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 to rest on 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. For what they don’t have as a personal memory they have as hope for the future.
DISFIGURED BODIES, WHOLE SOULS
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 (More)
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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 ‘peaceniks’ multiplied in West and East Europe and the rest of the Americas.
In Brazil, where lives the biggest concentration of Japanese natives and descendants outside Japan, stories of survival and redemption abound, underlined by the same desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons, still a tall order 75 years after. It doesn’t matter, for their fight will also be passed on.
A LONG COMING CHANGE OF HEART
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.
AN OCTOGENARIAN LEADS THE CHARGE
At 82, she managed to penetrate the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility and scared us into picturing what would’ve happened if, rather than anti-war activists, the trespassers had ill intent. She beat a trumped-up U.S. jail threat and is out and kicking, we’re glad to report.
Sister Rice’s dare has underscored the terrifying folly of believing that nuclear facilities are properly secured in the U.S. or anywhere else. Given the appalling ruthlessness of some current world leaders, there’s also a new urgency for decommissioning atomic weapons for good.
In seven decades, nuclear power has been unreliable compared to other alternative sources, and also a constant reason for concern, as the string of serious near-misses accidents has shown over the years, including 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 on a global scale. Curiously, while Japan insists on restarting its plants, Germany, another nation intrinsically linked to WWII, has already done away with it.
FROM INNOCENCE TO WIDE-EYED CONCERN
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 tourist spot.
In 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 ill-advised performance wound up costing them their health and a path to an early grave.
Startling, a year after, a secret B-47 mission carrying a 7,600-pound nuclear bomb collided with an F-86 fighter, forcing the pilot to drop it in the waters off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. It’s still there, lurking in the deep. We may have not come too far away from it after all.
MEASURING THE VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE
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, plagues and pandemics 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.
Tragically, caution to nukes developed over seven decades was not enough. President Trump took the U.S. away from a hard-earned 2015 agreement it had set up between Iran and six other nations, and other nuclear treaties with Russia. For atomic scientists, we’re now at more risk of annihilation than ever, and they had to adjust the Doomsday Clock which now tracks our fate in seconds not minutes.
But it hasn’t happened yet and it doesn’t have to, ever. Sister Rice’s grandkids and millions of others count on us to help postpone the nuclear age for at least a century, so they too can have their own grandkids. Elders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have taught us resilience and hope. It’s up to us, survivors like them, to honor their wisdom.
(*) Adapted from the original post published on Aug. 6, 2015.