As a travel enthusiast, I am often asked why I like to travel so much. I have quite a few short answers to that question but if I sense someone actually wants to hear my long answer I will occasionally include a tragic yet illustrative story about how travel can change the way we think.
The story that resonates most with me about the power of travel focuses on decisions and the underlying rationale made by Henry L. Stimson, the United States Secretary of War during WWII. Stimson took ownership of the atomic bomb project and was driven to see the project succeed. The definition of success is certainly debatable and not important to the theme of this particular story. The story I tell in my words goes something like this.
After it was decided the US would use the atomic bomb on Japan, a committee put together a list of target cities with justifications of each to present to the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. Number one on the list was the city of Kyoto. Secretary Stimson was presented with the list and immediately instructed the team to remove Kyoto from the list. In official documents Secretary Stimson cited a number of ‘official’ reasons why Kyoto should be taken off the list though interestingly, nearly every cited reason starkly contradicted his previous stances. The real reason Stimson took Kyoto off the list so abruptly was because he had actually been to Kyoto. When he was younger he visited and loved the city so much he later returned for his honeymoon. As a Secretary of War, Stimson was willing to use the destructive device on a city but as a world traveler, Secretary Stimson would not even entertain the idea of using the bomb on a city he had visited enjoyably. Secretary Stimson’s travels had created an emotional connection that overruled his war logic and spared Kyoto.
Admittedly the story I tell was originally concocted from a series of anecdotes I had put together from bits and pieces of media but I had never dug deeper to confirm the story.
This week I returned to Hiroshima and the Hiroshima Peace Museum to research further.
For those who have not been to Hiroshima, I would summarize the city as 1 part sadness and reflection and 3 parts hope and peace. To me, Hiroshima is extremely uplifting and in no ways a negative experience. It also doesn’t hurt they are the mecca for one of my favorite dishes on the planet, Okonomiyaki.
The Peace Museum has a plethora of information including transcripts and meeting minutes from WWII. I focused on the information around the selection of the atomic bomb target cities. I reviewed what I could and concluded the story is mostly true. Stimson did not cite his emotional ties to Kyoto in the formal texts but a review of his dairies and those who were also present suggest his emotional decision to remove Kyoto was immediate and the ‘official’ rationale came much later.
The bottom line
While the story revolves around a terribly tragic event, I believe it illustrates how powerful travel can be to change the way we think. It is far easier to develop negative feelings and preconceived notions towards places you have never been. It is amazing how quickly those feelings melt away after you actually visit.
As a final note, you won’t notice any citations in this post. The point of my research was not to construct an academic argument but rather to confirm that the concept of the story was true. I did not take photos of the transcripts I reviewed at the museum to properly cite my information nor did I continue uncovering facts after I had enough evidence to convince myself the story was genuine.