When I was a junior in high school, I became friends with an exchange student from Japan. Mika and I did the usual teenage-girl things: went to basketball games, talked about boys, listened to music. She would sleep over at our house. As we got to know each other better, I would explain slang and she would work to better pronounce her Ls and Rs. She taught me a few Japanese phrases and let me try on her traditional kimono. And she shared a book.
Her mission as an exchange student during the early 1980s was to let Americans see the dangers of nuclear weapons and the arms race that was being waged by the world's superpowers. I remember sitting in the hallway outside the band room turning the pages of a hard-bound book filled with image after image of the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. When you're 17, something that happened almost 40 years ago seems ancient. Now I see that it had not been that long ago.
The '80s were the Reagan years and I may have worried more than the average kid about nuclear holocaust. But, this was the president who joked about bombing the Soviet Union when he didn't realize a mic was live. (Beware the smiling grandfatherly man...) My political views were just forming and I'm sure that viewing the photos and talking with Mika helped me form my positions. Though she didn't need to say much. The next year, after Mika had returned to Japan, I remember reading a story I'd found in a textbook. It was a portion of reporter John Hersey's account of the Hiroshima bombing. The story wasn't assigned, nor was it discussed in class. I had no one to talk to about my fears, my sadness...and my American guilt. I didn't think people remembered or cared.
I don't think of this often, but I'm reminded every year on the anniversary the bombing which was 65 years ago today. I promise myself I will go to Japan to visit the Peace Park and visit my friend. After years of not being in touch, I recently reconnected with Mika. She's a journalist, traveling the world reporting on issues that affect people in war-torn regions around the globe. It seems she's keeping with the mission she began all those years ago.
As I remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which was bombed on August 9), it's with sadness that many nations and people have not gotten much better at resolving their conflicts despite the efforts of the peacemakers. I was naive to think we would live in a peaceful world.