Today is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This topic is always controversial. Some argue that the bombing sped up the ending of World War II and thus saved lives, while others argue that Japan would have surrendered soon and the bombing of civilians was not necessary. Regardless of your view on the subject, it resulted in a huge loss of civilian lives in way that rarely has been seen since.

I visited Hiroshima this past December shortly before Christmas. In a nutshell, it was an intense experience. It was a gorgeous day to walk around the peace park, but it still was a sobering experience going to the various shrines and memorials. I also recognized that it was uncomfortable to visit Hiroshima as an American. It was my country who caused such destruction and devastation. Obviously, it was my grandparents’ generation, but it is still part of our national history and identity. Also, I always had a weird personal connection to this bombing that I couldn’t shake. My grandfather was fighting in the Pacific theater at the time (and he was in Japan not long after the Japanese surrendered). If the war continued, then there is a decent chance that he would have died in the process. I know that it is weird to play hypothetical 20-questions with this bombing, but it seems like a natural thing to do when thinking about this bombing and the aftermath.

Within the park, there is a museum that explains the history of the bombing, and it also serves as a sobering reality of the consequences of nuclear warfare. To put it mildly, they did not hold any punches. Part of the museum was under renovation when I went, but the key parts covering the bombing and the aftermath were exceptionally intense. The “artifacts” on display made the whole thing far more real and sobering than any history book could do. I read John Hershey’s Hiroshima in high school, which was also a powerful read for me. However, this museum took it well beyond that experience.

After visiting the museum, I walked around the park and tried to clear my head. Among the many emotions I felt at that time, I distinctly  remember feeling anger. This anger was directly toward Donald Trump (someone I didn’t want in my head while on vacation, but unavoidable), who was casually discussing nuclear warfare with such a cavalier attitude. Part of the mission of the museum and the park is to prevent nuclear warfare in the future, which is a mission held by most Japanese. And then, Donald Trump not only proposes dropping nukes, but even suggesting that Japan should use nukes to protect itself against North Korea (which has gathered more attention recently, but these remarks did start last year).

On the other side, I am glad that Secretary Kerry and President Obama have both visited Hiroshima since my own visit. We cannot run away from our past, and I am glad that our leaders are not shy about confronting our history either.

Bottom line? I am glad that I went to Hiroshima. I knew it was going to be a rough day, but it was worth the visit. It is one thing to be a student of history, but it is another thing to face it head on and try to come to terms with it. There are some things that you cannot experience by reading books, and visiting Hiroshima was one of them for me.