Mayor Shinzo Hamai chose something quite remarkable for the inscription on the memorial to the first atom bomb: ‘Rest in peace. For we shall not make the same mistake again.’
Nearly 50 years ago I participated in a wreathlaying at Hiroshima and saw for myself the inscription on the memorial to the first atom bomb. I was amazed at the lack of blame, and, with the passage of time, one can only marvel at the generosity and wisdom of the city’s mayor in his choice of words.
There had been considerable pressure on the authorities that the inscription on the memorial should be one of blame of the United States. Instead, anxious that the citizens’ feelings not be exploited to make Hiroshima a platform for divisiveness, Mayor Shinzo Hamai chose something quite remarkable: ‘Rest in peace. For we shall not make the same mistake again.’
It was the wish of Hamai, who was himself injured in the bombing, that ‘everyone visiting and praying before the cenotaph takes part of responsibility for the past evil by means of making an apology for it, and taking a pledge never again to repeat the same sin, from the bottom of their hearts.’
Over the years there has been an ‘inscription dispute’ over the appropriateness of the wording. This year, on the eve of the observance of the 60th anniversary, the stone, which lists 230,000 victims of the bomb, was defaced by an ultranationalist who felt the inscription obscured American responsibility.
In 1949, on Hamai’s initiative, Hiroshima was proclaimed a ‘City of Peace’ by the Japanese Parliament. In 1952 the Memorial Cenotaph with its challenging inscription was completed. A later mayor, Setsuo Yamada, explained that the subject of the inscription is all humankind: ‘The message shall serve as a lesson to the whole human race.’
Every year since, the city has been the focus of peace activities; this year some 60,000 people thronged the Peace Park to remember the dead and to protest against the spread of nuclear weapons.
In 1950 Mayor Hamai attended a conference in Caux, along with nearly 70 other Japanese leaders. They met Frank Buchman, the inspirer of this centre of reconciliation, who challenged the Japanese to make their country ‘the lighthouse of Asia’. They were confronted with the simple idea that if you wanted to rebuild your country or the world you had to start with yourself.
These men and women took this challenge to heart in what became ‘Japan’s decisive decade’, as Basil Entwistle makes clear in his book of the same name (Grosvenor, 1985). Parliamentarians in the group apologized in the US Congress for ‘the tragic trouble we have caused to the people of the United States’. The Saturday Evening Post responded, ‘The idea of a nation admitting it could be mistaken has a refreshing impact. Perhaps even Americans could think up a few occasions of which it could be safely admitted: we certainly fouled things up that time.’ And the New York Times editorialized, ‘For a moment we could see out of the darkness when all men may become brothers.’
On their way home the party was interviewed by CBS on the fifth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Hamai said, ‘We people of Hiroshima hold no bitterness towards anyone because we have realized this tragedy is naturally to be expected from war. The only thing we ask of the world is that everybody becomes aware of what happened in Hiroshima, how and why it happened, and exerts every effort to see it will not have to happen again in any other place. We need to remove the boundary lines we have wilfully drawn in our hearts— the lines of race, nationality and class.
‘They can be removed by a change of heart. Dr Buchman has said that peace is people becoming different. This hits the nail on the head. I, for one, intend to start this effort from Hiroshima. The one dream and hope alive left to our surviving citizens is to re-establish the city as a pattern for peace.’
Michael Henderson is the author of ‘Forgiveness:
Breaking the Chain of Hate’, Grosvenor Books, 2002,
ISBN 1-85239-031-X. Visit his website at