Hiroshima Memo: Building branches of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums in nuclear nations

by Akira Tashiro, Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

“Why not build branches of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums in capitals or major cities of nuclear weapons states?”

This suggestion was offered at the open symposium of the International Conference of Museums for Peace held at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on October 10. During the discussion on the theme “What can we do for the abolition of nuclear weapons?” one of the panelists, Dr. Peter van den Dungen, professor of peace history at Bradford University in the U.K., proposed this idea.

The raw reality of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is still not widely known in the world. If a large number of citizens in the nuclear nations could deepen their understanding of the tragic truth of nuclear war, they would come to realize the imprudent risk of depending on nuclear weapons for their security. By becoming aware of the barbarism involved in entrusting their safety to weapons that could annihilate the whole human species, their desire to abolish these weapons would surely grow. This is the thinking behind the idea of establishing museum branches in major cities of the world.

Washington, Moscow, London, Paris, Beijing, New Dehli, Islamabad... Even on a small scale, such permanent “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Museums” displaying real A-bomb-related artifacts and other exhibits would undoubtedly have a substantial impact. And being able to hear the survivors’ accounts of the atomic bombings would enhance their effectiveness.

“Holocaust museums” that convey the reality of the slaughter of 6 million Jews, a mass murder perpetrated by Nazi Germany, exist not only in Auschwitz, Poland, where a notorious concentration camp was located, but also in the U.S., Japan, and other places in the world. The museums warn of anti-Semitism and conditions under which ordinary people can behave in fanatical ways and kill others when entangled in the aggression of war.

These Holocaust museums were founded through the efforts of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens in the host countries who are determined that this tragedy be remembered and that the same mistakes never be repeated. In a similar way, branches of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums could not be established without the strong support of citizens in the nuclear nations.

In 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings, the Smithsonian Institute planned a special exhibition to display the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, as well as artifacts from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to convey the destruction on the ground beneath the mushroom cloud.

The director and curators of the museum, believing that Americans could now look back at history dispassionately after half a century had passed, held discussions with the staff of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums and put great care into planning the exhibition so the public would be able to “view the historical facts objectively.” However, when U.S. veterans of World War II learned of the exhibition and loudly protested against it, the idea of displaying artifacts from Hiroshima and Nagasaki was aborted.

Still, as evidenced by the successful A-bomb exhibitions hosted by the city of Hiroshima at various sites in the U.S. over the past year, the concept has gained widespread support from American citizens. Steven Leeper, chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, has visited the exhibition venues together with A-bomb survivors and reports that some participants have initiated anti-nuclear activities after their experience of seeing photographs of the bombings and hearing the survivors’ accounts.

The International Conference of Museums for Peace is a forum attended by those involved with museums which were founded on the principle of preventing the recurrence of past mistakes by remembering the tragic facts of historical and present-day wars and conflicts. Many of these participants at the recent gathering in Hiroshima visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum for the first time and felt keenly the urgency and significance of communicating the true devastation of the atomic bombings.

If the movement to build branches of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums can gather momentum in such countries as the U.S. and the U.K. through the efforts of peace museum specialists, anti-nuclear NGOs, and citizens’ networks, this will increase the capacity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to move forward with the endeavor. The Japanese government can then be called on to provide financial and other forms of support. To advance this vision of establishing “Hiroshima/Nagasaki Peace Memorial Museums” in the nuclear weapons states, steadfast effort will be required.

(Originally published on October 20, 2008)

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