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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Hiroshima Tile

Sixty-nine years ago this week, atomic scientist Leo Szilard wrote a petition that served as the final real effort to halt the momentum for the use of horrible new weapons against Japanese cities.  It would fail, of  course.  A month later, the U.S. would drop two atomic bombs over two large Japanese cities, killing about 200,000 civilians (mainly women and children) and a few thousand troops.

Every year at this time, I begin a "Hiroshima Countdown," re-tracing the fateful steps in the weeks leading up to the first use of atomic weapons against people and the immediately aftermath.

After I visited Hiroshima for more than two weeks in 1984 (and also Nagasaki) on a journalism grant I returned home with enough material, and inspiration, to write dozens of articles, and two books, over the following decades.  I also came home with a very tangible, haunting, artifact, given to me by one of my hosts:  a piece of a stone tile that once lined one of several branches of the Ota River that cuts through Hiroshima.  It had been in place there on August 6, 1945, and survived the atomic bombing--but was burned black on most of one side (indeed, the other side is unmarked).

That's a photo of it, still in my possession, at left.  Imagine the level of heat required to burn stone in this way. Then imagine deliberately exploding a new weapon, which also emitted deadly rays of radiation, directly over the center of a large city populated largely by women and children.

It's particularly haunting if you know that the rivers played a key role in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing, as tens of thousands staggered there seeking comfort, only to end up boiled to death or simply succumbing to their wounds or radiation.  Thousands of bodies would bob on the river for days.  The tile, like so many of the victims, was burned black, an anonymous object like all the rest, only it cannot feel pain, and recall it.

Greg Mitchell's book Atomic Cover-up on the U.S. probes the suppression for decades film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by our military film crew. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi I have a tile given to a friend who has pased away. It was given to him by Rev. S Katsuki the priest of Sairenji the explosion centre Hiroshima. Neale Scobie Qld Australia