Visiting the Hiroshima and Nagasaki exhibition currently on display in central London is an emotionally charged experience.
Walking round the displays at Friends' House yesterday (1 August), I was brought close to tears as I looked at appalling photographs of bodies burnt so completely as to leave features unidentifiable. There are drawings by survivors, showing their horrific experiences and memories in the hours, days and months after nuclear bombs dropped on their cities. There are poems and writings conveying both hope and distress.
But it is not all disheartening. It was truly a mix of emotions that affected me. While I am now more angry than ever about the determination of Cameron and Fox to renew Trident, the existence of exhibtions and such as these is testimony to the efforts of those who point to a different way. The talk by survivor Shoso Kawamoto included appalling details about the sufferings of children, yet he spoke with an upbeat attitude and finished with a call to tackle the root causes of war.
The part of the display that captured my mixed feelings most was a poem of great power called We Shall Bring Forth New Life, written by Sadako Kurihara. She captures the paradoxes of life and death far better than I can:
It was a night spent in the basement of a burnt out building.
People injured by the atomic bomb took shelter in this room, filling it.
They passed the night in darkness, not even a single candle among them.
The raw smell of blood, the stench of death.
Body heat and the reek of sweat. Moaning.
Miraculously, out of the darkness, a voice sounded:
"The baby's coming!"
In that basement room, in those lower reaches of hell,
A young woman was now going into labour.
What were they to do,
Without even a single match to light the darkness?
People forgot their own suffering to do what they could.
A seriously injured woman who had been moaning but a moments before,
"I'm a midwife. Let me help with the birth."
And now life was born
There in the deep, dark depths of hell.
Her work done, the midwife did not even wait for the break of day.
She died, still covered with the blood.
Bring forth new life!
Even should it cost me my own,
Bring forth new life!
The exhibition, After the Bomb Dropped, runs from 2 - 12 August, along with a series of related events. For more information, see http://www.quaker.org.uk/hiroshima .