BANGOR, Maine — As a group of individuals drew chalk outlines around the bodies lying still on the ground and the benediction by a local minister came to a close, a bell rang to bring the motionless victims back to life.
While not itself the scene of a mass killing, the spectacle in downtown Bangor echoed one of the most horrific military operations of World War II.
More than 50 people were in attendance Friday at Peirce Park for the ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped the nuclear bomb “Little Boy” over the city of Hiroshima, instantly killing an estimated 80,000 people and eventually leading to the deaths of thousands more from diseases related to radiation exposure.
“Thousands of women, men and children were instantly incinerated. A shadow of a man who had sought refuge on the steps of a downtown bank was imprinted by the heat and light, which is still visible today,” said Will Whitham, 18, of Bangor, reading from a description of the bombings published in 2000 and titled “Remembering Hiroshima.”
Co-sponsored by the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, the Jim Harney Chapter of Veterans for Peace and Pax Christi of Maine, the event included a symbolic “die-in” in which participants lay on the ground and had chalk outlines drawn around them to symbolize the shadows left by those killed by the blast.
The memorial was part remembrance ceremony and part a call to end nuclear proliferation and stockpiling of nuclear weapons by the world’s governments. Signs around the park bore slogans including “No Nuclear Weapons” and “No More Hiroshimas.” Several copies of a petition calling for U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine to support the ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty rested on a table across from the podium.
Eric T. Olson of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine spoke about the current state of global nuclear arms arsenals, painting a picture of a world locked in Cold War-era hostility. He said the U.S. government still holds fast to the idea of the “essential deterrence role” of nuclear weapons, in which only the most deadly arsenal can ensure national security.
“This means that despite the end of the Cold War, the U.S. continues to spend tens of billions of dollars annually preparing to strike first with nuclear weapons anywhere on the globe under conditions of its own choosing,” Olson said.
After the speeches and die-in at the park, the ceremony moved into the story room of the adjacent Bangor Public Library for a reading of a Japanese picture card story by Masanobu and Tomoko Ikemiya of Bar Harbor titled “Grandmother’s Doll.” The story chronicles the childhood experience of Rumi Haganaki as she and her family attempt to escape the blast radius during the bombing.
Before the reading, Masanobu Ikemiya related stories of his own family’s tragedies during the bombing. His grandmother, who was living in Okinawa, put her father’s youngest brother on a ship full of children bound for the relative safety of the mainland against her better judgment, a decision that haunted her for the rest of her life.
“[The boat] was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine, and all the children died,” Ikemiya said. “All the children from Okinawa during this time — it’s just blank, there is no one there.”
Despite the enormous toll the tragedies had on the people of his country and his family, Ikemiya stressed that he, like the majority of Japanese citizens, has never felt animosity toward the United States. In his mind, warfare is to blame.
“People are people everywhere; we are all the same people. Trying to dehumanize the other side, it’s not necessary, it’s not true. We are all brothers and sisters, one family,” Ikemiya said.