75 years of Hiroshima & Nagasaki survivors’ message of peace

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75 years of Hiroshima & Nagasaki survivors’ message of peace

Sunday, 09 August 2020 | Makhan Saikia

Being the only country to have gone through the nuclear devastation, Japan has been making all-out efforts to make the world free from nuclear weapons. But rogue nations have ensured the race does not stop

The worst that descended on humanity was the explosion of the two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. The 75th anniversary of this heinous act is quietly observed in both the cities by the survivors of the nuclear attack and the peace-loving people of Japan. What it brings home is the gruesome misuse of science & technology on innocent civilians. And, it is plainly in the name of fighting the enemy and to subsequently herald peace to the world. The central argument that justified the actions of that horrifying act was shaped to convey the message that the bombing finally put an end to the Second World War. Also it prevented a protracted conflict spearheaded by the “Axis Powers” consisting of Italy, Germany and Japan. Arguably, the ghastly scenes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki clearly discouraged the rest of the nations to plunge into another nuclear war for the rest of the century.

The two atom bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were known as “Little Boy” and “Fatman”. Once the first bomb was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, almost after sixteen hours, then US President Harry S Truman asked the then Japanese Government to surrender. However, Japan did not agree and this led to the second bombing of Nagasaki.  The first bomb was dropped by the US bomber called Enola Gay. Interestingly, this bomb was dropped little over 600 metres above the ground which had a force equivalent to 15,000 tonnes of TNT. This allowed in fact optimal destruction that has never been witnessed during the wartime.

The exact death toll was not known. But as per reports available, nearly 2,40,000 people died in the attack. And this horror attack had indeed left millions traumatised and even stigmatised in the days to come. The victims were killed by intense heat, radiation, flashes, firestorms, etc. Initially people just noticed huge ball of fire on the spot of the bombing. The relics of the atomic attack can be witnessed in an unquantifiable legacy of radiation, leukemia, anemia, cataracts, keloids (in this case, a scar tissue heals and at times heals too much which finally leads to swelling and can result in abnormal growth), major birth complications like microcephaly (a condition in which the head of the baby is smaller than the usual size) and finally, environmental degradation of monumental volume. Many reports say that temperatures at the epicentre of the blast reached an estimated 7,000 degrees Celsius. As the temperature rose, it caused massive burning of people within a radius of approximately three kilometres.

The whirlwind of heat brought by it further led to thousands of fires in and around both the cities.

Meanwhile more and more people died of suffocation because of lack of oxygen as the firestorm consumed all of it. The saddest part of the tragedy was that these complications have become a significant part of inter-generational legacy of Japanese people living in these cities and adjacent areas.

What had exactly taken place in Hiroshima is vividly spoken in this historic poem called, ‘No More Hiroshimas’:

‘Here atomic peace is geared to meet the tourist trade

Let it remain like this for all the world to see.

Without nobility or loveliness, and dogged with shame

That is beyond all hope of indignation. Anger too is dead.

And why should memorials of what was far

From pleasant have the grace that helps us to forget?’

Precisely, this poem speaks volumes about the agonies of the after-effects of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”. The survivors known as ‘Hibakusha’ today suffer terminal illnesses such as cancer. This has left an indelible mark in the Japanese society, economy, culture, and most importantly on the polity. The then Emperor of Japan Hirohito surrendered to the Allied Powers on August 15, 1945, and that brought an end to one of the most devastating wars in human history.

The rise of the militarists in Japan in the inter-war period indeed had spiked its ambition to become an Asian power in the continent. Simply put, Japan’s war aims were primarily to establish a “New Order” in East Asia. And interestingly this was based on a framework of co-prosperity which will place Japan at the centre of an economic bloc consisting of Manchuria, Korea and North China. Ironically, the smart imperial moves advanced by Japan gradually undermined the slogan called “East Asia for Asiatics” and replaced it with “East Asia for Japan”.

Apart from these Japanese ambitions, the entire Second World War was a unique one. First of all, it was a multi-theatre war wherein wars were fought in Africa, Europe and in the Pacific. However, the Pacific theatre saw some of the intense fighting zones. Second, for the first time, the atomic weapons were used in this war and also on civilian targets which eventually led to the end of the war. Third, the war in the Pacific saw the Allied Power of the US fighting the Axis Power of Japan. Historical records reveal that this part of the war had remained incredibly brutal and devastating for soldiers on both sides. In fact, fighting the Japanese Army was one of the toughest tasks for the American soldiers because of their extreme loyalty to the nation and their Emperor. This was very evident in the war of Iwo Jima that took place from February to March 1945 between the US and Japan, codenamed by the Americans as “Operation Downfall”. It was really difficult to defeat the Japanese forces because of the fact that they either die fighting till the last or by resorting to ritual suicide instead of surrendering to American forces. The “Bushido Code of Honor” followed by a unique war propaganda to project the American soldiers as ruthless animals prevented the Japanese forces to quit the war. It must have been one of the few important reasons that compelled the US to finally press the nuclear button against Japan.

The long-term effects of the atomic bombs are still around in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And these disastrous effects can be easily noticed in the vast landscape, environment and most importantly on the people of these cities. Even today historians are widely divided on the matter whether nuclear bombings have finally stopped the war and averted a massive land war, probably leading to the loss of millions of soldiers on both sides. This was evident in what was later expressed by the US Secretary of War Henry Stimson in 1947, “The principal political, social and military objective of the US in the summer of 1945 was the prompt and complete surrender of Japan.” Though the decision was unfortunate, it was adopted for a greater good of humanity. A Gallup Poll conducted in 1945 among the Americans revealed that 85 per cent of them were in favour of the nuclear bombing. But such conjectures hardly mattered to those who died and more importantly those who have survived till date. Many of the “Hibakushas” have been encountering physical and psychological traumas and struggling to live in open societies. They being the first victims of atomic age are at times shunned by people when it comes to marriage because of the prejudice that they may carry radiation related diseases. It is purely an insurmountable mental battle for the survivors of the disaster simply to live and to let their next generation carry forward.

Is war morally justified? Can a pacifist perspective save this planet from war hawks? Can the whole lot of non-violent and peace-loving populace prevent the brutes? These are alarming, complex and terrifying questions, having almost no accurate answers. Nowhere on this earth, can one justify war, leading to killing of civilians, either to protect ones sovereign territories, groups and especially to annex territories of other countries. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mindless human disasters and symbols of ultimate war brutality. Not a single American President so far has apologised for this tragedy. Barrack Obama was the first sitting US President to visit Hiroshima in 2016, but he did never mention of any such apology. The remnants of this horrendous episode will remind mankind of the misuse of science & technology developed by legendary scientist Albert Einstein. Ironically, the great physicist was an avowed pacifist!

(The writer is an expert on international affairs)

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