65th anniversary of bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a spiritual reflection

By Jane Smith Bernhardt On August 7th, the Hiroshima International House in Japan will offer an exhibit of my colorful … Continued

By Jane Smith Bernhardt

On August 7th, the Hiroshima International House in Japan will offer an exhibit of my colorful collage portraits of Atomic Bomb survivors as they mark the 65th anniversary of the first atomic blast over a civilian population. For me, the honor is poignant. It might be argued that I owe my life to the bomb. By August of 1945, my father, a Naval Lieutenant Commander, had already survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and a Kamikaze suicide bomber’s nosedive into the smokestack of his destroyer. With the prospect of a US invasion of mainland Japan, what other perils awaited him in the Pacific theatre of war?

When I spoke with my father about my intention to travel to Japan in 2003 to interview and paint portraits of survivors, he was unusually quiet. My artistic callings were ordinarily met with more enthusiasm. Twenty years earlier, my father supported my travel to the Soviet Union to render charcoal portraits of “enemy” faces. Years later – after Glasnost – he confided that he felt we’d had some small part in ending the Cold War. The Second World War was not the same. There he had anxiously scanned the ocean’s horizons for so long, and had seen so much that a man of honor does not tell….

I deeply respect my father’s heroism and his discipline. But today the world is very different. The new superpower that forced the Japanese surrender now possesses an arsenal of over 5,000 nuclear weapons, and children all over the world must grapple with the tragic notion of “mutually assured destruction.” The need for human evolution beyond the barbaric frontier of physical warfare is obvious and vital.

I try to do my small part with the language I’ve been given: Art. As the daughter and grand-daughter of portrait artists I have always been intrigued by the challenge of rendering three-dimensional reality on a flat surface. Beyond that is the magic of the human spirit: How can one hope to convey that with brush or pencil? After debating mega-tonnage of overkill with advocates of nuclear weaponry during the Cold War, I was struck by an inspiring notion: Bring home the human spirit of the “enemy.”. Let people gaze at the face and absorb the soul of this “other” who looks like my sister, my son, my mother. My exhibit “Faces of the Faceless” became the model for three subsequent collections, because it worked. Instead of an intellectual debate, these renderings did what art can do: they moved the hearts of viewers. An internal conversion could take place wherein “the other” became intimate and personal.

In a sense, Hiroshima was the ultimate calling for my combination of portraiture and peacemaking. Here were the victims who had journeyed to the land of the unthinkable and lived to tell their story.

Nothing quite prepared me for the experience of listening to the words and capturing the facial features of these survivors of nuclear holocaust: the Hibakusha. As I soldiered from one portrait to the next, it suddenly occurred to me that I was feeling nothing. It was as if a stone or block of ice had taken the place where heart and soul should be. I had come here to be a party to transformation, with my faith that the human spirit can transcend barbarism and war, but the alchemy wasn’t working. Just then a young Japanese student from Kyoto, began to inquire about my portrait. She was admiring the likeness and asking polite questions, and I was answering mechanically – and then something happened.

I don’t remember how it began, but I saw infinite sadness in her gaze. Her eyes became moist and I could feel a tremor in my mouth. She stepped closer and I began to weep, unsure of whose tears I cried. Soon we were holding each other as waves of sorrow overtook us. I don’t know how long we stood like that, holding each other in our grief, but my heart became alive again. These shared tears had melted the solid mass within me. Kumika is her name, and in my exhibit she is depicted as the Goddess of Compassion, Quan Yin, who holds the tears of the world.

The alchemy had been revealed to me. If one heart can be awakened by love we all can awaken from the sleep of forgetting. It is so simple, really. We need one another in order to survive and prosper. Right now, at this very moment, we can each decide to let the eternal force of Love awaken us to shared consciousness. The simple fact is that we are all One.

Jane Smith Bernhardt is an artist, performer and writer. She is a graduate of the interfaith Guild for Spiritual Guidance. Her book, WE ARE HERE: Love never Dies, chronicles an extraordinary period of three family deaths and many miracles of joy and forgiveness. Photos and information about the Hibakusha Peace Project can be found on her website: www.janebernhardt.com

  • SatishChandra

    I am India’s expert in strategic defence and the father of India’s strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Program. I have shown in my blog titled ‘Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.’, which can be found by a Google search with the title, that all terrorism and insurgencies in the Indian subcontinent and in much of the rest of the world is sponsored by the C.I.A. Both Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) function as branches of the C.I.A. and participate in terrorism and insurgencies throughout the Subcontinent, under direction of the C.I.A. Yes, the ISI secretly supports the Taliban but it does so under direction from the C.I.A. whose modus operandi is support for ALL sides of a conflict to control the course of the conflict in service of its own goals. The goal of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and partial occupation of Pakistan is eventual occupation and overt colonial rule over the Subcontinent as a whole. This will not be permitted and all those participating in this enterprise, including the U.K., will be duly punished; see my blog. The document leak currently in the news has been made in preparation for abandonment of this goal and withdrawal from Afghanistan because of steps I have already taken for the nuclear destruction of New Delhi and then the coast-to-coast destruction of the United States by India with 5,000 thermonuclear warheads and extermination of its population; see my blog.

  • ZZim

    “The goal of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and partial occupation of Pakistan is eventual occupation and overt colonial rule over the Subcontinent as a whole.”Fool, you think we want responsibility for you? We have enough uneducated and diseased poor Americans in our own land, why would we want to add 600 million of YOUR uneducated and diseased poor?Whack-o..

  • ctenwith

    My father carried the steel from a Japanese mortar round in his back most of his life. So I’m a little biased; however, let’s say the Trinity test was a dud. Pfftt. Nuthin’. What then? Well, the skies over Japan would’ve been full of B-29’s raining incendiaries reducing cities to ash heaps. Tens of thousands of G.I.’s and untold millions of Japanese would’ve perished in the invasion of Japanese home islands. Stalin would’ve poured in Red Army troops and post-war Japan would’ve been divided into Soviet and American occupation zones, giving the Soviets an ominous military foothold in Asia. The Korean War would’ve gone very differently and, in fact, there probably wouldn’t be a ‘South’ Korea today at all. The post-war Japanese industrial rebirth would’ve happened much slower and been much smaller, if it happened at all. If the atomic bomb hadn’t been used, everything in our world today would be much different. Especially for the Japanese. And before you wallow in guilt, this horror can be laid at the feet of Hirohito, Tojo, Yamamoto and the fascist military culture they imposed on Japan. Truman had a terrible choice to make, but think what would’ve happened had he NOT made it.

  • DwightCollins

    sure we are all sad for what happenned…

  • DoTheRightThing

    Human beings are born into a state of “fallenness” or imperfection or sinfulness, and cannot evolve or work their way out of that condition. So, the statement, “The need for human evolution beyond the barbaric frontier of physical warfare is obvious and vital” is both nonsensical and dangerous for the naive decisions and movements it engenders. Obama got elected due to such naivete, and now additionally has severely-injured the governmentally-hobbled USA he inherited as POTUS. The world has within its grasp and capabilities to install a reliable missile shield for the world coupled with well-enforced, realistic non-proliferation and anti-terrorism treaties, if it has the will to do so. May God help us collectively to will to do so.

  • JPMinNC

    The essence of tragedy is that within each local context people do the right thing, yet the sum of those right actions is manifestly wrong. Our ethical judgement regarding any action is contingent on the context in which we place it. To say that the Hiroshima bombing was right presupposes one context (i.e., that one set of sacrifices could stop another larger set of sacrifices) while ignoring a different context (i.e., that the bomb would set a precedent of causing immense pain to the wrong set of people). Moral certitude is most worrisome, because it shows a willful failure to imagine consequences outside of a very limited context.

  • woodstock-41

    BEHOLD the W-A-R-N-I-N-G, O’ Ye/Yo ‘Satanic-VersUS’ Lovin, ELDERS OF Wahhabi/Ayatollah Ummah! STOP Supporting America’s Over Building of Mosques and Causing Problems! Pleazzza! Note:

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    JPMinNC,Excellent post. Thank you! I keep hoping, naively, that we learn something from history, that noncombatants are noncombatants, that all nations will dispense with nuclear weapons.I cannot understand how we continue with this insanity knowing what we have done to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The consequences of that hideous bombing are with these people still, not merely psychologically, but physically, and we do not know when they will end.In the interim, the former USSR brought us Chernobyl, whose inhabitants continue to suffer to this day–children and grandchildren. We all give lip service to right and wrong, yet nations conduct themselves following other guidelines. We cannot remain witnesses to history. How to change that?

  • ThishowIseeit

    Jane Smith Bernhardt, our beloved President Harry Truman is not here to defend himself from yours attacks, but I would like to remind you this old adage: don’t judge a person until you have walked in his mocassins for two moons.

  • legitbrownie

    Why don’t you also paint the portraits of survivors of the Japanese invasion and occupation? These survivors and their descendants are eternally grateful to America and Americans for liberating them from the horrors of Japanese torture. It took real courage for Pres Truman to make his extremely difficult decision but the Japanese very ably forced the Americans to that course of action. It’s easy to say we are all ONE and why can’t we just get along. Keep telling the Japanese that.

  • javdelarosa

    Nuclear weapons are an issue that concerns every single one of us, from a new born baby to yourself, so make your plea! And help free the world from nuclear weapons! It is your voice that speaks out for the world’s future!Go to: Millionpleas.comIt won’t take you more than 1 min.

  • dave_sheehan641

    Wow! I am more than a little hesitant to comment on this article, since the commenters before are all over the map so to speak! I appreciatee the sincerity of the writer, but feel a little, no alot of historical perspective is necessary! The DOD, or War Department authorised 8 atom bombs to be dropped on Japan. That’s an 8 folks not a 2! The US showed great restraint, not brazen madness. More lives were lost in the conventional bombing of homeland Japan than were lost at these two targets. Should we vilify and demonise Dolittles raiders? Hindsight is always 20/20 they say! But not this time! I have met doctors and surgeons and lawyers and yes preachers who work for the sake of humankind now who were preparing to go into the mouth of the Tiger, the islands of Japan, before the bombs.The Nuclear genie is now “out of the bottle” and we have yet to see where that leads. Don’t start what you can’t finish is a good lesson to one and all.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    There is no question that the Japanese in the Philippines, in Shanghai were barbarians of a sort that most of us cannot imagine. They turned the streets into Nazi style concentration camps. What they did to our soldiers is unspeakable.Read Iris Chang, The Rape of Shanghai.However, the descendants of those who lived through the atomic bomb blasts continue to suffer. Is that justifiable? I am not asking if what the Japanese did was justifiable. I am asking if what we did was.