Hiroshima at 70

Weary World Marks
a Somber Anniversary

Within a minute, the world would be changed forever. Life ended instantly for 80,000, and would be cut short for twice as many in just a few months. Worst of all was the fear that, for the first time in history, mankind could easily destroy itself, a fear that ushered the Cold War.
From Japan to the U.S., from Germany to Brazil, and all corners in between, millions are joining in to renew vows against the still untamable power of the split atom, even in its limited ‘pacific’ uses. But along with tragedy, the nuclear age has also produced heroes and redemption tales.
At 8:15am local time, the Enola Gay dropped its terrible load, perversely named the Little Boy, over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, after what its inhabitants may have thought was just another air raid siren, alerting for American bombers flying overhead. It wasn’t, or rather, it was way more than that.
Three days later, the Fat Man, another gun-type uranium device, destroyed Nagasaki, the final act of a two-punch strike that, for apologists, broke Japan’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, and effectively ended World War II. Or so goes the official narrative.
What the mushroom clouds actually ignited was the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which at few crucial moments almost came to a civilization-ending blow, and a new era of unimaginable terror for all other nations, impotent to stop the two superpowers from acting like the world’s overlords.
But it’s also helped breed a new crop of pacifists who made us understand the risks of having the planet’s fate rest with so few, and highly belligerent, hands. It’s their activism and courage that have granted the world a reprieve, and prevented other cities from being destroyed like those two.

First, there were the survivors. Even though most of them died within a few years of the explosions, thousands of citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took upon themselves to show the world what such power really is capable of. As they perished from radiation and other diseases, their legacy passed on.
Soon after, even former Japanese combatants joined in, convinced that they had been part of a war that had no winners on that particular front. The bomb’s destructive power caused many despicable (Click below to continue reading)
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consequences, but they chose the way of ‘the other margin of the river,’ and world peace became their credo.
The movement grew legs and even as Americans and Soviets doubled down and increased exponentially their weapons production, their war games of intimidation, and faulty rationale of aggression as a deterrent to aggression, a new generation of ‘peacenicks’ multiplied in West and East Europe and the rest of the Americas.
In Brazil, where the biggest concentration of Japanese natives and descendants outside Japan live, stories of survival and redemption abound, underlined by the same desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons, still a tall order 70 years after. It doesn’t matter, for their fight will also be passed on.

In the U.S., where even before the first decade of the attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of the architects of the bomb, Albert Einstein, led a group of scientists to condemn its use against civilians, the movement against nukes took some time to grow and mature.
In the 1960s, concerns about a nuclear apocalypse sat at the bottom of the times’ busy agenda of social changes, behind civil rights for blacks, women, minorities, Vietnam, and so on. But as suspicions began to brew about the government, and accidents at nuclear plants start to occur, the wind changed direction.
That’s arguably what motivated a Catholic nun to congregate with like-minded individuals, concerned about raising awareness of the danger of nuclear plants for Earth’s future. Then on July 28, 2012, Sister Megan Rice and two fellow activists broke into Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

At 82, she managed to penetrate the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility and scared us into imagining what would’ve happened if, instead of making an anti-war statement, the trespassers had ill intent. The U.S. Dept. of Energy, however, promptly sent her to prison for two years.
She’s now the new face of the anti-nuke movement, and an inspiration to millions. Her daring act not just underscored the terrifying vulnerability of keeping nuclear facilities safely guarded, but also the new sense of urgency for decommissioning atomic weapons in the modern world.
In seven decades, nuclear power has been unreliable compared to other alternative sources, and also a constant reason for concerns, as the string of serious near-misses accidents have showed along the years, culminating with the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.
Some countries have taken steps to give up atomic power, at least until the technology is up to speed to prevent a tragedy in a global scale. Curiously, while Japan insists in restarting its plants, Germany, another nation intrinsically linked to WWII, has already done away with it.

There’s a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific with some of New York street names, a legacy of Project Manhattan. It was near Broadway street, in Tinian, that Little Boy and Fat Man got loaded onto an aircraft and departed to Japan, on their infernal mission. It’s now a touristic spot.
On July of 1957, five Air Force officers stood miles from Las Vegas. 18,500 feet above them, two jets detonated a 2-kiloton nuclear bomb to their enthusiastic cheers. That may have cost their health and possibly an early grave. We would never be so naive since their ill-advised experiment.
A year after, a secret mission B-47 carrying a 7,600-pound nuclear bomb collided with an F-86 fighter, forcing the pilot to drop the weapon in the waters off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. It’s still there to these days, lurking somewhere in the deep. We may have not come too far away from it after all.

Not surprisingly, we’ve also created other, equally destructive, horrors to be fearful of, such as widespread damage to the environmental, man-made climate change, income inequality and the assortment of illnesses of our age. They’re all part of our current crossroads, and we’ll need to make hard choices to assert our priorities on Earth.
But we did develop a stronger respect for the power of nukes, and the recent agreement between Iran and six other U.S.-led nations is just another example of it. Despite warmongers, it may pave the way to similar steps to make the world safer. Even if it will never completely be with nuclear weapons lying around.
Still an agreement as such wouldn’t be possible just a few years ago. It happened, and with luck, it will be approved by the U.S. Congress, for all the horrors we now know about what the atom bomb has produced, and the acts of kindness and compassionate courage that sought to reverse their devastation.
Time for grandkids of Sister Rice and others like her to pick up the pace and engage into more consistent action. The elders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have taught us a valuable lesson of resilience and hope. It’s up to us now, survivors like them, to value and honor their dignity.

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