Charred rice.

It sounds simple. Benign.

But the rice burnt in 14-year-old Satoko Tsutsumi’s lunch box came not from overcooking. Fire carbonized its contents. After the atomic bomb hit the seaside city of Nagasaki, Japan, blazes spread south of the hypocenter, destroying most everything in their wake.

Satoko’s lunch box remained as a reminder of the weapon’s brutality. Along with other recovered artifacts from the atomic blast, the metal oval lies in a display case of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

Nearby, an armband from fourth grade student Norimasa Hayashi can be seen. Working in a steel plant, he perished in the bombing while wearing this cloth adorned by his name.

It was 11 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, when the aircraft Bockscar released the most powerful weapon ever used in combat. With a conservative estimate, roughly 40,000 men, women and children died immediately. Burns and illnesses from the radiation claimed approximately 40,000 more lives in the coming weeks and years. Most of the casualties were civilians.

When I stood at the memorial of the bomb’s epicenter in Nagasaki 19 years ago, I felt ashamed. My nation caused this grief, and here I was visiting the site as a tourist, as if my presence defiled the sacred ground. I witnessed reminders of the carnage on innocents caused by that bomb. My head hung a bit lower that day, worried that surrounding eyes would stare into my soul and know my sin.

But no one commented. Among the rows of colored origami cranes rustling in the breeze, laughter could be heard. Solemnity had ceased, for some, years ago. An unexplainable forgiveness permeated the air. I’ve not ever felt such an emotion since.

Like many want to do, we can talk about the justification for the atomic bombings of Japan, and the number of lives saved due to their deployment for decades to come. These acts of defiance displace our guilt. But it still does little to relieve the suffering those in Nagasaki faced that savage August day, and the reminder that this misery could happen again.

That, I believe, was President Obama’s aim on his recent trip to Hiroshima. The Japanese people’s anguish is the world’s anguish. Every human should feel that pain at its most fundamental level.

Sorrow knows no national boundaries. No explanations or apologies are required to understand this grief.

Obama’s words on the commonality among all of humans spoke to this.

“That is why we come to Hiroshima. So that we might think of people we love. The first smile from our children in the morning. The gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table. The comforting embrace of a parent. We can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here, 71 years ago,” Obama said in his speech on Friday.

“Those who died, they are like us.”

Oh, how often we forget these shared human experiences among us all. An us-versus-them mentality pervades our species. This compartmentalization allows us to justify both bigotry and violence. Dehumanization remains a common strategy to unite a people. Nations across the world employ this tactic, including our own.

But we must resist the temptation to disconnect from those who have wronged us, and those who we have wronged in return.

At a Festival of Faiths session in Louisville a week ago Saturday, historian and author Karen Armstrong spoke to the audience about the healing power of shared grief. She used the ancient text of the Iliad as an example.

At the end of the epic, the renowned Achilles kills Hector, the son of his enemy King Priam of Troy. Refusing to give Hector’s body back for burial, Achilles, burdened by his own grief of recently losing his best friend Patroclus, defiles Hector’s corpse.

Determined to retrieve his son’s body, King Priam sneaks into Achilles’ camp and appeals to the warrior to return Hector to him. Moved by the king’s suffering, Achilles relents. The story ends with the two men who had damaged each other so irreparably mourning together over their common losses.

“But they have felt that bond of compassion that unites them, and it is that which makes us truly God-like, truly divine when we recognize that our so-called enemies also have pain,” Armstrong said.

Recognizing the suffering of those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 71 years ago doesn’t diminish our own losses. Instead, it allows a deeper understanding that each of us can be both victim and perpetrator, and that we all love, live and suffer alike.

And so, we must ask ourselves, what will the remnants of our own children’s future be?

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at

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