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Remembering Sadako Sasaki Ahead of G7 Summit in Hiroshima

Originally published in  Newsweek
Written by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA)

When I was in the fifth grade, I lived in Japan. My father, a naval aviator, was deployed to Okinawa. At my school on the base, we learned about a young Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was 12 years old when she died from leukemia. She was only 2 years old when B-29 bombers flew over Hiroshima. She was blown out of her house's window—the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb. More than 70,000 people died instantly. Others would suffer years later from exposure to the radioactive "black rain" that fell across the region in the aftermath. Sadako's exposure gave her cancer.

Two months before Sadako Sasaki died, a friend told her about the Japanese legend of 1,000 cranes. In Japan, cranes are a symbol of long life. Folklore said they could live 1,000 years. Legend is that if you fold 1,000 origami cranes, one for each year of life, you get a wish. And so, from her hospital bed, Sadako began folding crane after crane. Hers was a story that captured the hearts of the entire world, crossing every race, class, gender, and geographic divide.

Forty-five years later, I returned to Japan. This time, I was there as a member of Congress on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. I had the privilege of visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. In that museum is an exhibit dedicated to Sadako Sasaki and the cranes she folded before her death. It is my belief that, as leaders, we have a deep responsibility to bear witness to history and to learn from history.

As a third-generation veteran, I understand the dire importance of American leadership. My grandfather served in the Korean War and my father in Vietnam. My service was at the end of the Cold War era, focused on anti-ballistic missile defense. Our family shares America's commitment to fighting for what's right. But to be a veteran is to know the cost of battle, and I feel a deep responsibility to remind others of that cost. War always comes with a cost.

When we look around, we see a world in turmoil. Russia invaded Ukraine, a neighbor to our fellow NATO nations. A global energy crisis and climate change continue to threaten global stability. Democracy here and abroad continues to be pushed to its seeming limit. There are even increased talks about the potential threat of nuclear attacks. These are dangerous times, when tensions run high and the desire for swift resolution can cause us to overlook the wisdom afforded by past experiences.

We must resist that urge. We must remember stories like Sadako's.

This week, President Joe Biden will have an opportunity to not only bear witness to history, but share it with the world. Japan will host the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, mere miles from where Sadako Sasaki lived. I am urging President Biden to take this opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and to share that experience with not only his fellow global leaders at the summit but also with all of us here at home. In great moments of turmoil, we owe our collective humanity the act of bearing witness—to remember the real price of war, to remember Sadako Sasaki and the many like her.

Here in Pennsylvania's sixth district, we're marking this momentous meeting by folding cranes at senior facilities, schools, and community centers. Together, we are folding origami cranes. For some, we are re-familiarizing ourselves with Sadako's story and the horrors of nuclear war.

While still others learn for the first time about the hope and resilience of a young girl who folded a thousand cranes, inspired so many, and lost her life too soon.

In this moment, perhaps the most important thing we can do is to remember, to honor the past by taking the most serious lessons from it.

Chrissy Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, engineer, serial entrepreneur, educator, and nonprofit leader. She represents Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Chester County and southern Berks County. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She is the recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award which "recognizes members who demonstrate the bipartisan leadership and constructive governing necessary to move our country forward" and the Congressional Management Foundation's 2022 Democracy Award for best constituent services in Congress.