It was August 7th, 1945 and Shaliwen's world was irrevocably changed. The Earth was upended and would never be right again. A small bird in the nearby tree, chirped as if the world was the same as when it was a chick. Her country, which she believed was true and right with the Universe, must have been the most vile and corrupt place for God to have let something happen like this. Her Emperor, who was supposed to be a direct descendant of God was reportedly paralyzed with fear, and unable to speak. Shaliwen could understand that to a point, because her throat choked closed every time she tried to utter a word out loud. She felt a fear like she had never experienced in life. It was worse than shame, rape, even worse than death itself.
She had run deep into the woods to this beautiful little garden, which somehow kept its beauty in spite of the sky and Earth being torn asunder by fire. She had run to escape the vision of the people pouring down the roads ragged, burned, and some even looked like they had melted. Inside the geisha's house a small girl of age two lay quietly whimpering, her name was Sadako Sasaki. She was held by her mother, but never cried out loud. They were only a kilometer or so away from the terrible explosion, but they lived. Something changed within them, but they both looked whole on the outside.
The day before as she tended to a tiny bit of land barely a meter square with flowers, and a varying parade of rocks that she would find, plants and sand, what we would call a Zen garden, the sky was split asunder. First was a light, that she instinctively looked away from. She feared it was the face of God it was so bright. A few seconds later a roar like the scream of a runaway train's engine made her fall flat to the ground on her stomach. That was followed by the rush of a wind that smelled of a million deaths. Shaliwen thought the world had come to an end. In some ways, her world did.
Far away in the distance people could see fires covering the whole area where Hiroshima should be. No one could understand what had happened. The concept that a weapon created by men could do such damage was beyond comprehension. The thought that even their enemies would use a weapon of that magnitude on innocent women and children seemed too horrific for even them. It was true that because of an error in the delivery time, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor before the declaration of war was received by the Americans. That error was not a source of pride in Japan, but could the American's taste for revenge be so great that they were behind this. The Japanese had attacked a military base far from the main shores of their motherland. This was an attack on civilians in a major city in the heartland of her country. Because the previous six months had brought bombing attacks on 67 cities throughout Japan, the American's were the first enemy thought to be behind this wholesale destruction.
Sixteen hours after the event, radio broadcast from Washington D.C. told the Japanese government what had happened earlier in the day. They announced that at 8:15 in the morning, the Americans had dropped a single bomb on the city of Hiroshima. This terrible bomb was called an atom bomb. Until that broadcast the Japanese were not sure of what had really happened. In Japan no one could imagine that the Americans would turn around and do it again in three days to the city of Nagasaki. Six days after that attack, Japan surrendered.
In the initial attack on Hiroshima, most estimates put the number of dead from the immediate attach at 70,000 people. Due to the effects of the atomic explosion, such as radiation poisoning, the estimates of the bomb's death count by the end of 1945 was somewhere between 90,000 and 140,000. Most of those killed were civilians. If the war had ended differently, the Americans would have been charged with war crimes of a level never known by mankind before or since then. As of 2007 and the writing of this piece, the explosions of atomic bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima are the only nuclear attacks in mankind's history of war.
In 1955, when Sadako Sasaki was practicing for a big foot race, she became dizzy and fell to the ground. It turns out that even though she wasn't that close to the explosion at Hiroshima, the radiation poisoning it carried had caught up to her. She was diagnosed with Leukemia. Sadako had been a very athletic child and hoped to get well and race again. One of her friends told her of the legend that anyone who folds a thousand perfect paper cranes would be granted a wish. She took this to heart and even shared the legend with a boy she shared her hospital room with. He thanked her, but said that he would die before he could make that many cranes. As he predicted, he died that night. Sadako was afraid of death, as most of us are.
The popular version of the story was that she fell short of her goal of folding 1000 cranes, having only completed 644 before her death, and that her friends completed the 1000 and all of them were buried with her. The truth was she had folded a total of 1,300 cranes by her death on October 25th, 1955. She had plenty of free time to fold them while in the hospital, but the problem was a shortage of paper. She would use medicine wrappings and whatever else she could scrounge, including the paper from her fellow patient's get well presents.
Her classmates and students from other schools petitioned the government to make a statue of her for the peace park, and they did. In 1958 the first of two statues were built outside of Hiroshima. Another one called the paper crane monument was built at the Nobori-cho Municipal School which Sadako attended, and in Seattle, Washington there is a Sadako Peace Park and a statue of Sadako Sasaki in it. More recently in 1995 the children of Santa Fe's Arroyo del Oso School in New Mexico conducted a fund raising campaign to have a statue of Sadako built at their school. Also in 1995 in Santa Barbara, California the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation built the Sadako Peace Garden and set aside August 6th of each year to be Sadako Peace Day.
The monument most seen of Sadako Sasaki is the one built in 1958 at the Hiroshima Peace Park. Even now a half a century later people from all over the world fold cranes by the thousands and send them to her monument in Hiroshima each day. On a plaque at the bottom of the statue it is inscribed with:
"This is our cry, This is our prayer, Peace in the world".