By Lauren Compton
Many times, I've gotten discouraged while relating my experiences in Hiroshima six years ago. Sometimes I felt this way because others would counter with something like, "All I can say is 'God bless America,'" and walk away; however, most of my frustrations arose from the times when I told somebody that I visited Hiroshima, and he or she would give me that look of "Hiroshima? That's still a place?" At first, I wanted to shout, "Yes, you half-wit. It's not Atlantis!" But then I recollected that when I was 18 and first heard about the 10-day summer course available at Hiroshima City University, I also had that response.
It would be no wonder if some do not, in fact, consider this lovely city a real place. In textbooks, we're taught that on Aug. 5, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on these people. Three days later, it dropped another on the city of Nagasaki. On Aug. 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, but only after nearly 166,000 people died in Hiroshima alone. (Nagasaki was another 80,000 people.) Why would anyone, after being given that mere tidbit on Hiroshima, think of it as a tangible, bustling metropolis rather than a 69-year-old post-apocalyptic wasteland? I surely didn't.
I understand now that instead of writing off anyone who displayed ignorance on the subject, I should have explained what made Hiroshima real for me — the people, the emotions, the funny moments, the seemingly mundane, the supremely human, the times that help us to remember that we're all just folks, working our way through this same life on this same little planet.
In Hiroshima, I was waiting at the bus stop near the campus. An elderly man approached me and politely asked what I was doing there. Still feeling uncomfortable as an American romping about this particular city, I nervously explained to him the course entitled "Hiroshima and Peace." He smiled warmly and told me how wonderful it was that I was taking the initiative to learn my history; then he proceeded to roll up his sleeves to show me some scars on his arms from that one time he survived a nuclear bomb. When my bus arrived, he patted me on the shoulder, wished me luck and continued his walk.
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