Today the topic is violence and war. I spent that last two days in Hiroshima and have been thinking a lot about the events that occurred in 1945 and how they relate to the present day. At first glance Hiroshima is an extremely modern city and other than a single building left as a reminder, one would have no idea that this place was flattened in about 4 seconds with the world’s first atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. Military. Two days ago I walked around the memorial park where an impressive set of monuments serve as a constant reminder of the tragedy of war. But it was not until this morning when I walked through the museum that I felt the weight of the human suffering. The only thing I can compare it to is my visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland several years ago. Suffering like this on a mass scale is really not comprehendible for most of us(thankfully!). Inside the museum there are artifacts and pictures of that day- people’s skin and clothing melting off of their bodies as if in some horror movie. Replicas of the city before and after (not a thing standing for a 2-3 mile radius) and descriptions of the effects of radiation on the surrounding areas and people who didn’t die from the initial blast. An interesting aside is that my Uncle Emil, part of the U.S. Navy in 1945, landed at Hiroshima just weeks after the bomb to begin researching the devastating effects of the atom bomb. Despite losing all of his hair and teeth after a couple of weeks in Japan, today Emil is approaching 90 years old. Most of the sailors in his division died before their time due the radiation poisoning and cancers caused by it.
You can Wikipedia Hiroshima if you want the facts. I’ve been thinking about the root cause of war and violence against others in general. I’m not completely condemning the a-bomb on Hiroshima (many say it ultimately saved lives), but it is still part of a greater cause and effect chain of violence that tends to escalate with each cycle. In almost all cases of large scale war, individuals or leaders have had choices to make that could have changed the course of history. Some succeeded and some failed. To this day these individuals have been primarily men, and in light of a recent book I just finished (Iron John by Robert Bly), I’ve been looking at my own qualities of masculinity and leadership. I’ll review the book later, but to summarize, Bly discusses the development of the masculine through stages, and points out that modern society has removed several of these initiatory gates for young men and we ultimately end up with men who are incomplete or seeking definition through external means (war, violence, drugs, career, etc). Put these men together with a large military or other destructive devices and you have a war in the making. How to we as individuals and ultimately collectively ensure those in power are not using war as a means to fulfill their Freudian shortcomings or otherwise?
I realize that I am completely rambling and am not even discussing my trip! Here is the quick summary – While in Hiroshima I took a day trip out to Miyajima, an island with an amazing set of Buddhist and Shinto history – it was also the first day my pilgrimage felt like a pilgrimage as I walked ancient steps to the top of the island (about 1600 feet). Yesterday I made my way to the least populated part of Japan- a nice relief from the southeast coast and its crowded cities. I spent the afternoon in Tsuwano, a little artsy town well known for having thousands of carp in ponds along the roadside (historically they planned this to have food in the case of war). They also had an entire street of Sake breweries so I helped myself to a few tastings and purchased a bottle to take on the road.
Finally I chased a Lonely planet recommendation last night and ended up in a Buddhist Temple/Hostel in a little town called Nima. Despite the language barrier, my hosts have been fantastic, and even allowed me to sit zazen(meditation) with them at 6am this morning…. I was going to climb a nearby volcano today but its rainy and am just lounging on my tatami mat, emailing, skyping and planning my next destination.