure, and when she gets up above ground in the drizzling rain, there they are, being photographed by her sister against a tree. Madeleine tells her about how Guthrie explained that they keep the A-dome there so people will know what happened.
They go have lunch at Zucchini - a lovely Spanish tapas bar with a Japanese flavor. It was delicious: Spanish omelette, seafood salad, shrimp sizzling in olive oil, fresh bread, sangria and a big pan of chirozo paella. They went home to take a nap and both kids wet the bed. She rushes to change the sheets because sweet Deana will watch them while they go to the opening of Strings of Time and Dome: Artists attempts at the A-dome.
Strings of Time is one of the best exhibitions she has ever seen - large color photographs of clothing from the Peace Memorial Museum, back-lit. All of it is tattered or burned or singed or faded or worn or wrinkled. The photographer is Isiuchi Miyako and she was there in her mother's kimono, her grey hair wild. Her previous projects was called Mother's and it was a series of photographs of things left behind by her mother when she died. She wants to buy the photograph of the glove, fingertips darned, or the one of four and a half teeth still set in the gum, floating in a sea of blue. There is lots of blue in these photographs and she thinks about how much Carol Mavor would love this show and how much she would write about it. She is once again struck by the extreme beauty and pain of rendering horror with such spectacular aesthetics. You can see every thread, feel the cloth, imagine the little girls and big boys, mothers and fathers, doctors and soldiers who once filled these clothes, wore the round-rimmed glasses, pulled up those long white - now yellowed and blackened - socks. As Miyako writes in her one page essay, "For Things that remain Forever," in her gorgeous book: "For my photographs, I selected items that had been in direct contact with the victims' bodies...The objects that remained in the city after being subjected to a military and scientific experiment do not speak, they merely exist, but despite the horrors of the details, I found myself overwhelmed by the bright colors and textures of these high-quality clothes....They make me realize that the length of time that has passed since these items were converted into a historical testimony is approximately the same as which I have lived...It is difficult for a human being to survive for even one hundred years, but these objects have been bestowed with a longer existence. As parts of the largest scar the world has known, they will outlive us all, and never grow old. The relics filled me with a thousand emotions, there is no record of the identity of the owners of the two dresses (which were among the first items to be collected) but when I look at them, I visualize the beautiful young women who wore them, and it is with these thoughts in mind, that I publish this book."
She met so many wonderful people that night: the artist, the curator, other curators from across Japan, the artist's gallerist from Osaka who wants to see her work, and a film producer who grew up with American missionary parents in Japan, went to Yale and now produces films, the latest about kamikaze pilots who survived. She said, "the film really makes the parallels with the war in Iraq obvious but there is one dramatic difference. In Japan it was "war, war, war" and in the U.S. it is, "What war?"
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