Doves fly around the Atomic Bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park after their release during the memorial ceremony in Hiroshima, on August 6. The western Japanese city marked its 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing. AFP/ Getty Images / Kazuhiro Nogi
Every year on August 6, the world observes the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Early on that morning in1945, a B-29 Superfortress bomber known as the Enola Gay, under the command of Col. Paul Tibbets, dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb over Hiroshima. The explosion killed as many as 70,000 people in an instant and left tens of thousands more with injuries and illnesses that would later claim their lives. At that moment, a new era – a nuclear era – began. Every August 6 reminds us that memory cannot be morally neutral.
The story of the Enola Gay is the story of Hiroshima’s tragedy. It is the story of the destruction wreaked by nuclear weapons – push a button and an entire city is gone. The question of human survival moved from theory into practice. Thus, planning an exhibit about the Enola Gay requires addressing the controversy over how history should represent the most destructive weapons ever used in warfare. The main focus should not be the plane itself, but rather the story that resulted from the plane’s mission. The exhibition should tell the stories of the killed and maimed Japanese civilians, rather than present the incident as merely a technological achievement or as a heroic and triumphant moment without regard for the human costs.
From the Japanese point of view, of course, the atomic bomb was the cause of great suffering, of the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians. The exhibit should not, though, just focus on the Japanese as victims. It must also include reference to the Japanese government’s responsibility for the beginning and continuation of the war as well as the Hirohito regime’s inhumane treatment of war prisoners. The exhibit’s visitors will, naturally, view the display with perspectives colored by their existing points of view on the bombing, making it even more important for the organizers to present fairly all sides of the issue. This includes offering arguments made in defense of the use of nuclear weapons, the main one being that it shortened the war and made unnecessary a full-scale U.S. invasion of Japan that could have led to more deaths than those caused by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
I believe that the foundation of the exhibition on the Enola Gay should be the promotion of peace. I remember, years ago in school in Ukraine, we learned songs about a Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. At first, she did not appear to be injured, but a few years later, like many people in the area who survived the initial blast, she developed leukemia. She decided that if she could make 1,000 paper cranes, the illness would pass. She died several hundred short of her goal. Since then, the origami paper crane has symbolized peace. I would like to include stories like this in the exhibit, perhaps giving viewers the opportunity to make their own paper cranes in the name of peace.
The exhibition should remind us that human life is precious. Even knowing this, though, it is impossible to imagine a world without war. Maybe another part of the exhibit could be trying to explain what constitutes a “just war” and what are acceptable tactics and weapons during wartime. In delving into just war theory, the exhibit could pay special attention to concepts of human rights and the study of pacifism: “the just war ethic stands between sovereignty and the sacred, defining the sovereign’s rights and roles and defending the sacredness of human life.” (John D. Carlson & Erik C. Owens 45) War is, obviously, a complex social problem that raises many moral questions, the primary one being whether war is an absolute evil or is sometimes necessary for the greater good.
It is impossible to say with certainty what might have been, to know whether the United States and the Allies could have won the war with less of a human toll than that taken by the use of atomic bombs. Nevertheless, the exhibit should encourage viewers to work to create a world in which the horrors of Hiroshima are never repeated.