How do you visualize 200,000 dying people?

by Joshua J. McElwee

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HIROSHIMA -- It's simply impossible. You stand at the site of humankind's first use of nuclear weapons, and you can't come up with any way to understand it.

What scale is there for the human mind to comprehend so many dying people, suffering with wounds from the atomic blast and crying out for water?

The answer, I thought to myself outside Hiroshima's A-bomb dome, is that there isn't one.

The dome, one of the few remaining buildings after the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of the city, makes it all too incomprehensible. Where is the sense in this? What does such horror achieve?

After a few minutes with the dome, I had to ask my translator to leave me be. Almost falling into a bench, I let my eyes fill with tears. This is impossible. This is without any sense.

And yet, as there seems to be always somehow, there is something of redemption.

After visiting the A-bomb dome, my translator and I went for dinner. We wound up at a greasy-spoon kind of place, which specializes in a treat somewhat unique to Hiroshima, known in Japanese as "okonomiyaki."

A kind of mix of an omelet and a pancake, okonomiyaki consists of grilled batter topped with whatever is available -- cabbage, shrimp, eel, squid, pork, beef -- with a fried egg thrown in. It's simple, and delicious.

How's the redemption fit in? Curious about this new culinary find, I asked our cook how exactly this dinner was originally created. She replied, simply, that after the city's destruction by the atomic bomb there wasn't anything left. No vegetables to harvest, no animals to slaughter. One of the only foods easily imported were eggs. So, local people threw whatever else they could find in the mix, and there was dinner.

Think of it. Amidst ash -- there wasn't much left of most buildings in the city except ash -- people managed to come up with dinner somehow.

In even the darkest destruction, life carried on.

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