August 6, 2021
On the morning of August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. above the city of Hiroshima, Japan, the unthinkable happened. A B-29 aircraft flew overhead, a parachute opened and then a flash, an enormous blast and then a deafening silence as a mushroom cloud of smoke, flame and destruction blotted out the sun and engulfed the landscape. The United States had deployed the world’s first atomic bomb, instantly killing over 80,000 people. Three days later, we did it again over the city of Nagasaki, killing another 40,000. These two bombings, arguably the most violent and destructive wartime acts in the course of human history, effectively ended the second World War. They also completely destroyed two cities and ended a multitude of predominantly civilian lives, tens of thousands of whom succumbed to radiation-related injuries and illness in the aftermath of the devastation.
Seventy-six years later, this day can pass by largely unnoticed and unremembered in much of the United States. We have a hard time remembering the atrocities of last year, let alone those of three quarters of a century ago. But it would do us well to take a moment, to pause, to commemorate and to grieve a bit. That’s what they do on this day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Held almost every year since 1947, the ceremony includes the ringing of bells at exactly 8:15. At that time throughout Hiroshima, sirens also wail and the city’s citizens observe a moment of silence. And in the Peace Park, the website reads, they “gather to console the spirits of those killed by the atomic bomb and also to pray for lasting world peace.”
Last month, President Joe Biden signed a “Proclamation on National Atomic Veterans Day.” Evidently those who worked on and deployed nuclear weaponry need consolation as well. The proclamation reads: “Atomic Veterans served our Nation with distinction, but their service came at a great cost. Many developed health conditions due to radiation exposure, yet because they were not able to discuss the nature of their service, they were unable to seek medical care or disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their illnesses. Decades later in 1996, the United States Congress repealed the Nuclear Radiation and Secrecy Agreements Act, allowing Atomic Veterans to tell their stories and file for benefits. By then, thousands of Atomic Veterans had died without their families knowing the true extent of their service.” Clearly the harm of atomic weaponry started long before and has lingered long past its use. It makes the case for us to take a moment today to pause, remember — or simply imagine if we were not yet alive — and lament.
This evening in Hiroshima, the day will end with a “Peace Message Lantern Floating Ceremony.” Those attending write messages of peace on some 10,000 lanterns and then set them afloat down the Motoyasu River, where they will pass directly in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome. It is literally a “peace like a river” that flows out of the horrors of war.
Seventy-six years have passed and we still need peace to flow out of this day’s commemoration. So, find a bell and ring it. Make a lantern or find a candle and light it in the darkness. Our world still needs a lot more bells and lanterns than bombs.
Carl Horton serves as coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and interim coordinator for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy in the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry area of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
Today’s Focus: Hiroshima Day
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
God, on this Hiroshima Day, we remember, we grieve and we recommit ourselves to work for the peace of all people:
a peace that flows from you like a mighty river,
a peace that lights our way like a lantern in the night,
and a peace that like a bell proclaims your reign of wellbeing for all.