How an early Aug. 6 memorial surprised a peace activist

While working on an upcoming article about a new exhibition facility in Hiroshima, I came across a rather striking reference to the Aug. 6, 1949 ceremony by Seattle peace activist Floyd Schmoe.

Schmoe was there with other volunteers for a project called Houses for Hiroshima, which helped meet one of the greatest continuing needs four years after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb.

The annual ceremonies today are solemn, moving and meaningful. I found a description of the fourth-anniversary memorial in a small book Schmoe wrote, Japan Journey, after the first of his housing-assistance trips. There’s a signed copy of the book, published in 1950 by Silver Quoin Press, in the library of the University Friends Meeting, where Schmoe was an active Quaker.

In the book, he recounts briefly attending the ceremony, which occurred shortly after he and other Seattle volunteers arrived. He wrote, “Hiroshima’s public observance of the fourth anniversary of the atom bomb, August 6, 1949, left me feeling pretty low. … I was not prepared for fireworks and confetti.”

While he may have been understandably jarred, there is probably a straightforward explanation in the context of the times: Hiroshima was still trying hard to revive itself and rebuild. An upbeat approach to at least part of the the ceremony, rather than the religious tone that Schmoe suggested he would have expected, probably made sense to organizers. City officials  were trying hard to overcome the continuing misery of the immediate postwar era in Japan, especially the atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The exhibition facility, commemorating help from various foreign nationals, will be called Schmoe House.

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