Reflection on the horror of war – 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Yesterday was ‘VJ Day’ or ‘Victory in Japan Day’. On 15 August 1945, 75 years ago, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces, including the UK. This was the end of the Second World War.

But there is no victory in war. Human beings on all sides, whether they are soldiers or civilians, lose in war. We all lose. We lose terribly. And the people we would have been able to support, if our resources and energies and skills had not been diverted to war, also lose; people who are homeless, people who have physical and mental health conditions, people who are living in poverty. And our environment loses. The planet which supports us, gives birth to us, loses grievously.

Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, nine days after a USAF B-29 bomber dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, and six days after the USAF dropped a second nuclear bomb on the city of Nagasaki. This was the first time nuclear weapons had been used in war.

On 6 August 1945, a nuclear bomb with the code name, ‘Little Boy’, was dropped on Hiroshima. It is estimated that between 90,000 and 146,000 people died over the next two to four months. Approximately half died on the first day (i).

On 9 August 1945, a different type of nuclear bomb, code-named ‘Fat Man’, was dropped on Nagasaki. It is estimated that between 39,000 and 80,000 people died over the next two to four months. Approximately half died on the first day (i).

This was horror of unbearable, unimaginable magnitude. Unleashed by one group of human beings on another group of human beings. This wasn’t victory.

The photograph above is of one of our fellow human beings. A person killed in Nagasaki. We don’t know the person’s name. We don’t know the individual’s story, what their life was like before the bomb dropped, their hopes and fears. Any human being looking at this photo, from any part of the world, speaking any language, would recoil in horror. Any human being looking at this would feel intense sorrow and empathy, and horror at what this person went through.

Yet, somehow, we organise our societies in ways that make this horror possible. We organise our societies in ways that drive past that natural, human recoiling from hurting someone else or seeing them being harmed.

We distance ourselves from the killing. The politicians making the decisions do not carry out the killing themselves, they delegate it to the armed forces. The armed forces would not think they were committing individual acts of violence, they would see themselves as part of an organised unit, an armed service, following government orders. The technology is distancing in the extreme; the men dropping the bomb could not see the faces of the thousands of people they were about to kill. Neither could the millions of people in the US who paid for the development, construction, and ‘delivery’ of the bomb, through their taxes.

The words we use for war, the history and values we are taught from a very young age, all distance us from the reality of war and allow it to continue. We are so distanced, disconnected, from our responsibility for the consequences of war that, for example, the men who bombed Nagasaki felt able to pose for the following photograph two days later.

It is so important that we remember the people who died, that we re-connect with their, and our, humanity. And vow that it will never, ever, happen again.

Ten days ago our Scottish Co-ordinator, Anne McCullagh-DLyske, marked Hiroshima Day by taking part in a vigil outside the nuclear weapons base at Faslane. The submarines carrying UK nuclear weapons are based here at HM Naval Base Clyde.

The banner Anne took with her was first used at the ‘Count the Nuclear Weapons Money’ action Conscience organised outside the Ministry of Defence in London last October. We counted £5.2 billion by hand; the amount the UK spends on its nuclear weapons in a year. We counted for hours. There were 10,400 x £500,000 notes. https://conscienceonline.org.uk/blog/2019/10/25/counting-the-uk-nuclear-weapons-money/

Conscience was last at Faslane in December. We organised the 15th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns in Edinburgh. After the conference a group of us travelled from Edinburgh to the nuclear weapons base. https://conscienceonline.org.uk/blog/2019/12/27/part-of-me-still-frightened-and-frozen-inside-after-standing-outside-faslane-nuclear-weapons-base/

In her story about how she became a war tax resister, Anne has written about her upbringing in a services family; https://conscienceonline.org.uk/blog/2019/11/24/annes-story/ This Hiroshima Day, Anne spoke at the vigil outside the base at Faslane. She reflected that her uncle had been ‘a prisoner of the Japanese in Changi for four years … but absolutely repudiated and denounced the dropping of the bombs …’

Later on Hiroshima Day, Anne visited Faslane Peace Camp. There has been a peace camp there continuously, in a few different locations, since 1982. Here Anne is standing next to the cherry tree at the camp, planted on 6 August 1985 by survivors of Hiroshima. Such a green and peaceful setting.

Earlier this year the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) organised a forum in Paris ‘to extract lessons from ICAN’s work in achieving and promoting the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and empower participants to get involved in ending nuclear weapons’. Anne attended the forum in Paris and Conscience is now a partner organisation of ICAN.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at a UN Conference in 2017 by a vote of 122 States in favour (with one vote against and one abstention). It was a huge achievement. The treaty will come into force 90 days after 50 states have ratified it (e.g. through their national parliament). So far (as of 10 August 2020) 44 states have ratified the treaty.

At the forum in Paris Anne was very moved to meet Setsuko Thurlow. Setsuko was 13 when the atomic bomb was dropped on her home city of Hiroshima. She survived the bombing and has devoted her life to campaigning against nuclear weapons.

Setsuko is a leading figure in ICAN. The campaigning organisation won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 ‘for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons’ (ii). Setsuko accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the campaign at a very moving ceremony in Oslo in December 2017, together with Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN.

If you have not had a chance yet to hear Beatrice and Setsuko’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I urge you to. Two extraordinary, deeply committed women making the case, argument by argument, personal experience by personal experience, for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. They don’t hold back. It is deeply moving, horrifying, inspiring. 40 minutes that will change how you see nuclear weapons and how you see the world; https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2017/ican/lecture/

Listen, weep, smile in recognition, and act.

References

(i) Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki#:~:text=The%20bombs%20immediately%20devastated%20their%20targets.%20Over%20the,in%20each%20city%20occurred%20on%20the%20first%20day.

(ii) Setsuko Thurlow

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setsuko_Thurlow

Photographs

Hiroshima Aftermath

Source: http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/images/historical/hiroshima.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hiroshima_Aftermath_-_cropped_Version.jpg

A victim of the atomic attack on Nagasaki

Source: Unknown author

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/A_victim_of_the_atomic_attack_on_Nagasaki.jpg

2nd Atomic Bomber Crew

Source: US Air Force

https://media.defense.gov/2006/Jul/12/2000548756/-1/-1/0/060712-F-1234S-023.JPG

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