Editorial: A-bomb exhibitions at Pearl Harbor and Los Alamos could help advance nuclear abolition

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in Naka Ward, has begun discussing with the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii the idea of holding an A-bomb exhibition at that site in the summer of 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings.

Typically, when Japanese people would say, “No more Hiroshimas,” the American response would be, “Remember Pearl Harbor.” To date, when those in Japan and the United States engaged in endless argument over responsibility in World War II, these two places would frequently be mentioned: one, the A-bombed city; the other, the site where war broke out between the two nations.

In addition to Pearl Harbor, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum also hopes to hold an A-bomb exhibition at the U.S. museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was developed. The museum’s idea of holding A-bomb exhibitions at these two places reflects its belief that the true consequences of the atomic bombing must be conveyed squarely at sites that hold a deep connection to the war. We are very hopeful that these ambitious events can be realized.

However, the path ahead will not be smooth. There are some in the United States who persist in justifying the atomic bombings.

In 1995, the year that marked the 50th anniversary of the A-bomb attacks, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC planned to hold an A-bomb exhibition in parallel with a special exhibition on the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the Hiroshima bomb. However, the organizers were forced to abandon this plan after facing fierce opposition from World War II veterans.

Kenji Shiga, the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said that when he approached the U.S. museums about staging these exhibitions, he felt that a change had occurred on the American side, now trying to relate history from various perspectives.

From the outside, it may seem that this change was prompted by former U.S. President Barack Obama, who was born and raised in Hawaii. Last year Mr. Obama paid a visit to Hiroshima, the A-bombed city, and he also appeared in Hawaii with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Another factor for this change may be the weakening influence of the U.S. veterans due to the aging and passing of this generation.

Above all, the fact that A-bomb exhibitions have been held in various places in the United States, one after another, should be underscored. Since the collapse of the plan to hold an exhibition in Washington, DC, such exhibitions have been continuously pursued by the City of Hiroshima and thoughtful citizens in the United States and their persistent efforts may have laid the foundation for these two high-profile exhibitions. This is also why the museum at Pearl Harbor agreed to display a paper crane made by Sadako Sasaki, a 12-year-old Japanese girl who died of leukemia that was induced by radiation from the atomic bomb and became the inspiration for the Children’s Peace Monument in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and has exhibited this small paper crane since 2013.

The people of Hiroshima hope that these exhibitions could lead to two productive outcomes. One of our hopes is that Americans will face the historical facts of the atomic bombing.

We are reminded of the time when we welcomed people from nations in Asia to Hiroshima for the Asian Games held here in 1994. While they pointed out Japan’s war responsibility, they were nevertheless shocked to discover how horrific the nature of the Hiroshima bombing really was.

It’s all the more important that the citizens of the nuclear nations see this extreme atrocity first-hand and recognize that the people who were in Hiroshima that day were overwhelmed by the tragedy beneath the mushroom cloud and have had no choice but to endure terrible suffering for decades after the war ended.

The other hope for the exhibition is to share the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the governments of both Japan and the United States have turned their backs on the idea of signing and ratifying the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which is the earnest desire of the people of the A-bombed cities. But at least on the level of citizens from both nations, the exhibitions can help both sides see the common humanity in the A-bomb casualties. Such recognition might then form the basis for new attitudes toward nuclear abolition.

Along with displaying materials related to the atomic bombings, visitors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki could attend these exhibitions, too, such as A-bomb survivors sharing their experiences and volunteers offering explanations. A-bomb survivors now residing in Hawaii, from the Japanese-American community, could also be encouraged to take part in some way.

Apparently, mutual visits made by the directors of the museums in Hiroshima and Hawaii underpin the development of the A-bomb exhibition idea. In order to cultivate more people who are able to face history from a long-term perspective, other activities, such as exchange activities involving the museum curators, should also be considered.

Lessons must be learned from history that can help us move forward toward the goal of nuclear abolition.

(Originally published on September 23, 2017)