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WORLD

Hiroshima still stokes controversy

From Atika Shubert
CNN

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HIROSHIMA, Japan (CNN) -- The atomic bombing of Hiroshima -- an act that ushered in the nuclear age but also helped end World War II -- still stokes controversy 60 years on.

At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay released its payload -- an atomic bomb named "Little Boy" -- over the city of 350,000 people.

Hiroshima, situated 426 miles (686 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, was charred and leveled beyond recognition.

Some 140,000 people died in the attack. Another 70,000 died when U.S. forces dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, 593 miles (954 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, three days later.

These days, more than a million people a year flock to Hiroshima's peace museum.

For many Japanese students, a visit to the first city to come under nuclear attack is a powerful lesson in World War II history, often leading to heated debate over Japan's record.

Days before this year's memorial ceremony, a 27-year old broke in and defaced this inscription:

"Let all souls here rest in peace, for this mistake shall not be repeated."

He chiseled away the word mistake and later told police he did it to show that Japan had nothing to apologize for in World War II.

For many in Japan, the defining moments in World War II were not the invasions of neighboring countries, but the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That attitude has riled neighbors, like China and South Korea, who say Japan must acknowledge that it was the aggressor, rather than the victim, of war.

So, what are Japan's youth -- the country's future -- learning about the past?

During a tour of the Hiroshima war memorial, students attend classes where survivors speak.

One class begins with an animated story of a young atomic bomb survivor who died of leukemia.

start quoteMy God, what have we done?end quote
-- Capt. Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, recalling the moment the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima

It soon moves into a harrowing, eyewitness account of the bombing. There is no question and answer session. Discussions of why the bombing happened are rare.

"We are merely storytellers. What I can tell them is how terrible it was, how scary it was. But I cannot answer more difficult questions," says one Hiroshima survivor, Yoshiko Nakazono.

It is the graphic description of radiation burns that moves and affects young students the most.

"When she told us about the skin hanging from their fingers and how they screamed for help ... I was really affected by that," student Erina Goto says.

But for older students, difficult questions require answers.

"It was probably revenge for Pearl Harbor. But even knowing this, it's hard to forgive the killing of so many civilians," says another student, Atsushi Hayama.

"This chain of hatred and revenge is what creates wars. It may be impossible to erase such feelings. But we should at least try."

There is a strong hope here that past tragedies by any country will not be repeated.

To date, no nuclear weapons have been used in battle since 1945.

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