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Remembering Hiroshima

Yesterday, I attended a moving commemoration of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima 64 years ago at the Buddhist temple here in New York City (video above). They hold their annual event on August 5th, because in Japan – when the difference in time zones is taken into consideration – it is already the morning of August 6th.

There was music, poetry, and various speeches against not only the use of nuclear weapons, but all war and violence. At 7:15pm (which was 8:15am in Hiroshima), the exact time that the bomb was dropped, prayers were said as a peace bell was rung.  The group of about a hundred then proceeded to walk with signs and candles some twenty blocks to a church where an interfaith service and concert was held for peace. I was very moved by the event, including the presence of a man who actually survived the horrific bombing that day.

My good friend Frida Berrigan, daughter of the longtime anti-nuclear activists Phil Berrigan and Liz McAllister, wrote a wonderful piece about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that is worth quoting at length.

In Hiroshima, Little Boy’s huge fireball and explosion killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Another 70,000 were seriously injured. As Joseph Siracusa, author of Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, writes: “In one terrible moment, 60% of Hiroshima… was destroyed. The blast temperature was estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, which ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball some 840 feet in diameter.”

Three days later, Fat Man exploded 1,840 feet above Nagasaki, with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. According to “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered,” a web resource on the bombings developed for young people and educators, 286,000 people lived in Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped; 74,000 of them were killed instantly and another 75,000 were seriously injured.

In addition to those who died immediately, or soon after the bombings, tens of thousands more would succumb to radiation sickness and other radiation-induced maladies in the months, and then years, that followed.

In an article written while he was teaching math at Tufts University in 1983, Tadatoshi Akiba calculated that, by 1950, another 200,000 people had died as a result of the Hiroshima bomb, and 140,000 more were dead in Nagasaki.

She then discusses where we are at today in the struggle to rid the world of these terrible weapons and provides some shocking numbers that remind us how far we have yet to go:

The nine nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, France, England, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea — have more than 27,000 operational nuclear weapons among them, enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets.

[…]

According to the authoritative Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the United States still maintains a nuclear stockpile estimated at 5,200 warheads — of which approximately 2,700 are operational (with the rest in reserve), while the Obama administration will spend more than $6 billion on the research and development of nuclear weapons this year alone.

[…]

Keep in mind as well that the bombs which annihilated two Japanese cities and ended so many lives 64 years ago this week were puny when compared to today’s typical nuclear weapon. Little Boy was a 15 kiloton warhead. Most of the warheads in the U.S. arsenal today are 100 or 300 kilotons — capable of taking out not a Japanese city of 1945 but a modern megalopolis. Bruce Blair, president of the World Security Institute and a former launch-control officer in charge of Minutemen Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles armed with 170, 300, and 335 kiloton warheads, pointed out a few years ago that, within 12 minutes, the United States and Russia could launch the equivalent of 100,000 Hiroshimas.