Time fails to heal the wounds of Hiroshima

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The Independent Online


Early this morning, 50 years ago, Japanese radio announced with epic understatement: "Hiroshima has suffered considerable damage. It is believed that a new type of bomb was used. Details are being investigated."

Details are still being investigated five decades later and the findings are still incomplete. By the time that radio bulletin went out, 100,000 Hiroshimans had been killed by the world's first atomic bombing. By the end of 1945 perhaps half as many again had died, as they are still dying, of radiation-induced illnesses. At the 50th annual Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony yesterday morning, 5,094 new names, were added to the list. These were the victims of the blast who died in the past year. The total stands at 192,020; it is certainly incomplete.

A 67-year-old early bird, Fukie Yoshimoto, was in the park soon after six in the morning. Fifty years before she had been sleeping in a dormitory in an adjacent suburb, where she worked in a factory sewing army uniforms. Her parents' home, where she should have been, was in the city centre; every member of her immediate family was killed.

Miwako Kambe, who was seven, was two and half miles from the hypocentre, sitting behind a window which exploded into her face. Yesterday she wept as she recalled her mother picking glass out of her cheeks and arms.

Just after lunch yesterday, the Rev Franciscus Hayazoe held mass at the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace. In 1945 he was a conscripted student at a Mitsubishi arms factory, 25 miles away. "I could see the cloud from where I was," he said. "Part of it was red and purple, with flashes of electricity. Around lunchtime the injured started arriving on army trucks. Their skins were red and peeling and their faces were burned."

At seven o'clock yesterday morning, the sky was full of helicopters from television stations, swooping over the 100,000 people who filed across the bridges into the Peace Park. At about that time on 6 August 1945 there was an air raid warning when a US weather plane, reconnoitring for the bombing squadron, passed over the city. Twenty minutes later, the all- clear sounded, people climbed out of their shelters to go to work. At the same time the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, set about its task. At 8.15 the bomb exploded 1,850ft above the city.

At that time yesterday, there was a minute of silence, and official attempts at consolation. Fifteen hundred doves were released, and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressed "admiration for all citizens of Hiroshima who rebuilt the ruins where not one tree or blade of grass remained". School children laid wreaths of paper cranes, tokens of longevity and remembrance, in front of the many memorials. Lanterns and paper umbrellas, symbolising the radioactive "black rain" which later fell on the city, drifted down the river.

For 84-year old Keijiro Okata it was little consolation. "What I remember most is losing my son. His head was all burned and festering, but there were no doctors. I tried to dress his wounds, but it just made things worse. One day, he told me he wanted a peach. Where were we supposed to get a peach in the middle of a war? But I got one. He died a few days later. He was only 12."

Mayor apologises, page 8

Essay, page 11