This Monday August 6 will mark the 67th anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima Japan at the close of WWII. Colonel Paul Tibbets sat at the controls of a massive four-engine B29 Superfortress bomber dubbed the Enola Gay and gave the order for his bombardier Major Thomas Ferebee to line the city up in his sights. The bomb, dubbed Little Boy, exploded with the force of between twelve and fifteen thousand tons of TNT over the center of the city. The terrible light generated by the detonation of the bomb was so bright it burned shadows into the landscape–those unfortunate enough to be caught outside when the bomb blew up had their shadows burned into stone and concrete. Thousands of burned and injured people tried in vain to find medical help, but overwhelmed doctors watched powerless as people died from radiation sickness and exposure. Initial estimates were that 43,000-92,000 had perished, but later surveys determined that as many as 140,000 died from the bombing out of a city population of some 343,000. The survivors, known as ‘Hibakusha’ became living warnings of the terrible destruction wrought from the atom bomb.
Three days later, a B29 dubbed Bockscar dropped a plutonium-based bomb named Fat Man. This bomb exploded over the city of Nagasaki with the force of some 21,000 tons of high explosives. Nagasaki was not the preferred target for the day, but Kokura (the primary target) was covered with clouds. Nagasaki’s hills and other geographical figures helped to disperse the effects of the bomb. Per a calculation by the Nagasaki prefecture in the 1960’s, some 87,000 had perished in connection with the day Fat Man came to town.
Nobody talks much about nuclear weapons these days, at least not about the strategic arsenals of the US and the Former Soviet Union. The US still has 1,737 strategic weapons set for launch-on-warning. And thanks to the Navstar targeting system, the missiles can be re-targeted to virtually any target on this planet in a short time. In 1987, an activist named Katya Komisaruk took a hammer to the Navstar computers, arguing that the system gave the US a First Strike capability. Thanks to a motion in limine from the prosecution, she was not allowed to argue her case as the prevention of illegal war and was sent to prison. And except for the Plowshares movement (a civil-disobedience movement composed of people of faith who symbolically turn ‘swords into plowshares’ by disarming military weapons), you don’t hear about the US arsenal much at all.
The most talk we hear now is about ‘loose nukes’ or all our work to prevent ‘rogue states’ from getting nuclear bombs. No, not this ‘rogue state‘, even though there has been eye-witness testimony about their possession of over 100 warheads. The US, which sits on over 5,000 warheads (including tactical battlefield nukes and weapons in stockpile) has been ginning up a case for war against Iran based on its nuclear power program which has yet to produce a single weapon as far as anyone can determine. And that’s all we get in terms of commentary on nuclear weaponry. There’s never an informed discussion about the toxicity of nuclear weapons and power itself, even though it’s clear that radiation exposure is a killer. Dr. Rosalie Bertell has documented over a billion extra cancers in the years since the Trinity Test. By her estimates, nuclear weapons testing plus leakage from nuclear power plants had released the radiation equivalent of some 10,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs going off in the atmosphere (this was BEFORE Fukushima). It was her research, presented in her book NO IMMEDIATE DANGER that helped the anti-nuclear power protesters keep new plants from being constructed in the aftermath of Three Mile Island.
Never mind Chernobyl.
But focus is important–we’re looking at the history of nuclear weapons in light of the Hiroshima anniversary. So there’s one more thing I’d like to bring up:
NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARE ILLEGAL.
In 1996, thanks to the efforts of the Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy, the International Association of Lawyers Against nuclear Arms (IALANA), the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the International Court of Justice ruled that there was no legal use of nuclear weapons–that there was no way to limit their destructive power to the parameters of combat established by the Nuremberg Charter and other documents that establish the rules of war. It follows then that POSSESSION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS–OR THE THREAT TO USE THEM– IS ALSO ILLEGAL. We’re spending billions of dollars a year to build weapons that cannot be used under any condition. And nobody asks why.
Here in Brooklyn the group Brooklyn For Peace will be holding commemoration events on Saturday and Sunday, details here. n New York, OWS Environmental Solidarity and allies will be holding a melt-in (similar to Earth Day melt-in at Grand Central) at 5:30 pm on Aug. 6th at General Electric Headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (49th Street near 6th Avenue).
If you know of a protest or commemoration of the anniversary of the bombing, post it in the comments and share it.
If there are no protests or commemorations where you live, take a page from the short life of Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old when Colonel Tibbets gave the order to drop the bomb. Though she survived the bombing of Hiroshima, the radiation had taken its toll. When she was 12, doctors discovered irregularities in her lymph nodes. She had leukemia and the prognosis offered no hope. From her hospital bed she set about to fold 1,000 origami cranes (a sacred bird in Japan) with the hopes of fulfilling a legend that the act of folding 1,000 cranes would cure her. She had managed to fold 644 when she succumbed.
Fold a crane and end the nightmare.
Postscript: I have largely sanitized my essay. There are plenty of pictures of the things that nuclear radiation do to the human body, but I felt it was obnoxious to put them in the body of the essay. If you want to look, they’re