Ringing bells

It is always a bit tricky when you are talking about what time it is or even what day it is when you think of the world as a whole. Japan is 15 hours ahead of Mountain Daylight time, so when we talk to our daughter in the evening, it is the next morning in Japan. We have had some fun with the time change. Our grandson was born in the morning in Japan, so we received the news in the evening here. I said to the people in a meeting I attended that evening, “Our daughter just had a baby tomorrow morning!” Although his birthday is July 12, we knew of his birth on July 11.

In general, we have recognized August 6 wherever we are as the day of commemoration of the detonation of a nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Last evening, however, we rang bells in commemoration at 5:15 p.m. local time to correspond with the actual time of the blast. Last evening, I accompanied members of 1st Congregational Church who are also, like us, members of Rapid City’s Japan Sister City group, as we rang the bell at the church. One of the tasks I had neglected when I left as pastor of the church, was teaching others how to manually ring the bell, so I agreed to go over and assist and teach about the bell, which, as usual, was a bit glitchy, but did ring a half dozen times.

Hiroshima was an important military target during World War II. It was an important industrial and shipping area and home to the Second General Army, which was responsible for the defense of southern Japan. The Second General Army consisted of 400,000 men, but most of them were in Kyushu at the time anticipating an invasion of the island.

The bomb, the first of only two atomic bombs ever used in warfare, detonated over the city. The force of the blast was vertical at the center of the blast, which allowed the structure of a few reinforced concrete buildings, designed to withstand earthquakes, to survive. Most notable is the dome over the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now commonly known as the A-bomb dome. Due to a cross wind, the center of the blast was slightly off target and the explosion was almost directly over the Shima Surgiclal Clinic. An intense firestorm followed the blast as wood frame and paper houses burned. Fire barriers were ineffective in preventing the fires.

An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 civilians were killed by the blast and firestorm with an equal number injured. Nearly 70% of the buildings in the city were destroyed. The mayor of the city was killed. An estimated 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in the city were killed.

Although there has been some debate about the use of atomic weapons at the end of World War II, such conversations do not change the fact that decisions were made in the midst of a brutal world war that had already claimed the lives of millions. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. With an estimated total of 70 - 85 million casualties about 3% of the world population at the time. With such death and destruction, it is meaningless to try to compare the suffering of one group of people to that of another. The total of 3.1 million Japanese casualties is enormous, but small compared to 24 million deaths of citizens of the Soviet Union. It was a terrible war with huge casualties and atrocities nearly beyond imagination.

It is a simple fact that the bombs were dropped. One over Hiroshima and one over Nagasaki three days later. Six days later, Japan surrendered to the Allies and the war came to an end.

We were blessed to be able to visit Hiroshima in 2018 while on sabbatical. We were able to spend most of a day exploring the peace park that has been constructed in the area around the center of the blast and to see how the city has been rebuilt with a monument to world peace at its center. A museum contains artifacts and tells the story of the bombing and the aftermath in the city. A large park, filled with trees and shade, provides an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the history of the war and to imagine the possibilities of peace. I was a bit surprised as how emotional it was for me to be in Hiroshima and once again be reminded of the events that occurred just prior to my time on this earth. Fortunately no nation has used such weapons in war since, though we grew up under the shadow of the treat of nuclear war and we live in a time of increased threats of war.

The simple acts of ringing bells and recalling the events of the history of the world are important. As the philosopher George Santayana has been quoted over the years, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering is an important part of human development. So we joined with people all around the world and rang bells last evening. The sounds soon faded from our community. Some who heard the ringing bells did not know the reason they were ringing. We didn’t ring the bells to make a statement to others, but rather to remind ourselves of the history of our world and of our role in building its future. We rang bells to remember the pain and loss and grief that war produces. We rang bells as a sign of unity with the victims and those who continue to grieve. We rang bells to dedicate ourselves to living lives of peace with our neighbors all around the world.

As the bells were ringing, I remembered walking up to the Peace Bell near the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima. The large Japanese bell hangs in a small open-sided structure. Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell for world peace and we took our turn to ring the bell, its loud tolling ringing throughout the Park. May it continue to ring.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!