On Thursday night I went to the annual Hiroshima to Hope memorial at Green Lake in Seattle. It was August 6, the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Today, August 9, is the anniversary of Nagasaki’s bombing.
I made it around the circle of Green Lake from community center to the gathering just past the the Bathhouse Theater as the sun was sinking low. The path around Green Lake on a summer night is full of people – walking, running, bicycling, skating, some with baby strollers and/or dogs. I can hear the Japanese taiko drumming from around the lake (though, as usual, I arrive too late to see them).
When I get there, I find the lanterns, then go to the calligraphy table to get a shade. I choose “Peace” this year. (Photo from later in the evening.)
I got there in time to hear this year’s key note speaker, Pramila Jayapal, the Executive Director of One America (formerly Hate Free Zone). Hate Free Zone was formed shortly after the September 11 attacks, following the first incidents in Seattle of Muslim mosques being threatened and Sikhs attacked because they wore turbans.
Native American musicians and storytellers Gene Tagaban and Swil Kanim told us of raven and eagle working together to bring fire to all the people on earth and a very personal story of finding peace and redemption, accompanied by beautiful music.
Then we had a blessing by a Buddhist monk, honoring all the souls of the dead from all wars and our ancestors, who had been invited back to earth for the night and we were to send floating back on the water with our lanterns.
Then everyone heads to the lake, where children help place the lanterns out on the water for us.
Here is some video I shot of the lantern floating a couple years ago.
It was very beautiful, and this year I felt hope. Hope, while it is discouraging to see the recent poll that 61% of Americans think bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the right decision. As Pramila pointed out, those numbers are far smaller, and even run against the bombing with: younger people, women and especially non-whites.
I don’t think there has been enough discussion about the decision to drop the bombs nor the reality of what happened to the mostly civilian victims of the bombing. Too many people want to see things as black and white, bringing up the terrible things the Japanese did such as Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking. War crimes which were wrong too, and their victims are still seeking justice.
None of that justifies the unimaginable death toll, which Frida Berrigan notes in her article For the Sixty-Fourth Time: No More Nuclear War:
In Hiroshima, Little Boy’s huge fireball and explosion killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Another 70,000 were seriously injured. As Joseph Siracusa, author of Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, writes: “In one terrible moment, 60% of Hiroshima… was destroyed. The blast temperature was estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, which ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball some 840 feet in diameter.”
Three days later, Fat Man exploded 1,840 feet above Nagasaki, with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. According to “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered,” a web resource on the bombings developed for young people and educators, 286,000 people lived in Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped; 74,000 of them were killed instantly and another 75,000 were seriously injured.
Then the tens of thousands more who died of radiation sickness in the aftermath.
It’s always presented as a military necessity, sometimes with claims that a million were saved by ending the war sooner. Yet when I read Gar Alperovitz’s book, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, I was surprised to learn my father was not alone as a WWII veteran opposed to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (My father was also a survivor of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and Hickam Airfield, where he was stationed.) I read names like Generals Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, and Admirals Leahy and Nimitz, who felt the bombings were unnecessary because Japan was about to surrender and the devastating loss of lives of civilians.
I don’t feel like we’ve ever had an honest discussion about this, as American citizens. Yet, I don’t know how much of that was due to the cold war and how much the inability of most Americans (or citizens of any other country for that matter), to consider their country may have done something wrong.
More importantly, can we stop far nuclear weapons from being used in the future? As Frida Berrigan notes:
The nine nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, France, England, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea — have more than 27,000 operational nuclear weapons among them, enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets. And in May, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned that the number of nuclear powers could double in a few years unless new disarmament is a priority.
The U.S. still maintains a nuclear arsenal and is spending $6 billion on their research and development. Yes, this is still happening during the Obama administration.
Keep in mind as well that the bombs which annihilated two Japanese cities and ended so many lives 64 years ago this week were puny when compared to today’s typical nuclear weapon. Little Boy was a 15 kiloton warhead. Most of the warheads in the U.S. arsenal today are 100 or 300 kilotons — capable of taking out not a Japanese city of 1945 but a modern megalopolis. Bruce Blair, president of the World Security Institute and a former launch-control officer in charge of Minutemen Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles armed with 170, 300, and 335 kiloton warheads, pointed out a few years ago that, within 12 minutes, the United States and Russia could launch the equivalent of 100,000 Hiroshimas.
I know some people are going to say why bring up Hiroshima and Nagasaki 64 years later, but we really need to say: Never again (and remember, these were 15 & 20 kiloton bombs, not the 100 – 300 kiloton modern bombs).