Nagasaki Peace Park

Nagasaki Peace Park, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

When I was working in Moldova, I would teach 3 weeks of each year for each grade (5-11) about peace and resolution conflict. This looked different depending on the age. Fifth graders learned about sharing. Ninth graders learned about date rape and rape in general. My seventh graders learned about the need for world peace and they learned to fold origami cranes. First we would have story time and then we would work on cranes. I was amazed at how some of the children, so far removed from WWII, Japan, Origami, cancer, or war could take such a liking from this lesson and Sadako’s story. But they did. I know that there are many versions, but this is the one I told.

“Some of you may already be familiar with the origami crane as a symbol of peace, and more specifically the tradition of ‘1,000 Cranes for Peace.’ For those of you who are not familiar with the origins of this tradition, it lies with the story of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was just two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. While she suffered no immediate injury, the effects of her exposure caught up with her some ten years later and she fought a courageous battle with leukemia. After she had become sick, Sadako’s best friend told her that the crane, which is a sacred bird in Japan, grants a wish to someone who folds one thousand paper cranes. After hearing this, Sadako immediately began folding cranes for her one wish: to get well again. Her health gradually deteriorated and Sadako began to wish instead for world peace, that children could live safe from the effects of wars. Sadly, she did not finish. When Sadako died in October of 1955, she had folded a total of 644 cranes. Her classmates folded the remaining cranes in time for her funeral. This tradition has continued and the paper crane has remained a symbol of peace for children around the world.”

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How many times can a heart break?

Feet from the epicenter for the Nagasaki A-Bomb explosion, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

On Monday a nation founded itself stunned at the shooting on the VT campus. Over in Japan, the news came quickly as well and by Tuesday I was hearing the snippets of news and confusing information coming out. Wednesday night, when the story seemed clearer, I read about it in the NY Times and I watched the news (in Japanese). As everyone, my first thought was of shock and horror. My second thought (or maybe first when I learned he was an immigrant) was “oh shit—the backlash”.

Yesterday I went to Nagasaki, a city that 62 years ago we dropped an atomic bomb on. I stood at the epicenter of an explosion that killed about 75,000 of the cities 240,000 residents were killed instantly. Another 75,000 were injured (some of whom died later).

I went to the Peace Park and watched as a class of children read poems about peace, about their wish for the future, about those who had died. I watched as they hung the paper cranes they had made in on of the many places for wishes. I thought about how young they were and the world they were growing in. I visited the Museum, which I think was done wonderfully. It was painful, and moving, and sickening– just like the whole experience.

The whole thing breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that we live in a world where people get so lost and so angry that they feel killing others in a massive school shooting will help.

It breaks my heart that when the nation sees this man, this boy—they see his nationality and his immigration status first.

It breaks my heart that President Bush could stand up in front of VT and talk about the tragic and senseless loss of life without ever being able to make a connection to the tragic and senseless loss of life that he is instigating and supporting in Iraq.

It breaks my heart that since the bombing of Nagasaki, the United states has considered using nuclear weapons again (both in Vietnam and in Iraq’s first war). Although, at least in this case, I am heartened that we didn’t.

It breaks my heart to think about Agent Orange that we did dump over Vietnam and Cambodia during that war. The effects of this are still playing out today as it is carried in the genes and causes worse birth defects the further down the genetic chain. (So, the great-grand children years to come will be paying for what we did to their great-grandparents in years past). Shame on us!

Maybe this is not a paradox I would have seen if it had not been for timing. Maybe reading about the shootings in Virgina made me more vulnerable to experiencing the pain of Nagasaki. In any case, I can’t be helped but be touched at the out pouring of support for the families and students in VT, while at the same time be horrified that we do not have that same empathy and sympathy for the victims of war (both our own soldiers and that thousands of innocent civilians of other colors that our war, this American war, is creating).