By Lorena Rodriguez, 2017-19 Rotary Peace Fellow, International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan
Last March, I visited Hiroshima with other Rotary Peace Fellows from International Christian University, hearing stories from survivors of the atomic bomb. Thanks to the Rotary Club of Hiroshima, we also saw the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Hiroshima is full of stories told and illustrated in various ways: in the images, monuments, poems, and human and nonhuman survivors. All these stories made me reflect in different ways about my commitment to memory and peace.
When we were walking through the Peace Memorial Park we encountered the “Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb,” a tower which stands on a large turtle-shaped base. The top of the tower is a crown engraved with two dragons and a register of the names of over 2,500 Koreans who were killed when the bomb exploded. The inscription on the monument says “Souls of the dead ride to heaven on the backs of turtles.” The monument was built in 1970 but only brought inside the park in 1999. Koreans comprised more than ten percent of the Hiroshima A-bomb victims, and many of them were discriminated against before and after the bombing.
Seeing this monument made me realize the importance of collective memory. In Japan, the narratives of the A-bomb talk little about the experiences of Koreans, their struggles, and their place in rebuilding Japan from the ashes. Allowing for multiple experiences can help us discover other collective identities that have been hidden after conflict and improve our understandings of our relationships with the others.
A-bombed trees tell a story
On our second day, we listened to ANT-Hiroshima describe their “legacy of the A-bombed trees” project. After the atomic bombing, it was said that “nothing would grow again in Hiroshima for 75 years.” However, within about a two kilometer radius of the hypocenter are 160 trees, comprised of 31 species, which survived the atomic bombing and are registered as “hibakujumoku” (A-bombed trees). These trees served as evidence of life and hope for the human survivors. I saw how today the A-bombed trees continue to stand and to grow with the marks of burn scars on their trunks, illustrations of what those trees “saw” before, during, and after the A-bomb.
Seeing the trees and hearing from the survivors who founded the project, I had my second reflection, how we often leave out the “unspeakable” experiences of other species in our histories. Nature is also a victim of war and conflict. Its narratives are seeds of peace for future generations who will read the horror through its scars.
After my visit, I did more research about social movements in Japan and I found that many local initiatives among survivors not only support nuclear disarmament, but are against nuclear energy. Survivors of atomic radiation are also strongly opposed to modifying Article 9, in which Japan “renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”
The role of collective memory
I believe the collective memories of victims of nuclear events should have a prominent place in the dialogues and debates on matters like nuclear energy and Article 9. Peace starts by rejecting means of violence and by honoring the spirit of pacifism.
As a Colombian and Rotary Peace Fellow, I think that memory can reveal forms of structural violence, resulting from dynamics of injustice and power, that are not readily connected with the actors of a conflict. Memory reminds us that society as a whole needs to take steps toward diplomacy, dialogue, and community building. I am deeply grateful to the Rotary Club of Hiroshima for the opportunity to visit Hiroshima. My experiences have shaped my understanding of peace and resilience, and have given me different viewpoints that I will share in my future as a peace ambassador.
Learn more about Rotary Peace Fellowships
Read this post in Japanese