The Humble "I"

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Egos, Earrings & Atomic Bombs

nuclear-explosion-empWhile many will be commemorating the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001, let us also recall a tragedy of far greater magnitude: August 6th, 1945.

Around 10:30am on August 6th, 1945, without any warning or precedent, an American plane dropped a single atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The blast annihilated more than four square miles of the city centre. Around 90,000 people were instantly incinerated; another 40,000 were injured – many of whom died in the weeks, months and years that followed in prolonged agony from radiation sickness.

Three days later, the US Air Force dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, obliterating some 37,000 people, and injuring another 43,000. Combined, these two atomic strikes killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians!

The moral questions aside, were these bombings a military necessity? Some argue that they were indeed justified. They were the lesser of the two evils; that it was preferable to invasion (which is what was originally planed), since that would have prolonged the war and resulted in well over two million people being killed on both sides. Hence the speedy end to the war, as shocking as it was, saved more lives.

The counter argument points out that Japan had already been smashed and militarily defeated by June 1945. Little was left of her once fearsome navy and air force. In early March, and again in mid May, giant American B-29 bombers rained down devastation on the country, unleashing a total of 10,000 tons of incendiary bombs upon the capital and various other cities. By the time the first atomic bomb had been dropped, Japan’s navy was sunk, her air force all but decimated, her homeland surrounded, her oil run dry, her factories mostly crippled and millions of her people were homeless and even more were subsisting on a sub-starvation diet. A further fact is that by April 1945, the Japanese had already offered their terms of surrender. More than anything else, then, it was the ruthless fire bombings that brought Japan to her knees.

In the weeks, years and decades that followed, notable individuals and organisations criticised the bombings, characterising them as either state terrorism, war crimes or crimes against humanity. One prominent objection stated: ‘Let me say only this much to the moral issue involved: Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?’1

In 1999, to mark the 54th anniversary of the atomic bomb unleashings, The National Atomic Museum in Alburqueque, New Mexico, were selling Fat Man and Little Boy, the names affectionately given to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as souvenir earrings (pictured above) for $20 a pair. The day the earrings were put up for sale they immediately sold out. Such was the demand. After a formal protest by some Japanese, the earrings were reluctantly withdrawn.

In 2003, the Richard High School Bombers alumni organisation were selling the same earrings on their website – a chance for even more Americans to adorn their earlobes with icons of mass murder and terror.

The latest place to peddle the A-bomb earrings is the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. Such horrific massacres dangling from each ear; debasing the memory of those who perished in the atomic carnage created by the bombs; and insulting the humanity of those who survived the hell that was visited upon them; their unborn children; and their children’s children.

India and Pakistan are at it again. No, not cricket. Sabre rattling! Both countries are again in the news for possibly developing new and more sophisticated nuclear bombs, increasing fears of nuclear war. It was soon after one of their earlier bouts of nuclear bragging and boasting, in 2002, that the Indian novelist-cum-activist, Arundhati Roy, wrote what has to be one of the most harrowing descriptions of the consequences of nuclear war:

‘If only, if only nuclear war was just another kind of war. If only it was about the usual things – nations and territories, gods and histories. If only those of us who dread it are just worthless moral cowards who are not prepared to die in defence of our beliefs. If only nuclear war was the kind of war in which countries battle countries and men battle men. But it isn’t. If there is nuclear war, out foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. The very elements – the sky, the air, the land, the wind and water – will all turn against us. Their wrath will be terrible.

Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day. Only interminable night. Temperatures will drop to far below freezing and nuclear winter will set in. Water will turn into toxic ice. Radioactive fallout will seep through the earth and contam- inate groundwater. Most living things, animal and vegetable, fish and foul, will die. Only rats and cockroaches will breed and multiply and compete with foraging, relict humans for what little food there is.

What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?’2

1. Leo Szilard, “President Truman Did Not Understand” in U.S. News & World Report (15 August, 1960).

2. Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (London: Flamingo, 2002), 5-6.

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17 thoughts on “Egos, Earrings & Atomic Bombs

  1. Words fail me and my heart feels heavy, but our faith reminds us justice will be done by the Best of Judges. Thank you for this ‘timely’ reminder.

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  2. Muhammad on said:

    Salaams,

    I do not know what to say about those who would celebrate any loss of life.

    Who can anyone be happy that a person has lost the opportunity to discover the Divine? that the door of repentance has been closed for that person? that they may have been bathed in countless blessings yet their ears may have been shrouded by the Shaytanic whispers?

    The only thing that keeps me sane with regard eternal damnation is that knowing my Lord is Just and Merciful. My Lord is Just and Merciful. My Lord is Just and Merciful.

    May those who know not and fear not be guided before it is too late. Ameen.

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    • The A-bomb earrings do indeed reflect a gross lack of sensitivity. However, we must remember that this does not reflect the country as a whole. But bottom line is – despite the then Japanese Empire’s own brutal war crimes and crimes against humanity – you’re right, we shouldn’t celebrate the loss of any civilian life.

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  3. A very difficult topic to tackle, one that needs to be heard. A balanced piece. Thank you

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    • Not quite sure how balanced it was (the debate about was it a military necessity or not still rages on), but that should not excuse gross insensitivities to such a tragedy. I think all the article was trying to show is that others – be they Palestinians, Jews, Cambodians, the people of Chile under Pinochet, Bosnians, and others – all have their September 11s. As Roy said somewhere else: Never again should a single story be told as if it’s the only one.

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  4. abdur-rahman(ray) on said:

    Earrings, earrings I am appalled. Imagine a company started selling jumbo jet
    and twin tower pairs? How did we get in this state Allahu alam. All we need to do is get closer to our Lord and to do we to know what pleases Him and apply it,and know what displeases Him and refrain from it. Please correct me if I am wrong and elaborate ?
    May Allah swt guide the lost ones. Ameen

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  5. A sobering article.
    Should we not refer to these monstrous nuclear weapons by their correct term:” weapons of mass destruction” and call for them to be decommissioned worldwide.
    Ms Roy depicts a terrifying scenario …but how about the scene when the final trumpet is blown!

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  6. The americans also put japanese into concentration camps,and though they were nothing like auswitch etc,it is still something that no one ever talks about.the general history is written by the rich and victorious,as sad as it is…..jazakallahukhairan for putting things into perspective,just wish the likes of those people who bought the earrings would see it too.

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    • There was indeed much demonisation of the Japanese, as there was (is) of the Jews; as there is about Muslims currently. First step is demonisation; to make a people seem sub-human. It is then easier to inflict against them gross injustices and human rights violations, because they have been made out to be un-human. May God grant us all an acute sense of justice, seasoned with compassion.

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  7. Lubna Ul-Hasan on said:

    Subhanallah! The power of words! Indeed a timely reminder to us all that 9/11 isn’t the only tragic day of rememberance in our history. It seems the Americans would like to think so and have blinded themselves to the atrocities that their government inflicted on Japan. What they need to remember is what we are told in the holy Quran -“Every soul shall taste death..” Allah is our Lord and He will give justice to each and eveeryone of us.

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  8. Truth is hurting, and a wound must be healed. The question is are we ready for a cure by applying the right ointment?

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  9. Muhammad Saleem Anwar on said:

    Quite abhoring act of insensitivity! But let’s not forget what Japanese have done to other nations during imperialism. The millions of civilians were killed brutally. Perhaps Allah’s sunnah is at work on removing one nation by another to keep the balance.
    As sayyiduna Abu ad-Dardaa radi Allaahu anhu reminded that when people fail to obey Allaah, they are humiliated in land. We must learn and remain steadfast upon eemaan and taqwa.

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