Hiroshima – the fallout

“I don’t know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” (Albert Einstein)

Hiroshima Day is marked every year on 6 August, the day in 1945 on which the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.

Also see Hymns for Hiroshima and Eliminating nuclear weapons: international negotiations. Further links and resources at the end.

Today, in the UK, political parties debate the wisdom of renewing Trident submarines, designed to deliver a system of nuclear deterrence. Internationally, anxiety permeates the world’s relationships with the leaders of North Korea, who appear set on developing and testing their nation’s nuclear arms capability. Meanwhile, on 7 July this year, a treaty was endorsed by 122 countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons. The treaty will be open for signatures from any UN member state on 20 September, during the UN’s annual general assembly.

This concern and level of debate and campaigning – and, at a deep level, this level of fear – is part of our public discourse because of that single day 72 years ago in Hiroshima and, three days later, an even more powerful bomb deployed against Nagasaki.

Why Hiroshima?

Situated towards the south-west end of Japan’s main island, Hiroshima housed one of the Japanese army’s chief supply depots. The U.S. President Harry S. Truman, discouraged by the Japanese response to the Potsdam Conference’s demand for unconditional surrender, decided to use the atom bomb to end the war in order to prevent what he predicted would be a much greater loss of life were the United States to invade the Japanese mainland.

Estimates of how many died in Hiroshima vary, from 70,000 to over 100,000 in the initial blast and ensuing fire storms, increasing to about 140,000 by the end of the year, from terrible burns and radiation sickness. The city’s population had been 350,000. No accurate assessment was possible to begin with because of the huge cloud of impenetrable dust covering the city. Within 45 minutes of the attack, nuclear fallout mixed with ash and smoke from the firestorms had created a radioactive black rain that soaked survivors and did not abate until the fires began to burn themselves out in the evening.

One account offers these snapshots of the devastation:

Hiroshima - fleeing from fire

There were 90,000 buildings in Hiroshima before the bomb was dropped; only 28,000 remained after the bombing. Of the city’s 200 doctors before the explosion; only 20 were left alive or capable of working. There were 1,780 nurses before—only 150 remained who were able to tend to the sick and dying.

The enormity of what had occurred was not fully known, even in Japan, until the following day, when President Harry S. Truman confirmed the attack. Speaking from the cruiser USS Augusta in the mid-Atlantic, he said that the device was more than 2,000 times more powerful than the largest bomb used to date.

The “power of the universe”

President Truman said that the atomic bomb represented the “harnessing of the basic power of the universe”.

In Britain, Prime Minister Clement Atlee had taken up his post only 12 days earlier. He read out a statement prepared by his predecessor, Winston Churchill. It explained why the United Kingdom had felt it right to support the development of nuclear technology to these ends and includes suggestions of divine justification:

“By God’s mercy, Britain and American science outpaced all German efforts. These were on a considerable scale, but far behind. The possession of these powers by the Germans at any time might have altered the result of the war.”

The statement concludes with further use of religious language:

“We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce peace among the nations and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe they become a perennial fountain of world prosperity.”

Remembering Hiroshima

Seventy years later, standing in the shadow of the ruined prefectural industrial promotion hall – now known simply as the atomic bomb dome – Hiroshima’s mayor, Kazumi Matsui, said nuclear weapons were an “absolute evil”. He urged the world to put an end to them for ever.

“To coexist we must abolish the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity that are nuclear weapons. Now is the time to start taking action.”

Today, Hiroshima is home to over a million inhabitants. Every year since 1987, the city’s mayor has exchanged messages with the Lord Mayor Coventry in England, where the ruins of Coventry cathedral also stand as a monument to powerful wartime destruction. In 2017, as for the past 30 years, a memorial event will be held in the cathedral (6-7pm). The event will include the ringing of a peace bell, readings, prayers and silences. The story of Sadako Sasaki will be read, followed by making of Japanese origami cranes of peace.

Sadako’s story

Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima

Following a visit to Japan in 2006, Christine Elliott (then Methodist Area Secretary for Asia-Pacific) wrote:

“Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She died at twelve years old from leukaemia, the ‘atom bomb’ disease. She hoped that if she made over one thousand paper cranes before her death she might be granted her wish to run again. The crane has become a symbol of peace throughout the world and thousands are made and sent to the peace parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki every year.

“In the Peace Park in Nagasaki, they hang in multicoloured hues from the bells on either side of a huge statue declaring peaceful existence for all. It is a moving and challenging place. And in Hiroshima there is a statue to Sadako, paid for by children from all over Japan. An inscription at the base says: ‘This is our cry; this is our prayer, peace in the world.’”

Resources

A contemporary account from the BBC’s online series, On This Day

The Fallout: Australian Doctor. com presents an extensive, multi-media account of the bomb attack and its emotional, psychological and medical aftermath.

Peace Database maintained by the Hiroshima Peace memorial Museum – includes video testimonies by around 300 Hiroshima A-bomb survivors, with translations dubbed into English.

Hiroshima before the bomb:
The Hiroshima was dropped from an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay (named after the pilot’s mother), 8.16 am. “Weather good, possible to drop bomb”, the crew was told. Below the aircraft, people were preparing for an ordinary day at work, while young children set out for school, and older ones to factories to help Japan’s faltering war effort. That life is evoked in a three-minute compilation of footage of Hiroshima shot on 16mm film by Mr. Genjiro Kawasaki in April 1935.

Poems and translations by American poet Michael Burch

Sadako’s story has been retold in a number of different versions. E.g. by the Hiroshima International School; Wikipedia

Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes tells one version of the story of Sadako Sasaki who was inspired to fold cranes by a Japanese folk tale, which said that anyone who folds over a thousand cranes will have their wish come true. According to some versions of her story, Sadako completed more than a thousand before she died of leukemia at the age of twelve; in Coerr’s book, she finished about 640 before died, and her schoolmates completed the rest in her memory.
 
 
 

Making a Peace Crane – origami instructions:

 

Categories: Articles, Big questions.

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