Hiroshima Exhibit Disappears: Garden takes precedence

A Japanese Under Secretary General established the exhibit on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and another Japanese Under Secretary General dismantled it.

For over twenty years that grim exhibit dominated the first floor corridor connecting the General Assembly and Secretarial buildings. It had statuettes and artifacts of remnants found in the cities devastated by the first atomic bombs. The glass wall looking outwards was totally covered in black depictions of wailing women and crying children.

At the time, a Japanese contribution was additionally made "to improve the tour route" taken by visitors. A controversy then arose on whether a plaque should be placed in recognition of the contributor who had been reportedly accused of war crimes. Mr. Sasakawa won. Almost annually the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were ferried to UN Headquarters with the appropriate noises- receptions, conferences, round tables -led by the Japanese head of DPI and coordinated by the Japanese mission. A pilgrimage became almost compulsory to all Japanese visitors to New York. Busloads dropped them on 46th Street and First Avenue where they would proceed immediately to the exhibit, observe quickly the Japanese peace bell outside and hurriedly leave to explore the big apple. As they paid a full rate for the tour, no one complained, least of all, the exquisite Japanese UN guides whose one-hour tour was reduced to ten minutes. Evelybody happy.

The United States mission however was not pleased. When it made a demarche, the fearless leader of DPI diverted the blame to the staff of Public Services, who ran the guided tours. When the better-informed Americans came back, the accommodating leader supported some sort of a compromise gesture. A large portrait of President Reagan and USSR General Secretary Gourbachev shaking hands was placed on a pillar, presumably reflecting their agreement on a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Everybody happy.

Even when DPI was headed by non-Japanese, the arrangement was respected. Suddenly in the year 2000, the Japanese started expressing wider interest in the area of the Japanese peace bell. It was moved to a central position, then surrounded by some plants, then expanded with some articulately arranged stones. Each time, workers would move around other material in the area outside the corridor between the Assembly and Secretarial buildings- that is on the other side of the wall of the Hiroshima Nagasaki exhibit. It was in fact an increasingly tasteful display of landscaping which was completed by taking over the whole area just in time for the Millennium Summit. A special reception was given with a ceremony at the Delegate's Lounge attended by visiting Japanese dignitaries. Journalists who were told about it during that noon briefing and tried to attend were politely and firmly turned back- it was by invitation only.

Viewing it from the second floor, it looked like a masterful Japanese garden. The view became similar from the ground floor. In the absence of visitors during the millennium assembly period, the oppurtunity was taken to discreetly clear the exhibit on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With only one statue left in the corner, the darkened glass wall was fully transparent. The garden and the peace bell appeared in full splendor.

Was it a recognition of the end of history as Professor Fukuyama had predicted, or simply a deal whereby the atomic exhibit was given up in return for the garden?