Sixtieth anniversaries are few and far between. Not many people are still around for them for one thing. Those who are, usually don’t have much more time to spend with us. These events need to be honoured and cherished by all who have any connection, no matter how slim, to the circumstances.
August 6th 2005 will mark the 60th anniversary of the dropping of an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Just four days latter Nagasaki was devastated by a second blast. Although many people point to the allied fire bombing of Dresden in Germany as the most devastating in terms of civilian casualties, that doesn’t take into account the post blast consequences.
The long term effects of the radiation left behind by the two bombs continued to show up in post blast generations. Birth defects, sterility, and other symptoms associated with exposure to high levels of radiation were common place for years after.
I’d like to think that in our naiveté at the time our leaders didn’t fully understand the implications of what they were doing. That they were not just dropping an incredibly high powered bomb would never occur to them. I would hate to think of anybody consciously deciding to use a weapon that they knew would devastate generations to come no matter what the circumstances.
When I’ve talked to people of my parent’s generation about the bombing they have, in most instances, said there initial reaction was that of relief that the war would be over. For people like my father who were a year away from entering the army it meant that they would not have to take part in an invasion of Japan. Given the previous tenacity shown in their defence of outlying territories they had previously occupied, it was reasonably expected that casualties in a land war would be astronomical for both sides.
What we know now is that Japan’s war machine was coming down to it’s last legs. They had always had very low reserves of the oil and natural resources necessary for arming themselves, and the four years of war fare had just about exhausted their supplies. Any invasion would have been bitterly contested, but without proper equipment they could not have held out for long.
Hindsight has always been said to be twenty-twenty so judgement in that area is probably unfair. If I had been alive at the time I doubt I would have reacted any differently than others of that generation. It would have been such a relief for the war to be finally over.
That being said it’s one thing to understand the reasons behind an action, but it’s another thing all together to forget the results of the same action. According to survivors it seems that less and less people want to know or hear about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Weapons continue to proliferate at an alarming rate and the chances of one being used again increase proportionately with increased availability.
When the Cold War sputtered to a stop in 1987 it was hoped that this would see the end for the “need” of countries to have the capability of blowing the world up countless times over. For a while it looked like this hope was being borne out, as the testing of nuclear weapons had ceased by 2000. But since September 11 2001 the United States have held eight bomb tests and the Russians one.
I don’t know how either country figures that testing weapons, or event their availability will, help them in their wars against terrorists. Unless their plan is to turn huge swathes of land into parking lots nuclear bombs are of know use against terrorists. In fact their continued existence poses the biggest potential threat possible.
What if it had been a nuclear device set off in London last week? What use would Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles been? The old policies of deterrent and détente are no longer applicable. When dealing with primarily a stateless enemy, in other words they represent a concept not a nation, retaliation on a large scale is fruitless. If the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t stopped attacks will turning either Syria or Iran into a smoking hole offer any better result?
The attitude of “just nuke the bastards” won’t accomplish anything in this day’s world. Instead of testing eight nuclear bombs since 2001 wouldn’t the Bush administration have been better served by spending that money on beefing up security against the potential for an attack by those they consider “rogue” states who are looking to gain nuclear capabilities.(Iran and North Korea) Being able to knock one out of the sky seems more important right now than developing newer and stronger ones.
Five years ago at the review of the United Nations nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty the U.S. had agreed with long term goal of eliminating all atomic weapons. Just last spring the most current review fell apart because of their refusal to co-operate on disarmament issues. This is the same administration who continually expresses dismay over the possibility of Iran and North Korea obtaining the same weapons.
Any moral authority they had for protesting about those countries evaporates in the face of their own interagency when it comes to the same issue. There is no way a country like North Korea should be permitted to arm itself with weapons capable of mass destruction, but who has the right to say that only I am allowed to play with those toys?
Hiroshima survivors are finding it harder and harder to get anyone to listen to their stories. Even though some of them still bear scars that reflect the awful damage of the bomb the last four years has seen an alarming shift away from compassion to downright hostility. Bookings to speak at schools in America are cancelled at the last moment.
All of a sudden they are being labelled as opponents of the administration. They are beginning to fear that people are forgetting the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s not just in America that they run into the problem of indifference. Japan is gradually phasing out peace education components in school curriculum, and with the survivor generation dying out there are few reminders of the horror left.
Prior to September 11 2001 the words ground zero were used in reference to the impact site of a nuclear bomb. Their mention would evoke images of a mushroom cloud and scenes of mass destruction. People’s shadows left on buildings as the flash obliterated them but burned their image indelibly into stone, skin bubbling of the bone from the intense heat, and other graphic images culled from news clips were brought to mind by those two words.
Far too many people will no longer know what those words initially meant. We are facing the danger of becoming the victims of tunnel vision. Obsessing on one thing only without remembering the potential for other acts of horror. I’ll probably get in trouble for this but in my mind not remembering the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki is akin to forgetting other acts of horror from the 20th century like the genocides of the Holocaust, the mass extermination of Armenians, and the ethnic violence of Rawanda and the Balkans.
When we ignore the lessons of history we run the danger of repeating our past mistakes. In these days of strife and turmoil it becomes more not less important that we stay aware of those reminders of how dangerous as a species we can be. This Saturday August 6th wherever you are, what ever you are doing, spare a seconds thought for those who died at the original ground zero.