Moved by devastation

Richard Woolfenden

Eight hundred entries flooded in to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Schools' Anti-War Writing Competition from young writers interested in peace. As the organiser, I had asked entrants to write a story, poem or essay about war or the prospects for peace.

Misato Asakawa (l5) approached the issue of Hiroshima through a moving essay about her grandfather, a survivor from Hiroshima.

In the middle of the step there was a black part, which looked rather like a person. He (the grandfather), in a deep, melancholy tone, told me that it was probably his father's shadow printed on the stone. He told me quietly that the shadow was waiting for someone who could let him go.

Poems were by far the most popular form. Many of the entries in the 13 to 15-year-old category (the other was 16 to 18) adopted an emotional tone that conveyed a gut-reaction to the horror of war. Thirteen-year-old Jennifer Herron's "Gold Teeth and Pretty Hair" is a "posthumously written" account of a Jewish girl's experience of the Holocaust. Jennifer's intentionally naive style heightened the pathos.

off we go.

on the train all Crushed up.

Mummy says: we're going to a bad place, Because of the star on my coat.

Have I been bad?

I'm sorry Mummy.

Many students described experiences that were essentially alien to them, but Vera Chok Li-Ern (18) chose to confront her own apathy towards the countless "TV wars" she has witnessed.

"Thousands are killed every day!"

come reports but not every day.

It wouldn't sell then.

The Gatekeepers know that we don't want to know that Every day.

Television proved to be vital for many of the entrants. Daniel Jackson's poem, "Refugee", graphically describes the devastation caused by an attack on fleeing refugees.

Bodies strewn across the track.

Slowly people emerge from the surrounding bushes, Picking up their small bundles, they start again.

The poem "Anniversary" by Gemma Burford (17) powerfully captures a generational frustration with Britain's obsession with Second World War anniversaries.

Sometime, I must make you understand That victory and peace are not the same...

...That some are dead, and more are born to die.

Put down your glass before you ask me why.

Jenny Noble's moving short story, "A Time To Stop War", deftly transports the reader from the detail of some children quarrelling to the horror of the bomb.

A piercing scream sliced through the silence, shattering the peace. The two girls started, and stared at Billy in astonishment as mothers came rushing towards the trio from all directions, each fearing for her own child, and saw . . . Billy, rooted to the ground, a terrifying sound emerging from his wide-open mouth as his eyes looked to the sky, transfixed by the horrific scene.

Fifteen-year-old Jessie Lea's short story, "The Shelter", describes the thoughts of a girl in a nuclear shelter after the bomb was dropped. She knows that she cannot survive in the radiation-contaminated atmosphere. Her sense of resignation and futility is so disturbing that death almost becomes desirable.

Then I shall climb the stairs, and walk in the green grass and let the sunlight fall on my body. And I shall breathe in the cool, sweet air and let the radiation course through my veins.

I will walk slowly to the top of the hill and lie gently down under the old oak tree. Then, I will die.

The competition emerged in response to my own students' attempts to grapple with the question of war in the modern age and was judged by Margaret Graham, Germaine Greer, Kate Margam, Adrian Mitchell, Julie Myerson, John Pilger, Robert Swindells and Michelene Wandor.

In the 50th anniversary year of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I hope it will inspire many more students to tackle this issue of our time.

Richard Woolfenden is an English teacher at Tom Hood School, Leytonstone, east London.

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