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Hiroshima day: Lest the Living Forget

Hiroshima Day – Lest the Living Forget

On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 am local time, a B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb, called “Little Boy”, with a force equivalent to over 20,000 tonnes of TNT on the city of Hiroshima, instantly killing over 80,000 people. This was when most industrial workers had already reported to work, many others were en route and children were in schools. Then 3 days later, another atomic bomb, called “Fat Man”, was dropped on Nagasaki around 11:00 am local time, killing over 40,000 people.

On one hand, the bombings effectively ended World War II by bringing about the surrender of Japan, but this came at a horrifying price: Two cities were completely destroyed and over 200,000 (mostly civilian) lives were lost, with tens of thousands succumbing to radiation-related illnesses in the aftermath of this devastation.

In commemoration of these nuclear tragedies that utterly destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, Hiroshima Day is observed. It serves as a day of remembrance, and as a focal point for anti-war and anti-nuclear discussions and demonstrations.

While the bombings represent a dark chapter of human history, a very inspiring incident also occurred in the difficult time that succeeded them. On November 10, 1946, Rev. Dr. A. Powell Davies of the All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington D.C. gave a famous sermon called ‘Lest the Living Forget‘. In this sermon, he condemned an insensitive national newspaper image celebrating the atomic bomb taskforce. The photograph depicted two admirals smiling as a well-dressed woman cut a three-foot-high cake topped with angel-food puffs in the shape of the mushroom clouds that had appeared over Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the atomic bombs exploded.

“If you do not understand this, may God awaken you!… If I had the authority of a priest of the Middle Ages, I would call down the wrath of God upon such an obscenity. I would damn to hell these people of callous conscience, these traitors to humanity who would participate in such a monstrous betrayal of everything for which the brokenhearted of the world are waiting. But—perhaps fortunately—I have no such authority. And so I only pray that God will give me patience and compassion, that I may be just, merciful and humble. And still speak the truth that is in me.” His powerful sermon shook up the whole congregation that Sunday.

The sermon of Rev. Davies came to the attention of Dr. Howard Bell, a civilian official with General Douglas MacArthur’s provisional government in Japan. Dr. Bell wrote to Rev. Davies and informed him of the heart-wrenching plight of the children in the schools of what remained of Hiroshima, and suggested that the American children clean out their desks and send pencil stubs and leftover crayons to the students in Japan.

In response to Dr. Bell’s letter, Rev. Davies delivered a sermon on February 13, 1947, titled ‘In Reply to a Letter from Japan,’ to which the children of All Souls Church responded by collecting half a ton of pencils, crayons, paper, erasers, paste, and paper clips for the Hiroshima children. The supplies arrived in Japan in December 1947 and were distributed to the children of Honkawa School, Fukuromachi School, and Ninoshimakisen Orphanage.

In appreciation of this gesture, the school children in Hiroshima created original works of art in crayon, water color, pen, and calligraphic brush, which they sent back to All Souls as gifts. In 1948, the drawings, filled with life and a vision of the future, were sent on a tour of the United States by the federal government. Today, these paintings continue to serve as a powerful message of compassion, peace and hope.

It has been over seventy-five years since all those precious lives were lost, due to a single atomic bomb. The city of Hiroshima, which was abandoned immediately after the atomic explosion, has made a glorious recovery as a world-renowned peace city, through the tireless efforts of its people.

This day is a powerful reminder of how crucial it is to build a peaceful society. We are given choices in life, and this decision lies with each one of us. We can choose hope, love, cooperation, understanding and peace over despair, hatred, fear and war. If asked individually, each of us may say we want to make this choice. But somehow, we also find such evil impulses within ourselves as individuals and communities – impulses that tend towards wanting to dominate others. This is why the Bible says that only God can transform us from the inside-out and make us his children, so that we may become peacemakers. Today, as we commemorate this sad episode, let us choose to allow God to make this transformation in each one of us.

Resources: Hiroshima Day Resources


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