On August 6, 1945, the world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a city that served as a supply center for the Japanese military dictatorship during World War II. The U.S. leaders who made the decision to use this new and powerful weapon believed that it would end the war more quickly. Few people, however, realized how the events of that day would change the world forever. Although more people were killed in the extended firebombing of Tokyo than died at Hiroshima, the first use of the atomic bomb brought the world into the nuclear age. We have since come to realize that nuclear weapons threaten the survival of the entire human race.
No one expected to see grass or trees in Hiroshima for at least 75 years after the atomic blast. But Hiroshima today--in its setting between the mountains and Japan's Inland Sea--is both green and growing. Because of the devastation of the city in 1945 and the ongoing effects of radiation, the modern city of Hiroshima has dedicated itself to the mission that nuclear weapons will never again be used in warfare.
Sadako and the Paper Cranes
Many elementary teachers are familiar with the children's book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. It relates the true story of a 12-year-old girl, Sadako Sasaki, who developed leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb blast. While in the hospital, Sadako is told that if she folds 1000 origami cranes she will recover. Unfortunately, the healing power of the crane legend is not effective against atomic bomb disease.
The story of Sadako has become a focal point for peace education in Hiroshima. When she died, the cranes Sadako had folded were placed in her coffin along with the remainder folded by her classmates. Her classmates also began a fundraising effort to memorialize Sadako and all children who were victims of the atomic bomb. A statue erected in the Peace Park in Hiroshima in 1958 depicts a frail young girl holding a golden crane in her outstretched arms.
Teachers have used Sadako's story with older elementary students for many years as an introduction to the horrors of modern warfare. Reading Coerr's book can open discussion about the effects of war on individual lives. The book is a sensitive pathway to a topic that can be very frightening for students. It may also acquaint students who are becoming desensitized to violence through video games and the media to the realities of war.
American students might be interested to know that paper cranes are still used in Japan to wish someone good luck, health, and happiness. School students may hang a string of cranes from a school bulletin board to show their concern for a person who has had an accident or who is ill. Strings of cranes also serve as offerings at Buddhist temples.
Paper cranes have come to symbolize a healing for our planet as well. If you visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima, you will see Sadako's statue with many thousands of cranes piled below it. Some are strung together in bundles, while others are arranged into pictures of rainbows, doves, or other symbols of peace. The cranes are brought to Hiroshima by people all over the world who believe that there must be no more atomic destruction.
A Gathering of Symbols
Sadako's statue is only one of the symbols located in the Peace Park in Hiroshima. The most famous landmark in the park is probably the Atomic Bomb Dome, a skeletal structure that is all that remains of an exhibition hall built in 1915. This dome--a lasting reminder of the charred ruins of the city in 1945--is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to be preserved by people of all nations as a warning against the terrible destruction we hope to avoid in the future.
The park also contains a Flame of Peace, which resembles the eternal flames that burn in other historic places, such as at the grave of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. However, the goal here is different. This flame is designed not to burn forever, but to be extinguished when all nuclear weapons in the world have been eliminated.
Beyond the flame stands an arched structure called the Memorial Centograph, beneath which a black stone coffin holds the register of people who have died of A-bomb diseases. The front of the stone coffin reads, "Let All the Souls Here Rest in Peace; For We Shall Not Repeat The Evil."
Before the flame and the centograph is a large grassy area where a Peace Ceremony takes place each August 6th. The ceremony includes messages from the mayor of Hiroshima and a children's representative. At the end of the ceremony, more than 1,000 doves are released as a symbolic representation of peace efforts around the world.
Peace Education in Hiroshima's Schools
Peace education in Hiroshima only begins with the symbols in the park. The school board places a priority on helping students learn about the effects of the atomic bomb through listening to the stories of survivors (hibakusha) who are willing to talk about their experiences. This resembles the emphasis in the United States on learning about the devastation of World War II from survivors of the Holocaust.
Hiroshima schools have also instituted a greeting campaign to promote harmony in the community. Signified by a school badge with a dove and heart, worn by students and teachers at all levels, the campaign serves to remind all to be kind and to try to get to know each other.
The Hiroshima School Board has adopted the philosophy of thinking of today's students as exchange students to the future. Teachers strive to help children learn to think independently and make judgments that contribute to international understanding, environmental protection, and the general welfare of the community. Teachers who want to view the outline of an elementary school peace education curriculum can access it via the World Wide Web at http://next1.yasuda-u.ac.jp/machinto/ htm97/htm/plan-e97.html.
A City With a Mission
The city of Hiroshima has taken a position against the theory of nuclear deterrence. It holds that all nuclear weapons must be eliminated. Every time a country conducts a nuclear test, the mayor of Hiroshima sends a formal protest to the leader of that country.
Hiroshima is also instrumental in the World Conference of Mayors for Peace through Inter-city Solidarity, an organization that works to solve such problems as poverty, starvation, illness, discrimination, and other issues that threaten peace. In the United States, 37 cities have become members, including Sacramento, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, and New Orleans. The organization has a total of 404 worldwide member cities representing 97 countries.
The city of Hiroshima also fosters international exchanges. For example, members of the Home Stay Society welcome international visitors into their homes to acquaint them with Japanese culture. They believe that knowing people from other countries on a personal basis is important to international understanding. Other exchange programs allow students from Hiroshima to visit other countries.
1. Going on Virtual Field Trips
> After reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, students can visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima on the World Wide Web at http://www.city.hiroshima.jp/C/. This site contains pictures of the Peace Park and more information about the dropping of the atomic bomb. Teachers may want to exercise caution, as some of the pictures are very graphic and not recommended for young students.
> A good primary source on the atomic blast is the survivor's story written by the headmaster of Nagutuka Elementary School, located on the Internet at http://www.csi.ad.jp/school/project/nagatuka/a-bomb1.html.
> A comprehensive book list that will help round out a unit on Hiroshima can be found at: http://www.he.net/~sparker/resource.html
2. Creating Peace Symbols
> Paper Cranes. Students can learn about many past and ongoing projects involving paper cranes at http://www.csi.ad.jp/suzuhari-es/1000cranes/index.html
> Other Peace Symbols. Students may already be familiar with such symbols of peace as an olive branch, a dove, or a rainbow. Ask them to try to discover the origins of these and other peace symbols. Students might also examine the UN symbol, which is a map of the globe centering on the North Pole and showing all the continents. Ask students why they think this particular view of the earth might have been chosen to represent the United Nations. Do they think it is a good symbol for peace? Have students create their own peace symbols. These might be based on what gives them a peaceful feeling or on particular ideas about how to achieve world peace.
3. Writing Peace Messages
> Have the class read and discuss the message of the children's representative at the 1997 Peace Ceremony at Hiroshima (on the Hiroshima city web site at http://www.city.hiroshima.jp/C/City/children97.html). Ask students: What does this message say about peace? How does it represent the viewpoint of children? Do you think it does this well? What would you like to say to the adult world about peace? Have students write peace messages. Then make a list of people to whom the message might be sent, such as the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Japan, or the Secretary General of the United Nations. Students can decide if they would like to send their message. The Internet is a good resource for obtaining the appropriate addresses.
4. Making Global Connections
> Peace Clubs. There are online resources for several peace clubs for students. The Sadako Peace Club is located at: http://www.sadako.org/peacclub.htm
The World Peace Club is located at: http://www.peaceclub.com/. This club is part of a United Nations initiative to make January 1, 2000, a day of world peace, and the 21st century one of peace.
> International Exchanges. Find out if your town or city is affiliated with any international organizations, such as the Sister Cities Program. If so, help students find out more about what such organizations are doing to increase the chances for world peace.
> International Speakers. Increased global travel provides contact with more people from other cultures, but many students' lives do not include such opportunities. Invite international visitors to speak to your class. Ordinary people from another culture can provide extraordinary experiences for your students.
> The Olympics. The Olympic Games have generally served as a peaceful meeting of athletes from all over the world. The 1998 Winter Olympics are being held in Nagano, Japan. Students can learn more about past Olympics and coming events at: http://wwwus.nagano.olympic.org/kids/kids_e.html
5. Examining War and Peace Today
Upper elementary students may be ready to research and discuss issues of war and peace in today's world. Assign students to find newspaper or magazine stories about wars between nations, civil wars, or areas of continuing tension in today's world. Ask students to mark these areas of conflict on a world map. Have students keep a chart of the types of conflicts they are discovering, and what efforts to solve these conflicts are being made. Two useful sources for this activity are:
> The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, founded by Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, which tracks incidences of conflict all over the world. Website: http://www.emory.edu/CARTER_CENTER/rptspchs.htm
> The U.S. State Department Travel Advisories, which alert travelers to dangers involving conflict worldwide. Website: http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html
About the Author
Donna Nesbitt is a fifth and sixth grade social studies teacher at East Knox Elementary School in Bladensburg, Ohio. She was a 1997 Keizai Koho Center Fellow.