Saturday, August 06, 2005



Hiroshima (2000)

If this is freedom I don't understand
'cause it seems like madness to me...

--The Jam, "A Bomb on Wardour Street"

Sixty years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Here are some reflections.

From -- "Lessons from Hiroshima, 60 Years Later" by Walter Cronkite:

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago were stunning and sobering events. They brought World War II to an end, and everyone was thankful for that. Not too many of us stopped to think about the full implications of those bombs for our future. We were too busy celebrating the end of that terrible war.

One of the people who had it absolutely right at the very beginning about the meaning of Hiroshima was the great French writer Albert Camus. He wrote in a French resistance newspaper: “Our technological civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests.” We are still facing that choice.


There has been much emphasis in the news about the dangers of nuclear proliferation in such countries as North Korea. All countries should abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Few Americans are aware, however, that the treaty also provides that the US and other nuclear-weapons states must reduce their numbers of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, disarmament by nuclear-weapons states receives limited attention in news reporting, at least within the United States. I think this might be because the continuing existence of our own vast arsenal doesn’t seem to Americans, even if they are aware of it, to be nearly as dangerous as the threat of new nations acquiring the ghastly weapons.

The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- the hibakusha -- have continually warned, “Nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist.” In the end, I believe this is the most important lesson of Hiroshima. We must eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.

From The Observer -- "Children of Hiroshima":

The Second World War, in many Western minds, was to make Hiroshima less a geographical place than an image and an event: a blasted landscape dated 6 August 1945, when the American B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay shimmered out of a beautiful blue sky and dropped on it the bomb, nicknamed 'Little Boy' by its makers, which seconds later became the most destructive weapon the world had ever seen. At 8.15am the uranium atom bomb exploded 580 metres above the city with a blinding flash, creating a fireball that blazed like a small sun with a temperature of more than a million degrees Celcius at the centre. In one second the fireball reached a diameter of 280 metres, sending surface temperatures to 4,000C. Fierce heat rays and radiation burst out in every direction, unleashing a high pressure shockwave, vaporising tens of thousands of people and animals, melting buildings and streetcars, reducing a 400-year-old city to dust.

Housewives and children were incinerated instantly or paralysed in their daily routines like the victims of Pompeii, their internal organs boiled and their bones charred into brittle charcoal. All 30 people inside the industrial promotion hall, about 160 metres north-west of the explosion's hypocentre, were killed instantly and the building was gutted by fire. Yet many of the walls remained upright and the copper skeleton of the dome remained intact as 48,000 buildings in the city were flattened.


Today Hiroshima is a thriving city with a population of 1.1 million and plenty of entertainment, carefree cyclists and Starbucks. But the A-bomb, which by the end of 1945 was estimated to have killed 140,000 people here, defines it. At the city's heart is the memorial peace park and museum, in which school pupils look at exhibits left behind by dead children: school uniforms ragged and scorched, a lunchbox of carbonised food, a doomed three-year-old's tricycle, a pocket watch stopped at 8.15am. They look at photographs of a woman's skin branded by the pattern of her kimono. They gather around a glass case containing the cut-away steps of the local Sumitomo bank; whoever was sitting on those steps became a smudge.

Between the Motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow (T.S. Eliot).

A human shadow printed on a Hiroshima wall as he or she took the heat of radiation.

From National Review Online -- "60 Years Later" by Victor Davis Hanson:

Postwar generations argued over whether the two atomic bombs, the fire raids, or the August Soviet invasion of Manchuria-- or all three combined -- prompted Japan to capitulate, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a stain on American democracy, or whether the atomic bombs were the last-gasp antidote to the plague of Japanese militarism that had led to millions of innocents butchered without much domestic opposition or criticism from the triumphalist Japanese people.

But our own generation has more recently once again grappled with Hiroshima, and so the debate rages on in the new age of terrorism and handheld weapons of mass destruction, brought home after an attack on our shores worse than Pearl Harbor -- with more promised to come. Perhaps the horror of the suicide bombers of Japan does not seem so distant any more. Nor does the notion of an extreme perversion of an otherwise mainstream religion filling millions with hatred of a supposedly decadent West.

The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict, is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders must select between a very bad and even worse choice. Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable, but the other scenarios would have probably turned out even worse.

From The Observer -- "I Looked Up and Couldn't See the Sky" by Justin McCurry:

Most of the survivors are in their 70s, 80s and 90s and are dying at the rate of about 5,000 a year. As a result, Hiroshima is also losing its place in the collective consciousness. The annual ceremony in the city draws thousands of peace activists and survivors, but to the policy-makers it has become a near irrelevance. Though he reluctantly attends, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi no longer observes the custom of chatting to survivors.

Children once flocked to Hiroshima on school excursions, but these days they are more likely to go to Tokyo Disneyland. In the post-war years it was hard to find a Japanese child who did not know the story of Sadako, a young victim of the bombing who folded 1,000 paper cranes -- a symbol of peace -- as she lay dying from leukemia.

Today's 12-year-olds are barely aware of the importance of 6 August, says Ken Kobayakawa of the Hiroshima Institute of Peace Education. "The farther you get away from Hiroshima the less children know about what happened here."

Responsibility for that lies largely with conservative politicians, he says. Koizumi, Japan's most hawkish leader for decades, has sent his forces to Afghanistan and Iraq and is behind moves to alter the pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. Influential members of his ruling Liberal Democratic party openly discuss the merits of Japan developing its own nuclear deterrent.

No Tokyo Disneyland for me...

A young girl at Hiroshima holds a rice ball.
[Photograph by Yosuki Yamahata]

From John Hershey's Hiroshima -- read into The Congressional Record by Senator Mark O. Hatfield on August 2, 1989, during an address entitled "Peace through Strength is a Fallacy":

He found about 20 men and women on the sandspit. He drove the boat onto the bank and urged them to get aboard. They did not move and he realized that they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge glovelike pieces.

Then he got into the water and, though a small man, lifted several of the men and women into his boat. Their backs and breasts were clammy, and he remembered uneasily that the great burns he had seen during the day had been like: yellow at first, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally, in the evening, suppurated and smelly.

With the tide risen, his bamboo pole was now too short and he had to paddle most of the way across it. On the other side, at a higher spit, he lifted the slimy living bodies out and carried then up the slope away from the tide. He had to keep consciously repeating to himself: "These are human beings. These are human beings."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Somebody's daddy refused to apologize for the bomb. That same somebody, reinforced by news networks interviewing pilots on the Enola Gay, has gone on vacation in Crawford, Texas. Yippie Kie Yay! Only Richard Gere in Kurosawa's "Rhapsody in August" did the right thing, and he was playing a role. Great fractal! Turn everything off, now, and listen for the distant ringing of the gong at the heart of Hiroshima.

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