On August 06, in Hiroshima, Japan, people will gather at the Peace Memorial or A-Bomb Dome to reflect on the seventy-first anniversary of dropping of the Atomic bomb. This year will not be a landmark. Not a fiftieth, a twenty-fifth, nor a tenth, marked by great international attention. However, for the Japanese people August 06, 1945 holds a horrific memory to be remembered every year. At the gathering, together they will say: "Never Again."
The Japanese are holding onto this skeleton of a dome as a testimony to the nuclear holocaust during World War II (1939-45). It is important that we as citizens of the world unite with them in remembrance of the first nuclear devastation. The uranium bomb weighed about 9,700 pounds (4,400 kg) and had destroyed 60 per cent of the buildings of Hiroshima, the seventh largest city in Japan. An estimated 130,000 civilians died that morning. Over 30,000 were injured and another 17,000 were unaccountable for. Many thousands of subsequent deaths involved radiation injuries.
In solidarity with the Japanese, it should be equally significant to us to remember the horror and havoc the bomb had caused to the thousands of unsuspecting Japanese civilians on the morning of August 06, 1945.
On this day, there will be a peace ceremony in Hiroshima, where thousands of doves will be released into the sky and prayer bells will toll all over the city. Buddhists monks will chant hymns - while pounding on their drums. They will be celebrating the souls of their ancestors, who had died during the bombing. They believe the spirits do visit them on that significant day. The citizens and spectators from all over the world will partake in a Peace Lantern Floating ceremony in the evening. The Japanese also believe that the lanterns will guide the spirits to heaven. People will walk in groups silently, and will gather around on both sides of tranquil Ohta River near the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Thousands of lit lanterns and colourful paper cranes will be carried by hand to the river, where they will float along the night's dark water. After the bombing, thousands had fled to these waters to seek refuge and relief from the flames of the Atomic bomb. The water will glow from the lights of thousands of paper lanterns, and that will be one spectacular sight for one to see in order to believe. This ceremony is observed to both symbolise peace and encourage the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
Prior to dropping the bomb, U.S. President Harry S. Truman called for unconditional surrender, the last chance for Japan to avoid utter destruction. He said, "If they do not accept our terms they may expect a rain from the air, like which has never been seen before." Japan refused.
AMERICA OFFICIALLY STARTS THE NUCLEAR ERA: By dropping the Atomic bomb, America officially started the nuclear era. Truman disregarded what kind of implication this bomb meant for humanity. The U.S. scientists who were involved in the Manhattan project to build the bomb all warned Truman. They cautioned him on moral grounds and the setbacks it can cause to civilisation. Truman had no patience for moral reasoning, or ethics. He feared being seen as "soft" on the Japanese. His only agenda at that point was to scare Japan into surrender. They told him that such devastation would shorten the war, but asked him, is this the right thing to do?
That day changed the world forever. The bomb nearly destroyed the entire city of Hiroshima. After seven decades the destruction is not there for people to see - except the dome. A world tragedy of such magnitude cannot be ignored or pushed out of one's mind. We need to reminisce, reflect and the world leaders need to come to an understanding that another tragedy of such epic proportions will not happen again.
ONCE WAS HORRIFIC ENOUGH! Truman was not at all troubled that his sinister plan would weigh heavily on the conscience of the future generation of Americans, and the people of this world. Today in the United States this monumental task of reasoning through what Truman had done falls on the young people of the country. They become shaken and perplexed when they study certain parts of U.S. history. Here in the history classrooms, when they first read about World War II, they may also start thinking about how to make this world a better place - one free of nuclear weapons.
In every school, the students have to debate both the inspiring and less-than-gloried actions that comprise their nation's history. Often the actions that supposedly made the world free for democracy came at a massive cost. Today's students most likely stop short of defending someone like Harry Truman without great reflection. Nor do they think it would be "cool" to be in the shoes of Paul W. Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay, the B-29 plane that carried the Atomic bomb, named "Little Boy."
In the spring of 2000 in Washington DC, at the Sidwell Friends School, my daughter, a junior at the time, organised an all-day event called Hiroshima Peace Day. The emphasis of the day was that nuclear disarmament remains an overarching goal for mankind. I was there to hear a personal account of Setsuko Thurlow, who came to speak at the event.
Mrs. Thurlow was a famous survivor of the bombing, known internationally for her activism and story-telling. As a Quaker school, Sidwell emphasises the search for truth and the pursuit of peace in the daily lives of its students. The students become conscious of serious issues through discussions and workshops.
With her soft but firm voice, Mrs. Thurlow described the morning of August 06, 1945. She said at the time she was a girl of age thirteen. She recounted many stories, and told the audience that it was a sunny summer morning. At 8: 15 AM, people were preparing for the day. Children were on the school bus going to school; telephone operators were on their way to work.
Suddenly, that morning became the greyest day that anyone had ever seen, or experienced.
In stunned confusion everyone saw an expansive mushroom cloud arose to darken the horizon, and within minutes, the city of Hiroshima was levelled. The atomic bomb reduced the city to ashes. People in their homes saw flashes of fire in their gardens, and soon realised their houses were engulfed by flames. Many people literally melted. Others found their bodies covered with deep cuts, gruesomely disfigured, with blood gushing out. Many were trapped within the fallen rubble. Those who could step outside were blinded by grey smoke and heard people moaning, trying to find their way to hospitals that no longer existed.
One story from Mrs. Thurlow still stands out in my mind. A nine-year-old girl and her eleven-year-old sister were getting ready to go to school. All of a sudden, the horizon became a column of rising grey smoke, and the buildings were burning up. Within minutes, the younger girl felt intense fire around her. She later had said in the initial minutes her only thought was if her mother was alright. As a hospital nurse, her mother had already left for work. Days later her sister died, and her charred body was thrown into a ditch, and burnt along with thousands. She never saw her mother again.
She went on living somewhere alone and forgotten. Until the day she died, she was haunted by the sound of people moaning in agony, who had died an excruciating death. A lot of the people who survived that blast, later died painfully alone elsewhere in the city. Some survivors were so deformed that for thirty to forty years they remained hidden inside their homes. The disfigured people, along with all the survivors, came to be known as hibakusha.
A year later, from my daughter's first-hand accounts from a visit to Japan, I came to know that the city of Hiroshima has been rebuilt - trees have grown back. The city is buzzing with noise; tourists are walking around and taking pictures, exploring the city. Every now and then you can't help but pause near a window where there is a Peace sign hanging, to reflect for a moment. If you walk a few blocks you might see a banner that reads, "May Peace prevail on earth."
From the American side, revisionist historians such as Kai Bird and others have argued the pros and cons of dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1961, President Kennedy in his UN address said, "Every man, woman, and child live under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness." The fact remains that every year about six billion dollars are being spent on these weapons by the U.S. alone on research and development of nuclear bombs. In 2013, the US Congress approved spending $1.0 trillion over the next three decades to upgrade nuclear arsenal.
The idea of nuclear weapon reduction has been around for some time. Former President Ronald Reagan believed, "The best thing for the world [would be] the abolition of nuclear weapons." Before his presidency, there were 70,000 nuclear weapons operational in the world. Today, the total is closer to 17,000. These weaponries remain a potential source of influence and threat in a world dominated by a small number of nation states. Their destructive power is all too real; their potential for misuse remains great, and a source of unease for the rest of the world.
SITTING ON THE VERGE OF A TIPPING POINT: Seventy-one years after the dropping of the atomic bomb, we are still sitting on the verge of a tipping point: a nuclear holocaust can happen again. What former Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev said to a group of Western journalists -"We will bury you"- is a phrase we could hear again, from a different, more radical leader's mouth in these uncertain times. After many years of disarmament efforts, there are still thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at the U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan and many other nations. The world still teeters on the edge of disaster, with the threat of nuclear terrorism all too real.
But as history has shown, even one nuclear bomb is too many. We do not ever want to walk through a post-apocalyptic burned city like some science fiction characters. American novelist, Cormac McCarthy, paints a bleak picture in his 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Road after an unnamed catastrophe scourged the earth to a burnt-out cinder. The morning after, a father and his 11-year-old son find themselves as the last remnants along with a few other living creatures, walking through the Appalachians winter and trying desperately to survive in reaching the southern coast.
I end this column on a positive note: many around the world are in awe seeing how the bitter memories of the nuclear war did not destroy the spirit of the Japanese people. Japan has recovered from the devastation to become a formidable global power and a friend of America's. From the ashes of that dreadful nuclear holocaust, they rose like a phoenix.
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