Posted on June 1, 2008
If there ever were a day when pure and innocent children began to distrust the world and to lose hope in its people, it would be today. Twenty days ago, when a trauma of the natural world caused thousands of schoolrooms in the quake area to collapse, an estimated six thousand students were buried in bricks and concrete.
Each living person in every small hamlet within the quake zone will extend a hand and point in the direction where nursery schools, elementary and middle schools once stood. The reality that all the survivors, every person who came to the rescue, and every volunteer or soldier from both far and near cannot accept is: these children left us. Why did such a fate choose them? Next to rows of collapsed schools and dormitories, scores of buildings were left standing, just as before.
Today, these ruined buildings conceal the bodies of children who will never be discovered, for rescuers stopped searching early on, their hearts gloomy and hopeless. It might have been better if those children had never walked in the human world, but sleeping peacefully among the concrete ruins, they will never again be disturbed by the clamor. The only thing that belongs to them now is the condensed terror, anguish, despair, and darkness.
Don’t be too anxious to boast that disasters strengthen the nation or to brag about “unprecedented unity,” and don’t use conceited words to cover up the cold, hard facts. First, pull the dismembered children’s limbs from the rubble, wipe them clean, find a quiet place, and bury them deep.
Twenty days have passed since the earthquake, and still there is no roster clearly listing the names of missing children, and there are no accurate counts of the dead. The public still doesn’t know who these departed children are, who their families are, who neglected to reinforce the schools with steel, and who mixed inferior concrete in their foundations and concrete supports when they were constructed.
The people have shed enough tears for a lifetime; what plagues their hearts now is a willingness to give everything to protect or exchange their lives for those lost.
This is a terrifying holiday. On this Children’s Day, every living adult with a shred of decency will be keenly aware of his or her failure to live up to those children, those far-off children who will eternally distrust this world. The fate of the children is that of the nation, their heart is the heart of the nation. There can be no other.
May those responsible live their remaining years in ashamed condemnation. Regardless of position, status, or honor, for just once in your life, stand up and take responsibility. Act like you have a conscience and shoulder the blame. But that would still not be enough to lighten our sense of shame.
Not only did those unstable schoolhouses collapse, the good conscience and the honor of a nation crumbled with them. On this day, beauty has perished. Have you not noticed the absence of so many laughing voices?
Those children left us before they learned how to be indifferent, before they learned how to cheat. This will come to be seen as a despicable extermination of decency; it will become a fable in which lies usurp the truth. This will be remembered.
TRANSLATED BY LEE AMBROZY
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MIT PRESS, 2011