It was 75 years ago today, Aug. 6, 1945, when the United States dropped what was clearly the most harrowing weapon ever created. The atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima unleashed instant death, destruction and devastation. Three days later, the city of Nagasaki was likewise annihilated by the deployment of a second atomic bomb — and the world’s last.
Arthur Cyr, a professor of history at Carthage College, noted, “An estimated 130,000 people perished from the Hiroshima bombing, approximately half during the explosion, most of the rest soon thereafter.
“The comparable estimate for Nagasaki is 80,000 people. Victims of these terrible weapons continued to die because of radiation and other lingering aftereffects.”
In 2016, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city. In his remarks on the occasion, he asked, “Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?”
Then answered, “We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead. … Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”
Looking inward and taking stock, as an individual, community or nation, is the beginning of progress. Remembering is vital — especially in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of 2020. It is easy to forget the lessons from the people who have gone before.
Obama talked about the survivors, which the Japanese call the hibakusha. “Some day, the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.”
Moral imagination is power. It is needed now more than ever. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it another way, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Combining moral imagination with truth and love promotes peace, understanding and progress.
It is stunning to think that after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki a third bomb has not been unleashed on the world. In the past 75 years, restraint has kept the world safe from such weapons. Restraint is a precious character trait in leaders and nations.
The venerable author and thinker George Will noted that, “One of humanity’s remarkable achievements is this absence of something.” Adding that it’s been 27,394 days since a nuclear weapon was detonated in battle.
Other lessons from Hiroshima address the importance of being grounded in true principles and resilient in the face of adversity.
The 2019 G20 Interfaith Forum was held in Tokyo ahead of the G20 Economic Forum. Elder Gerrit W. Gong, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, provided a powerful metaphor for moving forward in his address. He referenced the Japanese hibakujumoku, or “survivor trees” which miraculously weathered the Hiroshima bomb.
While most trees were destroyed by the blast, 170 of these trees not only survived but soon sprouted new leaves and signaled rebirth to the nation. Elder Gong stated, “These ‘survivor trees’ represent the regenerative miracle of deep roots and strong resilience.”
Roots and regenerative resilience will be key to local communities and the country moving forward with vital shared initiatives dealing with the pandemic, social justice and economic opportunity for all.
Elder Gong concluded, “We promote peace when all voices seeking the greater good participate, where none is disparaged or denied, even if the inevitable disagreements of healthy pluralism persist.”
Everyone has a role to play. Everyone must remember.
That memory enables a fight against complacency, offers fuel for moral imagination and allows everyone to change.