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Hiroshima and Nagasaki

As I’m writing this I’m thawing out after a particularly cold run. My marathon and half-marathon days are long behind me, but I still try and get out and pound the streets at least three times a week. The mental and physical benefits of running are such that I intend to keep at it for as long as I’m physically able. More than anything, a morning run helps clear my head and get me in the mood for work. After spending a little time scanning the news headlines first thing, and feeling thoroughly depressed as a result, it was good to get outside today. On the home strait just now I had a one-way encounter that seemed to perfectly encapsulate my frustrations with much of the human race.

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding the course of current world events increasingly frightening. After writing apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction for 30 years (as of next month), I can’t help thinking we’re only a whisker away from the kind of catastrophic event that wouldn’t seem at all out of place in a Moody novel. And the absolute worst part is that we all know it. And most of us (our governments and so-called leaders included) will likely do fuck all about it until it’s too late.

Here’s where this morning’s running encounter comes in. I was a few hundred metres away from the entrance to the development where we live, when I spotted a lone figure in the distance, coming towards me. I watched the guy as he approached, and noticed that he had his head down and wasn’t looking up. He didn’t look up as he crossed several roads, nor did he look up when the two of us passed each other on a narrow stretch of pavement. It was tempting to play a game of chicken, but I was too tired for a fight and the road next to me was traffic-free, so I ran around him. He had his phone in his hand throughout and his attention didn’t waver from the screen he was fixated on. His ears were plugged with earbuds too, so he didn’t react to the mouthful of abuse I yelled at him either.

Deaf and blind, he might have made it all the way into the centre of Birmingham by now, or wherever the hell he was going. Alternatively, his luck may have run out and he could have been hit and killed at the next crossing. His behaviour was the perfect metaphor for how we seem to be behaving as a species right now. Whether it’s the climate, AI, wars over gods and other imaginary creatures, or one of the many crooked autocrats calling the shots (or doing whatever they can to make sure they’re the ones calling the shots again), we’re running headfirst into some incredibly frightening situations, and most of us seem to have our eyes closed and our fingers wedged firmly in our ears.

I’m not suggesting I’m any better, by the way. As I’ve grown older, I’ve felt increasingly guilty about my choice of career. I sit here day after day, making up stories about how bad things might get, without doing a damn thing to try to change or prevent any of it. This may be just my mid-fifties state of mind, but I think my current guilt and self-doubt have also been compounded by a profound experience I had a few weeks ago.

In my recent post about my November 12STORIES entry – T LX DZCCJ – I mentioned that I spent much of last month travelling around Japan, a place that had been a dream destination of mine for a long time. I’ve written many times previously about how my teenage years growing up during the (first) Cold War had a huge effect on me and, subsequently, on my writing career. As a teenager, after watching documentaries about the atomic bombings in 1945, I made a promise to myself to one day visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Last month I finally made good on that promise. I hadn’t really thought about how I might feel when I got there, but I definitely didn’t expect to feel the way I did. It was an overwhelmingly positive, uplifting experience.

The Atomic Bomb dome in Hiroshima

Standing in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima and the monument at the hypocentre of the Nagasaki explosion in 2023, it’s hard to imagine the horror of what happened there almost eighty years ago. Sure, we’ve all read books and watched films about apocalyptic events, but no matter how skilful the writer or filmmaker, a fictitious, second-hand account is never going to be able to convey the full nightmare of an atomic bombing. You can close a book or switch off a film, but in real life there are no such escapes. It was sobering to be standing in the exact spot where, decades earlier, tens of thousands of unsuspecting people had been killed in a matter of seconds. Looking around these beautifully rebuilt cities, it’s hard to imagine the horrors that were unleashed there in August 1945.

I don’t think I’ve ever visited a city as warm and friendly as Hiroshima. I know I was only there for a matter of hours, but it felt remarkably peaceful and welcoming. The Peace Monument and Memorial Park were beautiful, filled with seemingly endless groups of children on school visits, all of them laughing and smiling (and testing out their English and high-fiving the tall, odd-looking English bloke in their midst). It really is an astonishing place, as is the Peace Park in Nagasaki. The Atomic Bomb museums in both cities are sobering – filled with countless exhibits and harrowing stories. When you emerge back out into the sunlight from the dark and enclosed museums there’s a feeling of relief, almost like you’ve woken up from a nightmare. And again, you can’t help but think back to the 1945 attacks, where those who survived the initial blasts had no immediate relief from their nightmares. It’s impossible to imagine how much effort, time, money, determination, and strength it must have taken to save Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the ashes and rebuild the beautiful cities they both are today.

I’m being hopelessly naive, I know, but wouldn’t it be great if we could open our eyes, take our hands from over our ears, and actually learn from history for once instead of just repeating it? Imagine if we could skip the fighting and destruction and jump straight to the rebuilding. It’s funny (ie it’s not funny at all) how ideas that include cooperation and understanding between people currently appear to be more far-fetched than any of the grim versions of the apocalypse I’ve managed to come up with over the last three decades.

Rant over. Thanks for your indulgence and patience. I wonder if that guy I passed on my run made it home in one piece?