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Hiroshima, No More

September 5, 2014

hiroshimaday

The anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were marked by the Peace Camp and local CND. Some efforts were frustrated one way or another, though the best recent trespass was achieved, as a kayak reached the docks by the sub pen, before being angrily redirected by surprised Ministry police. Apparently they are still obsessed by watching people on the shore between the Camp and the base, seemingly not having learned any lessons in March.

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Both the dates in question saw the now-traditional floating of lanterns on the loch. Although the weather wasn’t as favourable as last year, the lochside gatherings gave opportunity to reflect on the significance of the bombings.

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The atomic weapons programme was started during the Second World War due to fears among British scientists that Nazi Germany could be developing a similar weapon (it was). The joint Allied ‘Manhattan Project’ quickly took on a life of its own. As their own technology improved, the Allies realised that Germany could not realistically hope to produce atomic bombs. Instead, panic set in when it became possible that the war could end before their own project was complete.

Fortunately for the future of mass destruction, Japan held out until its mainland was besieged. This gave time for successful atomic detonation to be achieved in the New Mexico desert. Prior to the live test, some projections had indicated that the intensity of the bomb could set the entire atmosphere of the planet alight and destroy all complex life. In the event, this didn’t happen.

Having cracked Japan’s ciphers, the Allies knew that it was ready to sue for peace, with the preservation of the monarchy the foremost concern of the ultra-nationalists they’d be negotiating with. Nevertheless, two main targets were selected for atomic bombing. These were removed from air raid schedules and left intact, fully to assess the capabilities of the new weapon without mis-attributing damage already caused by conventional ordinance.

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Hiroshima was attacked on August 6th, 1945. Prior to the bombing, the navigator on the Enola Gay bomber wrote in his logbook, “Everyone has a big hopeful look on his face.” An entry after reads, “I honestly have the feeling of groping for words to explain this. I might just say: my God, what have we done?”

The bombing of Nagasaki followed three days later on August 9th, following which Japan’s military offered unconditional surrender. Altogether, 180,000 deaths are attributed to the bombings. Either one on its own would constitute the single worst atrocity of the world’s worst conflict.

Following the bombings, the Allies were quick to try to quash rumours regarding radioactive emissions and fallout from the attacks. Journalists were escorted on visits to the bombsites and kept away from victims, and film footage showing the human effects of radiation exposure was confiscated and classified ‘Top Secret’. However, Wilfrid Burchett, a correspondent for the Daily Express, had already made his way to Hiroshima on his own initiative. What he found in the vicinity made headlines as ‘The Atomic Plague: A Stark Warning to the World’.

Another journalist, John Hershey, compiled accounts from survivors of the bombing at Hiroshima. Reading these is harrowing, and full of monstrous detail. For example, the heat from the bomb caused seeds to germinate, covering the ruined city in a joyless carpet of flowers within days. Ultimately, though, what comes across is the incredible show of human resilience which followed the bombing; all of the survivors in Hershey’s interviews have somehow overcome worse than could ever be expected, and are making progress in their attempts to recover.

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So, it is difficult to look at the cherry tree planted by visiting Hiroshima survivors in the Peace Camp and not take heart: for as long as people live, there is hope. It is impossible to look at the tree without another thought soon crowding forth: NEVER AGAIN.

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