This month marks the 71st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With just two bombs, more than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, were instantly incinerated or died from radiation poisoning by the end of 1945. Many more have died since and are still dying from the effects of radiation. The effects on future generations are still unknown.
Although Nagasaki has been rebuilt, powerful reminders of the atomic devastation can be found everywhere. The personal testimonies of the survivors, the Hibakusha, make the tragedy very real. Let us heed their plea: “Never again!”
It is estimated 105,000 were killed and 94,000 were injured in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the first day. The death toll rose in the months to follow.
As many know, the atomic bomb has been used only twice in warfare. A uranium bomb named “Little Boy” (despite weighing in at over 4½ tons) was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The Aioi Bridge, one of 81 bridges connecting the seven-branched delta of the Ota River, was the target; ground zero was set at 1,980 feet. At 8:15 a.m., the bomb was dropped from the aircraft Enola Gay. It missed by only 800 feet. At 8:16 a.m., in an instant, 66,000 people were killed and 69,000 were injured by a 10-kiloton atomic explosion.
The area of total vaporization from the atomic bomb blast measured one-half mile in diameter; total destruction 1 mile in diameter; severe blast damage as much as 2 miles in diameter. Within a diameter of 2½ miles, everything flammable burned. The remaining area of the blast zone was riddled with serious blazes that stretched out to the final edge at a little over 3 miles in diameter.
On Aug. 9, 1945, Nagasaki fell to the same treatment. This time a plutonium bomb named “Fat Man” was dropped. Though “Fat Man” missed its target by over a mile, it still leveled nearly half the city. More than 39,000 people were killed, and over 25,000 were injured. Some of you may remember the news photos of naked children running away in extreme terror.
I suppose at that time the bombings were deemed a success because Japan offered to surrender on Aug. 10, 1945.
Currently there is a statue in Hiroshima Peace Park – the Monument to the Mobilized Students – that remembers nearly 7,000 Hiroshima students who died in the atomic bomb blast.
They were “mobilized” to demolish wooden buildings for firebreaks, to produce food and to work in factories for the war effort. The statue represents the goddess of peace with eight doves.
Thousands of paper cranes are left here each year by visitors seeking a world in which children can live without fear of nuclear weapons. The sign reading “Peace” is made of folded paper cranes glued onto a board.
Recently I was with someone who had been in Japan for several weeks, and she mentioned that she noticed Braille everywhere. It is because so many were blinded by the bombings. All along the brass stair railings down into the subway and varying feels to the walkways so that the blind know where to walk.
In 1981, during a visit to Hiroshima, Pope John Paul II said, “To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.”
We must never forget what happened on those August days in 1945.
Lesley Haynes, of Buffalo, is a lifelong pacifist and a member of the Western New York Peace Center.