2 August 2010. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from previous issues of AWTWNS that continue to be, unfortunately, very relevant to today's unfolding events.
"That fateful summer, 8:15. The roar of a B-229 breaks the morning calm. A parachute opens in the blue sky. Then suddenly, a flash, an enormous blast – silence– hell on earth.
''The eyes of young girls watching the parachute melted. Their faces became giant charred blisters. The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails. Their hair stood on end. Their clothes were ripped to shreds. People trapped in houses toppled by the blast were burned alive. Others died when their eyes and internal organs burst from their bodies. Hiroshima was a hell where those who somehow survived envied the dead." (From the 6 August 2007 memorial statement by Hiroshima mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, in a plea to rid the world of all nuclear weapons)
On 6 August 1945 the U.S. unleashed the atomic bomb on humanity. The world's first use of nuclear weapons, against the Japanese city of Hiroshima, was followed on 9 August by the bombing of Nagasaki.
The two atomic bombs dropped at the end of World War 2 were deliberately set to explode high in the air. The point was to maximize the killing, not the destruction of buildings. More than 110,000 people died immediately in the two bombings and the radiation eventually killed hundreds of thousands more. Many years of painful death by cancer and later birth defects lay ahead for the survivors and their descendents.
If terrorism is defined as the killing of innocent civilians for a political purpose, then the world has seldom seen such terrorism. Think of 40 times 11 September 2001 in New York and you will only imagine the first few seconds.
Shortly after, Japan surrendered. But its economy and capital city had been destroyed before the atomic bombs reduced two non-military and relatively unimportant cities to towns of the dead. Many historians believe that country was on the verge of surrender before those terrible days in August 1945. The main reason the U.S. wanted to use atomic weapons was as a demonstration of strength to threaten the USSR. The Soviet Union was then a socialist country. It had been allied with the U.S. against Germany and Japan during the war, but even before that war was over, the U.S. was baring its teeth to the USSR and setting out to dominate the world.
Before World War 2, bombing civilians was considered a barbaric and illegal act. The U.S. was not the only nation to commit that crime in WW2, but along with the British it did so on an enormous scale. Since then the U.S. has threatened to use nuclear weapons on dozens of occasions, not only against the USSR when that country later became an imperialist rival to the U.S., but also Vietnam and China. That the U.S. would make first use of nuclear weapons whenever it felt its interests sufficiently threatened has been official U.S. doctrine and the cornerstone of American military policy from the 1950s through today.
[Recently U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed that this doctrine is still basically in force and especially applicable in an attack on Iran. See "The U.S., Israel and the bomb: reason to worry," AWTWNS 31 May 2010.]
Hiroshima: survivors' stories
Just after World War 2, a young American journalist named John Hershey went to interview survivors of the atomic bombing. The result, Hiroshima, is one of those books that helped change the outlook of millions of people who read it. It tells the story of six people, beginning with what they were doing at the moment when the earth and sky suddenly filled with fire – talking, looking out the window, going to work, etc. They were all civilians living ordinary lives like their counterparts in any other country.
About half the deaths were caused by the explosion and the collapsing buildings. A mother describes what happened right after the bomb went off. Seeing "the youngest of her three children, buried breast-deep and unable to move, [she] crawled across the debris, hauled at timbers, and flung tiles aside, in a hurried effort to free the child." After saving one of her children, the woman began searching for the other two: "She called the names of her ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter…the voices [of the children] from below answered…in a frenzy [the mother] made the wreckage fly above the crying voices."
A quarter of those who died were burned alive. Those who died slowly over the next hours, days and years considered the dead lucky. Hershey describes a room with 20 young men whose eyes had melted in their eye sockets. One of his six survivors describes going out in a boat on a river near town and finding hideously burned people still alive whose flesh was beginning to peel off their bodies.
"He found about 20 men and women on the sandspit. He drove the boat onto the bank and urged them to get aboard. They did not move and he realized that they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge glovelike pieces.
"Then he got into the water and, though a small man, lifted several of the men and women into his boat. Their backs and breasts were clammy, and he remembered uneasily that the great burns he had seen during the day had been like: yellow at first, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally, in the evening, suppurated [full of pus] and smelly.
"With the tide risen, his bamboo pole was now too short and he had to paddle most of the way across it. On the other side, at a higher spit, he lifted the slimy living bodies out and carried them up the slope away from the tide. He had to keep consciously repeating to himself: 'These are human beings. These are human beings.'"
"Towns of the dead": a Hiroshima survivor speaks
"In August 6th, 1945, I was 13 years old, a sophomore at a girls' high school in Hiroshima. Starting in July, like the senior students, the second-year students were mobilized to three munitions factories for the country. At the time, I was living in Miyajima-guchi, in west Hiroshima. I was sent to an aircraft factory in the small town of Koi, in northwest Hiroshima. Most of the workers in the factory were mobilized students, and there were very few adult specialists.
"In the morning of that fateful day, August 6th, it was very hot with the burning summer sun. That day, we were to visit a beach to go swimming since the factory was to be closed for one day to conserve electricity. But an air attack warning had delayed our departure a while, and I was reading a book I had borrowed from a friend. I felt relieved when the air attack alert was called off, thinking that the American aircraft had flown away as usual without bombing. Then, a friend of mine outside of the factory called, 'Look! There's a plane. It might be a B-29! It's dropping something that looks like a parachute!'
Then, a yellow-orange coloured light flashed like a bolt of lightning as if several thousand magnesium bombs had exploded when I turned my head to look in that direction I felt a massive shock hit my body accompanied by a large boom. The blast, contaminated with glass and dirt, blew through the inside of our factory, and I was knocked down to the floor. I thought that our factory had been directly hit by a bomb. Through cracked pillars and beams that had collapsed, I could see a faint light in the dark cloud of dust. It was the factory door. I crawled through the rubble towards the door.
"'Are you hurt?' one friend called to me. I looked at my body. My uniform was red, stained with blood from my nose that was bleeding from the bomb blast. The inside of my left arm had been scraped with a piece of glass and was also bleeding. Many small glass shards were stuck all over my clothes and skin. I pressed my wounds with a cloth borrowed from my friend and ran to a back hill not far from there, hurried by my friend shouting, 'Run to a dugout!' On the way, I looked up at the sky. The beautiful blue sky of the morning was starting to change. A black cloud covered the sky as if it were getting ready to attack us. The cloud changed to red, grey and again to black, and grew even bigger to eventually cover the whole sky. It appeared monstrous. This cloud is called a 'mushroom cloud' and it does indeed look like a mushroom. I ran into the dugout on the hillside and received just a treatment of mercurochrome. Meanwhile, when I was washing my face stained from my nosebleed, big drops of rain came down. Somebody screamed, 'The Americans are dousing us with gasoline!', 'They are going to burn the hill and we will all be killed!' Everyone ran into the dugouts in fear. The rain was black, sticky and contaminated with sand and soil. It was several months before we realized that the rain was dangerously radioactive.
"On that day, the first-year students of my high school had been mobilized to help dismantle buildings in the city centre. Those 12-year-old girls, 220 in total, all perished by the end of the day, suffering from burns, without receiving any care or being able to see their families before dying. I wondered and still wonder for what reasons they had to die like this.
"Many of the survivors, who had mutually congratulated each other after having survived the effects of the bomb, also died within a few days with acute symptoms of fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, violet spots on the skin, hair loss, etc. People who had come to Hiroshima to help also showed the same symptoms and either died or suffered for a long time from radiation sickness. At the time, however, we could not even begin to imagine that these symptoms were being caused by the radioactive effects of an atomic bomb.
"The atomic bombs turned both Hiroshima and Nagasaki into towns of the dead. There were red burned and bloated dead bodies piled up high, the corpses with the guts and the eyes popped out, over-capacitated trains burned black and crisp, people buried alive under buildings and dead, lines of ghost-looking people with burned frizzled hair and burned skin hanging, etc… It was not a scene of human life but a miserable hell. I never forget the mortification I had not being able to give water to those crowds of barely living survivors who were not able to save their own children or parents.
"The atomic bomb brought 140,000 deaths in Hiroshima and 70,000 deaths in Nagasaki 62 years ago. People around the world need to know how a nuclear bomb can brutally destroy a city and take so many lives away, miserably, in a split second, and also should know that nuclear bombs today can bring even more horrifying destruction upon us."
[Excerpted from an eyewitness account by Hiroshima survivor Yuko Nakamura, posted on august6.org, the Web site of a coalition of U.S. organizations that held actions in August 2007 to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and oppose an American attack on Iran.]