Sunday, August 07, 2005

Where should I blog about Hiroshima?

As part of the ongoing critique of why I may have "failed" as a blogger, it has been suggested that I have too many blogs and should have started more modestly and then expanded.  The problem is what do do with posts than have nothing to do with the niche for my blog.  I would have started with an all-purpose blog, but it seemed to me that would be undesirable for readers who simply want a niche subset of "me" that interests them, as opposed to notable people whom people want to read everything about.  So, I have four focused blogs, and this "other" blog which was originally created (over a month after the other blogs) for recording the issues with blogging that I was encountering, as well as a place to experiment.  It was never intended to be my "main" blog or to be an all-purpose blog.  So, now I have some thoughts about Hiroshima (yesterday being the Anniversary of the atomic bomb blast), but no blog where they make sense.  I had actually considered creating a political blog last Sprint since that is one of my areas of interest, but I was definitely feeling "blogged-out" at five blogs.  In retrospect, I should have done it, since it's free and it might have gotten some attention, since I had spent a lot of time in Washington, going to congressional hearings and think tanks.  But, that's hindsight.

Back to Hiroshima.  Since none of my other blogs is appropriate, I'll simply post here as an "experiment."

Ever since I was little, I was always interested in anything related to "atomic", whether it was energy or weapons or whatever.  A nuke plant was built in the next town when I was in high school (Oyster Creek in Forked River, New Jersey), so that was a major focal point.  One of my uncles was a nuclear test engineer (testing nuke reactors before they were approved for service), so that also focused my interest.

Back in 1987 I had quit my last real job, to become an independent software development consultant and taken a month off (the company I had worked at was a venture-backed startup that went from nothing to IPO and I had a modest amount of "founders" stock to bankroll me after four years of hard work) to travel a little in the Pacific rim of Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, and even a little in China.  I had no preconceived plans.  I'd go somewhere and look at a map and see what seemed interesting.  BTW, I was traveling alone, although I did know some people in Tokyo.  I took the bullet train way down to southern Japan, to Kyushu and Mount Aso, a real live volcano.  On the way back to Tokyo, I stopped at several places, including Hiroshima.  Given my interest in all things atomic, it was unresistable.  I just had to see that famous building with the steel dome that had survived the blast.

It was wierd getting off the train in Hiroshima and seeing all these modern buildings when my "memories" were of absolute desolation and despair.

I went to the memorial and park and museum and saw all the displays about the blast and its effects.  There was a piece of stone with the outline of something scorched into the stone.  Seeing the actual scorched stone was far more meaningful than merely seeing even a detailed photograph, which I had seen.   And of source I saw the building with the dome.  It seemed so incongruous, how such a structure so close to the blast had survived so intact.

It struck me how "recovered" the city was from the most massive form of devastation that we know how to inflict.  Of course, I realized that a lot of the human scars were hidden.  I recalled reading some book in high school about a girl who had died from the after-effects of the blast.

A few years later (1989 to 1993) I learned a lot more about radiation and health effects as a result of interest in the Rocky Flats Plant near Boulder, Colorado.  Rocky Flats was infamous for being the primary production facility for the plutonium triggers of our nuclear weapons.  I spent any hours at various libraries (including at Department of Energy facilities) and attended many public hearings.  One of the things that happended around 1990 was that the scientists at at Los Alamos had refined their models of nuclear weapons and drastically revised their estimate of the neutron yield of weapons such as used at Hiroshima.  They decided that the neutron yeild was significanted less than previously though, meaning that the observed health impacts were the results of smaller doses of radiation.  The net impact was that they cut in half the threshold level of radiation that the public is permitted to receive each year (from 200 mrem to 100 mrem, I think).  Another thing that had been happening is that ongoing interviews with victims (in the 1980's, all those years after the blast) became more refined to pinpoint where individuals had been and what direction they had been facing when the blast occurred and what kind of structure (none, wood, brick, concrete, stone) they had been in and whether they were inline with a window or behind an appliance or furniture, etc. to try to zero in more precisely on what level of radiation had caused what health effects.  Neutron radiation is much more hazardous to biological tissue, but more easily stopped than gamma radiation.

My other memory of Hiroshima was of a group of young schoolgirls that approached me in the memorial park.  That was not uncommon.  It seemed like kids were taught in school to approach foreigners (as groups) to talk to them to practice their English language speaking skills.  This happened to me three different times during the week I was travelling around Japan.  This group approached me in Hiroshima and obviously one of the schoolgirls was the leader of the group and one was her assistant.  She asked "May we speak with you?", which sounded rather formal.  I said "Yes", and immediately there was a lot of smiling and whispering and the assistant to the leader pulled out a sheet of paper and unfolded it and proceeded to point to questions on the paper, which the leader then read.  Some of them were general and a few related specifically to Hiroshima and the blast.  They seemed to enjoy my answers.  They had some odd phrase for referring to the blast, but I can't recall exactly what it was.  Maybe it was "disaster".  They asked me what I thought about it, and I simply said that "It was very unfortunate", which they seemed to accept.  They seemed a bit casual about the blast, as if it really was simply a bad event from the past, but not a big concern in their own lives.

I would offer one criticism of the memorial park, the same as I would make about the Dachau Nazi concentration camp in Germany that I had visited earlier: it was too pristine and park-like and even too pleasant.  It just seems to me that the memorial to such a horror should be more desolate and somehow viscerally represent the horror, more than just in the photos and a few artifacts and pleasant-looking monuments.  But, maybe the whole point is that people don't want a total in-your-face reminder of the horror.  It's something that they might want to visit and see a gentle reminder of the horror, but not actually have to live with the full horror every day.


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