Shortly after 9/11/2001, I visited Hiroshima as a teacher on a Fulbright program. Our guide, Yoko Konosan, had a personal connection to the bomb. Her mother, a high school student on Aug. 6, 1945, was late for school. At 8:15 a.m., when she saw the atomic flash, she crouched behind a cement water fountain. That act saved her from intense radiation and heat injuries. 

Today, you might think, if you didn’t know the city’s history, that you were just in a beautiful city park with flowers, sculptures, trees, and a museum, if it weren’t for the skeletal ruins of a building with exposed steel girders. The bomb exploded directly above this building, but because the blast radiated out in all directions, the structure survives … a grim reference for Ground Zero.

Arriving at sunset, we first toured the park, talking in whispers. We stopped at the Peace Bell, and Konosan encouraged us each to ring the bell for world peace. With the tolling of the bell still resonating, we walked to the nearby statue of Sadako. A 2-year-old girl when the bomb fell, Sadako developed “the atomic disease” (leukemia) nine years later as a result of exposure to bomb radiation. Her paper cranes became famous as symbols of peace.

In growing darkness, we entered the museum. I saw a half-melted lunch box with the blackened remains of the food inside. A woman, searching for her son, could only find his lunch box, and took it in her desperation to have something of his.

Konosan showed us a picture of a blackened wall where survivors scratched names, asking if anyone had seen them, similar to the message boards near the World Trade Center after 9/11. She also said Hiroshima survivors had flashbacks of the atomic blast when they saw New York crowds running away.

The Peace Museum does not just chronicle the destruction caused by the atomic bomb. A large portion of the museum is about the emergence of peace as the mission of this city. The museum documents the development of Hiroshima University’s internationally respected peace curriculum and the Hiroshima Peace Institute’s conferences.

I left the museum inspired that traumatized people can choose to respond not with violence but with introspection and a commitment to peace. 

I also felt regret. The United States was making plans for war with Iraq. May this anniversary remind us of the enormous human costs of war, and the value of peacemaking.  

Paul Seline is an Oak Park resident. This letter was previously printed in the Chicago Tribune.

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