Pupils Send Peace Messages to Japan on Hiroshima Anniversary
To mark the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, students from across the United States are sending drawings and messages of peace to students in Japan.
Under a program sponsored by the Shoshin Society--a group of 60 top American and Japanese graphic designers that is based in Washington, D.C.--Japanese children who receive the messages and drawings will respond with their own messages of goodwill to their American pen pals.
"If you ever go to the museum in Hiroshima's Peace Park, what is most striking are the memorabilia of the children who perished--the remnants of their clothes, uniforms, and wooden sandals," said Charles M. Helmken, the founder of the Shoshin Society and vice president of the Council for' Advancement and Support of Education.
What is also striking, Mr. Helmken said, is the number of children waiting at the museum exit who ask visitors to leave messages in their notebooks and on their tape recorders.
Mr. Helmken said the idea of encouraging students to exchange messages of peace grew out of his experiences at the Peace Park. It also seemed like an ideal complement to a poster exhibit the Shoshin Society is developing to commemorate the bombing. The exhibit will tour the United States and Japan after opening at the Hiroshima Museum of Art in August.
Thus far, the society has received about 3,000 letters and drawings from schools in 25 states, according to Mr. Helmken. The group's goal is to deliver 100,000 messages to Japanese students.
The society has written letters to 2,000 art and social-studies teachers around the country and placed advertisements in educational journals.
The letters received to date include antiwar slogans (such as one boy's statement that "I don't want to be hugged by nuclear arms"), poems, personal notes, and messages from students who just want to strike up a friendship with a Japanese peer.
Melissa Inglis of Columbus, Ohio, sent a drawing of a dove on top of a rainbow. Her message reads: "Hello! My name is Melissa. What is your name. I don't like war. I don't like it at all. It stinks, destroys, kills, and hurts people. My idea of peace is love, care, share, and no wars. What is your idea of peace? Do you know who started wars, I don't know. Merry Christmas."
Stacie Pierce, a 9th-grader from Thibodaux, La., who said she had just finished reading Hiroshima, wrote a poem to a Japanese student:
The wind blew hard;
The lightning brightened the sky.
All things were chaotic,
But then it was over.
It's been over for many years now.
Things have all settled down;
Everything is normal again,
Calm, like a body of water
That has ceased, that is settled;
According to Mr. Helmken, not all the responses to the program have been positive. He has received a few letters from teachers who believe that the bombing of Hiroshima is an inappropriate classroom topic unless students learn more about the circumstances surrounding the war and why the United States was involved.
Wrote one teacher: "Are Japanese children being reminded that there would have been no bombing at Hiroshima if there had not been a bombing at Pearl Harbor? Are Japanese children sending drawings of peace to the families of all the American men and women killed at Pearl Harbor?"
Another,' a professor at Hunter College in New York, wrote: "One gets the impression from your literature that the symbol of Hiroshima explains the role of the United States in war and that the Japanese were innocent victims of what had preceded the event of 6 August 1945. This is the kind of myopia that I would have expected from an arrant propagandist rather than a sublime statement from a dedicated teacher."
But Mr. Helmken argues that the emphasis of the project is not on "dredging up the past" but on preparing the way for a more peaceful future.
"These children will be the first working generation in the 21st century," he said.
"Today's 6th graders will be in their 20's in the year 2000. They need to know what happened."