Today is Hiroshima Day
, the 60th anniversary of the first use of a bomb so powerful that it would come to threaten the existence of the human race.
Now, that might not mean a lot to most of you, but it meant a lot to those of us born shortly after WWII ended. I would have been here, or thereabouts, as I was conceived in a spasm of whoopee on VE (Victory in Europe) day. VJ day was yet to come and it took the dropping of two atomic bombs to bring that about. And so my sister was born.
Yet, in spite of my father's mantra of "We fought the war for the likes of you", I have been a pacifist and anti-militarist for most of my life.
As one of the first western journalists into Hitroshima, John Hersey recorded the experiences of six survivors whose lives were shattered in an instant. His account was published in a special issue of the New Yorker. An edited version can be read here
A weapon so powerful that it can leave civilians as mere shadows on walls is too powerful and disturbing to contemplate. This image can be found in both the article and his book Hiroshima
published in 1946 by, I recall, Pelican, a book which had a profound impact on my malleable teenage brain.
That Japan was on the brink of surrender at the time has long been argued, yet who was to know? If I were a generation older, would I have been thankful?
Would I have applauded Paul Tibbets
, the man who piloted the Enola Gay on its mission to Japan?On the way to the target I was thinking: I can't think of any mistakes I've made. Maybe I did make a mistake: maybe I was too damned assured. At 29 years of age I was so shot in the ass with confidence I didn't think there was anything I couldn't do. Of course, that applied to airplanes and people. So, no, I had no problem with it. I knew we did the right thing because when I knew we'd be doing that I thought, yes, we're going to kill a lot of people, but by God we're going to save a lot of lives. We won't have to invade Japan.
What I do know is that the use of atomic bombs didn't stop wars or the mass killing of civilians
. The bombs didn't bring peace.What President Harry Truman called "the greatest achievement of organised science in history" - had rendered obsolete the very concept of material, scientific "progress". As the great and heroic Simone Weil had said before her death two years earlier, the evil in modern war was now the technical aspect itself rather than political factors. Everything that has happened since has only confirmed that truth.
For that reason alone we must remember.