Argus title : Remember horrors of Hiroshima
Sixty years ago today, on the 6th August 1945, the USA dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. At least 140,000 people died. Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, resulting in at least 100,000 deaths.
Throughout Sussex, people will gather – as they do every year in Brighton, Hailsham, Lewes, Hastings, Crawley and elsewhere – to commemorate those who died and commit themselves to work for a non-nuclear future.
In contrast to the firestorm which engulfed the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Sussex’s memorial events tend to take place in the cool of the evening and often in the vicinity of trees and water. Sometimes small lanterns are floated across water.
In Brighton, at 8.00pm, there will be a candle-lit procession around Queens Park with speeches and readings by: the Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Councillor Bob Carden; veteran peace campaigner Canon Paul Oestreicher; poet Connie Fraser; and Ai Tomochika a Japanese teacher. Lanterns will be placed around a memorial ‘peace tree’.
The event has been organized by the Sussex Peace Alliance, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the United Nations Association.
At the Friends Meeting House in Ship Street, Brighton, there will be an Hiroshima Exhibition and a vigil starting at 11 a.m. Origami paper cranes (peace symbols traditionally related to
Hiroshima) will be made. Visitors will be invited to sign “Affirmations of Freedom from Nuclear Weapons”.
The memorials provide a valuable reminder of what it means to maintain a nuclear capability and to wage war in a fashion which leads to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. They come at a particularly poignant time.
In recent times, much has been said by powerful Western governments about the need to prevent countries such as Iraq preparing and deploying “weapons of mass destruction”. Indeed, our government claims to have gone to war in Iraq with the aim of preventing this very danger.
Yet it is we and our allies who hold the most deadly arsenals of nuclear weapons – which are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. And it is we – before, during and after the war – who, under the pretext of preventing ‘proliferation’ in Iraq, have killed a greater number of civilians than died in the Hiroshima holocaust.
So it is right to remember the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And to consider the responsibilities of governments which target civilians in war.
The USA’s “Manhattan Project” which developed the atomic bomb began in 1942 and was completed on 16 July, 1945.
The Hiroshima bomb, nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ contained Uranium-235 and had the destructive power of over 15,000 tons of TNT. ‘Fat Man’, which was dropped on Nagasaki, contained Plutonium-239 and had destructive power equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT.
At the centre of the explosion, intense heat rays incinerated tens of thousands of people, vaporizing their bodies leaving behind no trace other than shadows burned into stone. Shock waves destroyed all buildings within a wide area, and massive amounts of radiation were released.
Beyond the immediate site of the blast, people caught in the open were killed by heat and blast waves. Tens of thousands died in the fire storm, from burns or cuts or crush injuries caused by falling buildings and exploding glass.
As the oxygen was sucked out of the atmosphere, people in apparent safety died of asphyxiation. Many who did survive subsequently succumbed to radiation sickness.
In the decades which followed countless Japanese suffered cancer or were born with birth defects. The effects are felt to this day.
What happened when these bombs were dropped differs only in scale from what would happen now if a contemporary nuclear weapon was exploded.
CND provides an apocalyptic vision of what would happen to those escaping the immediate blast: “Outside the area of total destruction there will be a gradually increasing percentage of immediate survivors. However most of these will suffer from non-survivable burns, will be blinded, bleeding from glass splinters and will have suffered massive internal injuries. Many will be trapped in collapsed and burning buildings.
“Even those with possibly survivable injuries will die since almost all rescue and medical services will have been destroyed and personnel killed….The sheer scale of the casualties would overwhelm any state’s medical resources even in peace time.
“Most casualties would receive at best minimal, palliative treatment. The best they could hope for would be to die in as little pain as possible”
Controversy still rages about the decision to drop the 2 bombs on Japan. Some argue, as the USA did at the time, that the nuclear bombs were dropped in order to prevent further casualties. However, many historians assert that Japan was in fact trying to surrender at the time.
Dwight Eisenhower, head of US forces in Europe in World War II and President of the US from 1953-1961, said “Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing. ”
Even apologists for the first bomb find it difficult to justify the use of the second dropped on Nagasaki.
Some historians allege that this was an experiment, a further ‘test’ of a new weapon designed to reveal its impact on human life. Others suggest that the USA dropped the nuclear bomb to assert its pre-eminence in the post war period.
What seems clear is that both bombs were illegal under international law – as are modern nuclear weapons.
On 8th July 1996 the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons. The Court concluded that:
” the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.” (para 2E)
“states must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets.” (para 78)
International law requires that parties to conflicts must distinguish between combatants and civilians. The 1949 Geneva Convention restates this principle. This is repeated in the 1977 Geneva Convention Protocol, Article 35 of which prohibits attacks on civilians and methods of warfare likely to cause widespread, long term and severe damage to the natural environment.
At every level, nuclear weapons breach the law. For such weapons indiscriminately kill civilians and combatants alike. They have the capability to destroy human civilisation while creating catastrophic and irreversible damage to the environment.
And yet, the USA is not prepared to rule out the use of ‘first strike’ nuclear force. And while the UK has taken out of service all non-strategic nuclear weapons, it is considering construction of new weapons to replace its present Trident system.
This is despite the fact that Britain and other key nuclear powers such as the USA are signatories to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and have made the following commitment:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Former Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook recently commented: “Observance of the non-proliferation treaty rested on a bargain between those states without nuclear weapons, who agreed to renounce any ambition to acquire them, and the nuclear-weapon powers, who undertook in return to proceed in good faith to disarmament. It suits the Bush administration now to present the purpose of the treaty as halting proliferation, but its original intention was the much broader ambition of a nuclear-weapon-free world.”
He went on the describe the “frustration of the vast majority of states, who believe they have kept their side of the deal by not developing nuclear weapons but have seen no sign that the privileged elite with nuclear weapons have any intention of giving them up.”
Those who visit the memorial events today will have an opportunity to exert some small influence upon our own politicians by signing the ‘Affirmation’ prepared by the World Court Project UK.
It reads as follows: “I do not accept that nuclear weapons can protect me, my country, or the values I stand for.”
I hope for all our sakes that many people sign.