• A sense of shame about being human

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    07 August 2015

    August marks the 70th Anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The force of ‘Little Boy’, delivered by the ‘Enola Gay’ was, when it exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima, equivalent to the detonation of 15,000 tonnes of TNT. It utterly destroyed an area of 5 square miles. When I say utterly – I mean universally flat. Estimates of the death toll vary but probably 100,000 died on the day the bombs fell with an equal number shortly afterwards as a result of injury, burns and radiation. A people already weakened by widespread malnutrition were in little state to withstand what the final bursts of world conflagration brought to their door. Those hundreds of thousands were but a part of 60 million deaths in World War II, a conflict in which Japan herself had been responsible for the slaughter of a million Chinese civilians through chemical weapons alone. There was unrestrained horror on all sides. But few of man’s deeds can surely approach Hiroshima and Nagasaki for such instant and crushing brutality. There are survivors, of course, like Sunao Tsuboi, now 90. He appears in one of the few photographs that survive of Hiroshima the day it happened. In a recent interview he points to himself gazing out over a field of devastation just three hours after the blast. The ragged grainy grey figures in the foreground, he explains, are police officers dousing little children with cooking oil to try to ease their burns. He says the smell of burning flesh was overpowering, bodies flowed by in the river, a man, he remembers, was looking down at a hole in his stomach trying to gather in his organs. A young girl has an eye hanging from its socket. “People looked like ghosts”, he says, “bleeding and trying to walk.” It is hard to read these accounts without at least some sense of shame about being human. Whether this use of the ultimate destructive weapon was justified or not will never cease to be debated. It undoubtedly foreshortened the war – Japan surrendered just a few days after the Nagasaki attack. And Japan would have continued to defend herself to the bitterest of ends – there were 2 million Japanese under arms and some estimates suggest that had the war continued with conventional weapons alone then perhaps 4 million US personnel would have died with around 10 million further Japanese casualties. So Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it could be argued saved more than it destroyed. But it left its legacy – it was the beginning of the age of nuclear weapons. America was to be followed by The Soviet Union, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. Whilst unilateral disarmament would be a dreadful miscalculation leaving our country far less secure in a rapidly changing and less certain world we must continue to press hard for further reductions and non proliferation. The memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be reason enough for that.