Sixty years ago, the world seemed like it was ending for the people of Hiroshima. A city that had largely been spared the horrors of World War II, an island of relative peace, was destroyed by the most powerful weapon ever used in war. And on this anniversary, the arguments for the use of the atomic bomb are being repeated, and even amplified. Instead of focusing on the ultimate horror atomic weapons represented, we are still engaged in justifying that horrific act 60 years later.
It’s not difficult to understand why. We have a President and military that continue to believe that nuclear weapons are a legitimate option. They believe that the war on terrorism would justify the use of nuclear weapons, breaking the taboo that has held the world in check since World War II.
We justified (and continue to justify) the attacks using a mathematical casualty-strategic impact calculus that strips us of our humanity.
There is a another way to think about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagaski–ones that should resonate across time. The narratives of the survivors should haunt us, resonate with us, and remind us–before we permit the use of these weapons again.
Mrs. Futaba Kitayama, Hiroshima woman, described the moments after the attack:
“And what had happened to the sky, so blue a moment ago? Now it was as black as night. Everything seemed vague and fuzzy. It was as though a cloud covered my eyes and I wondered if I had lost my senses. I finally saw the Tsurumi bridge and I ran headlong toward it, jumping over the piles of rubble. What I saw under the bridge then horrified me.
“People by the hundreds were flailing in the river. I couldn’t tell if they were men or women; they were all in the same state: their faces were puffy and ashen, their hair tangled, they held their hands raised and, groaning with pain, threw themselves into the water. I had a violent impulse to do so myself, because of the pain burning through my whole body. But I can’t swim and I held back.
Another woman, unnamed, 20:
There were some with faces swollen to twice their normal size and burnt black, some screamed, “It hurts! It hurts!” Others yelled for help, “I’m going to die! Help me!” Children curled up and died.
There were dead bodies everywhere, so we climbed out from between the bodies. It was summer, so maggots bred in the open wounds. We tried to remove them. A lot of people died because we had no medicine to give them.
We gathered the bodies into a mountain. We covered the mountain in debris and oil and burned it. At night the phosphorus from the dead bodies burned eerily in the dark. It was terrible.
Children were burned seriously. The skin of their backs had peeled off and hung loosely on their bodies. The fingers on their hands had melted together. They cried for water.
We are at a point in our history where Hiroshima is becoming nothing more than memory—and that is exactly what our government and the people who maintain the nuclear option want. From the time of the bomb dropping in 1945, we have been shielded from the true horror of a weapon that is the ultimate terrorist tool, the ultimate war crime. Whether it was censoring the reports from Hiroshima, or teaching kids to duck and cover, or maintaining absolute silence about our nuclear arsenal and future plans, those who want to keep the nuclear option want to keep our eyes shut, and our hearts closed.
This should be an important international anniversary every year, and even more so now, as we inch closer to new nuclear weapon development in the United States. When we talk about the impact calculations that would justify using bunker busters or low yield nuclear weapons, we cannot forget the people of Hiroshima, desperately trying to put out the flames in their river, searching for loved ones, and failing to comprehend a world turned into hell.
In a culture that too often glorifies violence, it is time to confront the real violence of war and its aftermath. If the words of the survivors are shocking, even horrifying, good. Their words should haunt our collective memory, and give us the strength to resist their horrifying past from becoming a part of anyone’s future.