While 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.