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Remembering Floyd Schmoe, who never forgot Hiroshima

The venerated Seattle peace activist, who helped build housing for survivors of the bomb, lives on past his death in 2001.
Floyd Schmoe, building a house in Hiroshima in 1952

Floyd Schmoe, building a house in Hiroshima in 1952 City of Hiroshima

Seattle peace activist Floyd Schmoe, who died in 2001 at age 105, recently received new attention here and in Hiroshima, where he helped build housing for the survivors of the atomic bombing.

Although the timing was purely coincidental, Hiroshima's daily newspaper and Seattle-based HistoryLink.org both wrote about Schmoe. After World War II, Schmoe made his way from Seattle to Hiroshima repeatedly, creating and leading a project to provide more than 20 houses and multiple-family buildings for survivors in the devastated city. He became a beloved figure there, and the sole remaining house he built has been preserved as a meeting place for the surrounding neighborhood.

But a new road project, to be completed next year, runs through the site of the house. So, the city has appropriated money to move the house to a nearby property, according to an article from Hiroshima's daily newspaper, Chugoku Shimbun, posted on its English-language Hiroshima Peace Media web site last week.

Schmoe was horrified by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where his project also built a dozen houses, and saw the relief effort as a better way to apologize than words, according to HistoryLink.org. The Hiroshima newspaper quoted the head of the neighborhood association as saying that the house "is imbued with Mr. Schmoe's philosophy."

A city official said, "We want to make it a place where people can learn about the dedication demonstrated by Mr. Schmoe, who personally understood the devastation of Hiroshima and helped with the reconstruction of the city." Hiroshima recognized Schmoe as an honorary citizen of the city 1983, and, as a Seattle Times obituary noted, he received Japan's highest civilian honor. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

Schmoe campaigned against the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and then spent the rest of the war years helping the internees. In his 90s, Schmoe was the driving force behind the creation of Seattle's Peace Park just north of the University Bridge, which features a statue of "Sadako and the Thousand Cranes."

Coincidentally, HistoryLink has been adding audio files on its site, including excerpts from an interview with Schmoe conducted in 1988. So, staff historian Kit Oldham wanted to update and expand the essay on Schmoe he had written earlier. The result is an insightful, nearly 4,000-word look at Schmoe's life, published last Thursday (Feb. 25).

In one of two audio excerpts accompanying the essay, Schmoe told interviewer Elmer Good about his decision to build housing in Hiroshima. "I was shocked at the bomb," Schmoe said in 1988. "I thought it was an atrocity, even in warfare: mass destruction; 30,000 children with no guilt for the Pearl Harbor (attack) at all." Wanting to make a meaningful apology, he recalled, "I thought that if I went with my own money and my own hands, and built a house for a surviving family, they would understand."

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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