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Posted : 2017-10-11 19:21
Updated : 2017-10-11 20:47

Hiroshima launches origami against nuclear missiles

Sadako Sasaki's paper cranes are on display at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan. / Courtesy of Dr. Chris Baumann.

World should learn lesson of peace, not war


By Dr. Chris Baumann

HIROSHIMA, Japan ― "Where is the war memorial?" I asked at my hotel last month. "You mean the Peace Memorial Park?" was the response. In a split second I learned my lesson: It is about peace, not war, and Hiroshima has a profound understanding of this lesson.

In 1945, 150,000 people perished as a result of the first dropping of an atomic bomb; 10 percent of them were Korean. Many more had their lives destroyed by losing family and friends, or developing cruel illnesses from the massive radiation ― their bodies and offspring malformed.

Sadako Sasaki was only two years old when Enola Gay dropped Little Boy, detonating close to her home in Hiroshima. Initially, she appeared unharmed, but developed leukemia when she was 11. After being told the East Asian legend that folding 1,000 paper cranes would grant her a wish, the terminally ill girl tirelessly folded such in her hospital bed.

After the war, even getting a hold of paper was a challenge, so Sadako had to beg for paper scraps and used leftover medicine and gift wrappings. Doctors discouraged her from doing so to preserve energy, but Sadako was on a mission, a mission much larger than she could have imagined during her short life. She passed away in 1955. She was 12 years old.
Children's Peace Monument stands at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in its museum displays a photo of Sadako in her coffin with a peaceful face, not revealing the cruelty that overshadowed that short life. On display is also a selection of Sadako's origami.


One could admire them for hours ― they resemble the tragedy of war, the cruelty of an A-bomb, yet also display the hope of a young girl. The precision with which these cranes were folded demonstrates Sadako's work ethic, her determination, and her will to heal; not knowing that later in history her origami would contribute to healing on a much larger scale.

The dropping of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not least positioned as an experiment, a way to learn about the impact of atomic bombs. Doctors were sent to examine the illnesses developed over time. Cancer and bodily harm were carefully documented.

The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) examined Sadako, but her legacy could not be detected in medical nor postmortem examinations. Her wisdom was beyond her age when she mumbled the following on her deathbed: "I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world."

The Peace Watch Tower at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima shows the number of days since the first dropping of the A-bomb as well as the number of days since the latest nuclear test.
The Peace Watch Tower at the Peace Memorial Park indicated that the last nuclear explosion was when North Korea conducted its sixth test; only nine days previous to Sept. 12.

When I returned to the hotel, the news on TV reported on nuclear testing plans in various parts of the world (East Asia, Russia, the Middle East), accompanied by sharp rhetoric by politicians on such testing and missiles fired into space.

Policymakers and politicians have obviously not stayed at "my" hotel in Hiroshima (it's about peace, not war); nor seen the photo of Sadako in her coffin; not yet touched by her origami; not seen the eyewitness reports of survivors of the A-bomb (e.g. pyjama buttons were literally burned onto the skin of children asleep as they died from the nuclear impact).

Tension on the Korean Peninsula is high now; there is turmoil in the Middle East; and the West is making public places and monuments "terrorist proof" with barricades whereas they used to be open to the people for centuries. Has humanity really learned so little about peace? Alarmingly, it is estimated that nine countries have roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons "ready to go."

Normally, I contribute articles to The Korea Times on education, performance and competitiveness, and these are important areas to monitor and also "manage" for any country's institutions. Aspiring global competitiveness is crucial, no doubt.

But perhaps a visit to Hiroshima is a wakeup call that on a different dimension, there should also be competitiveness for peace in the world. Nations should aspire to increase their global competitiveness to allow economic prosperity for their citizens.

At the same time, there should be intensified efforts to ensure peace, ensure history does not repeat itself with regards to the two world wars ― not trigger a third one! ― and with regards to using nuclear weapons. The impacts are simply too devastating.

The city of Hiroshima has become an advocate for peaceful coexistence in a world where peace is fragile. In 2009, one of Sadako's last origami pieces was donated to a museum in the exact country that dropped the A-bomb; the WTC Visitor Center in New York.

The Sasaki family has practically given away all of Sadako's paper cranes; now imaginary origami have to land on the desks of today's politicians and policymakers.

Hiroshima has learned the "peace, not war" lesson, and that legacy is best summarized by my friend and mentor, professor Rosalie L. Tung at Simon Fraser University (SFU), who had also visited Hiroshima: It does remind us of how destructive war is but, at the same time, the resilience of humankind and the ability to rise from the ashes.

Sadako's origami have landed on so many school desks (since her story is often part of school curricula), at the WTC Visitor Center, and has certainly landed on my desk. Her legacy is for her cranes to also land on desks in centers of power currently playing with fire; a fire where they understand the ignition process, but not the ashes of the aftermath.



Dr. Chris Baumann is an associate professor at Macquarie University, Sydney, and visiting professor at Seoul National University (SNU) in Korea. His work focuses on competitiveness, Confucianism and customer loyalty. Dr. Baumann congratulates the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for their Nobel Prize for Peace.

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