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Japan's War, Peace Shrines Incomplete

June 26, 1986|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

NAGASAKI, Japan — In the Peace Park marking the epicenter of the atomic bomb that destroyed much of this city on Aug. 9, 1945, stand seven statues symbolizing peace.

Two of the statues are from Nagasaki's sister cities, Porto, Portugal, and Middelburg, the Netherlands.

The other five are from communist countries--the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany and the most recent, the striking "Maiden Statue of Peace" showing a young woman contemplating a dove perched on her left arm, was presented by the People's Republic of China last year.

In 1978, a section of the park was established for nations to contribute statues symbolizing peace.

Obviously the one country--more than any other--that one would expect to contribute a statue to the park would be the United States.

So far, however, there is no statue from the United States.

Surely other visitors to Nagasaki must wonder as my wife, Arliene, and I did, why there isn't a statue from the United States, the only nation ever to use an atomic bomb in warfare, the nation that dropped the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later.

A committee should be organized, a fund drive launched or a congressional appropriation made for a peace statue created by an American sculptor to be placed alongside the other statues.

Visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima is an overwhelming emotional experience.

My wife and I had made this journey to Japan primarily to visit the two atomic bomb cities. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time. To have a better understanding of the world is to see as much of the planet as possible, the pleasant and the distressing.

As a young sailor aboard an attack transport, the Garrard (Amphibious Personnel Attack 84), part of the 3rd Fleet off the coast of Japan during the waning weeks of World War II, I vividly recall the dramatic announcements aboard ship about the dropping of the two "super" bombs.

If the atomic bombs had not been used, the Garrard would have been part of Operation Olympic, the seaborne invasion of Japan. The United States and Japan were preparing for the bloodiest battle in the history of mankind.

But the war suddenly ended Aug. 14, 1945, only days after the atomic bombings with the surrender of Japan.

Historians estimate as many as 1 million American and 5 million Japanese lives would have been lost in that final battle if atomic bombs had not been dropped on Hiroshima (174,000 killed) and Nagasaki (74,000 killed).

U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson said at the time:

"This deliberate, premeditated destruction (by the atomic bombs) was our least abhorrent alternative. It stopped the fire raids, in the strangling blockade. It ended the ghastly specter of a clash of great land armies."

The ethics of using the bombs have been debated ever since.

Why didn't the United States demonstrate the unbelievable destructive force of the "super" bomb by dropping one or more in the waters off Japan instead of destroying the two cities, many have contended in hindsight.

But Japan already had been devastated by B-29 raids. Fire bombs from the planes had ravaged 119 of that nation's major cities.

In Tokyo, 34 square miles had been leveled and more than 130,000 people had been killed by conventional bombs from B-29s. I was in Tokyo at the end of the war. There was virtually nothing left.

Yet, the Japanese continued to fight, refusing to surrender. So, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The absence of an American peace statue in Nagasaki's Peace Park is a tremendous disappointment.

So is the lack of a statement in the atomic bomb museums at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, explaining the history of what led to the atomic attacks and reasons the United States had for dropping the bombs.

As visitors begin to view the photographs, relics and documents of the horrors of the atomic bombs, there should be a statement placing what happened in the proper context.

Nowhere in the museums is there any mention that Japanese military leaders had embarked on the conquest of much of the world in the 1930s and 1940s, causing the deaths of millions in the taking of Manchuria, a great part of China, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, the Pacific islands, the bombing of Pearl Harbor with the loss of 19 U.S. ships and 2,300 lives Dec. 7, 1941, and much more.

Nowhere is there a statement that the U.S. government believed by dropping the bombs, it forced Japan to surrender and the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki stopped the war, thus sparing millions of others in the ensuing battles that would have taken place.

Nowhere is the explanation that the United States was not out to kill in wholesale fashion, to deliberately level two major cities in order to conquer and control another nation forever. America's purpose was to end the war and let the world live in peace.

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