Imagine the destruction

Editor’s note: Princeville resident Michael Dexter-Smith recently visited Hiroshima. This is a brief account of what he saw.

They say a picture can say a thousand words. My first picture is of a tricycle found a few miles from the epicenter of the atomic bomb explosion. Dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, I will leave the reader to fill in those thousand words with their imagination.

Hiroshima was chosen as a target for the first bomb as a major embarkation port and industrial center and also the site of a major military headquarters. By a perverse twist of fate, many children had been deployed to the city that morning to clear houses and to create fire breaks because of the fire-bombings of other cities.

Early in June 2016, on an appropriately forlorn and cloudy day, we approached the “bomb dome” from Hiroshima Station, on tram line 6 to Genbaku-Domu Mae, crossing a busy road (but only when the little green man was lit, as this is Japan), through a few trees and right up to the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, now commonly known as the Genbaku (A-bomb) dome. It’s a singularly simple and appropriate no-frills approach to such an historical monument.

Visitors were generally quiet and most stood and simply looked at an icon, an epitaph perhaps, a reminder of man’s ability to wreak absolute chaos on each other.

These ruins, seen by so many, are really quite small and only stood as a result of being reinforced for earthquakes and by being almost directly below the detonation of the bomb at 1,900 feet, so the shock wave went directly downward on the building.

You can get very close to the ruins of the building — but being close really gives you no perspective or comprehension of what really occurred here. You have to imagine a 4-mile swath of destruction in all directions, and then more beyond that.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is across the bridge, as is the peace bell being rung by the writer. Ringing it made me feel a little better — just telling the world I cared seemed to help.

The peace flame has burned continuously since it was lit in 1964 and a group of people in front of it, remembering lost family members, no doubt, reminded one that it can never be forgotten and nor should it.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum says that “it collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos and other materials that convey the horror of that event.” It was packed with school parties which lifted the spirit a little and encouraged you physically to move forward. An older lady in a wheelchair was crying as she was pushed around — you wanted to say something to console her, but what …?

The number of 350,000 to 400,000 casualties is often used to describe the eventual death toll. Agree with, or not, the use of the two bombs “to end the war,” my thoughts now often return to that tricycle and its lost young owner. I’d like to buy him a new one and say “Sorry.”

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Michael Dexter-Smith is a resident of Princeville and president of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay.

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