Monday, August 6, 2012

Hiroshima Day 2012

On Saturday an elderly woman approached me at the entrance to the downtown Berkeley BART station (BART is our commuter-rail system in the San Francisco Bay Area). Undoubtedly familiar with Berkeley residents' practiced ability to ignore people pressing flyers into their hands, she urgently pressed a flyer into my hands, speaking rapidly. She was inviting me to join a vigil on the West Lawn of the UC Berkeley campus, just a block and a half away, to be held the next day. Extra outreach for Sunday's vigil -- a regular occurrence on the West Lawn -- was being organized because Monday would be -- and I completed the sentence to let the elderly woman know, in shorthand, that we were on the same page -- Hiroshima Day.

Today is Hiroshima Day: the unhappy anniversary of the detonation of an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, sixty-seven years ago. Thursday is the unhappy anniversary of the detonation of an atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki, three days later. The bombs had nicknames: Little Boy and Fat Man. Their blasts and resultant firestorms killed 110,000 to 155,000 people in the events and their immediate aftermaths. Tens of thousands more died later from radiation. Still more suffered injury, long-term illness, and disability.

Some historians of World War II have argued that if the U.S. government had chosen not to detonate nuclear weapons over Japan in August 1945, the already-planned invasion of that country would have resulted in casualties far more extensive than those caused by the atomic bombs. Other historians argue that a convergence of factors -- continued conventional bombings, Germany's surrender several months before, Soviet attacks on occupying Japanese forces in Manchuria -- would have ended the war without dropping nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. We'll never know. It seems likely that historians will continue to disagree for decades to come.

I have written about Berkeley's anti-nuclear vigils and the intrepid peace activists -- mostly elders, some of them Friends (a.k.a. Quakers) -- in prior posts: TV Debate on Nuclear Weapons Needed Now and Thinking of Fukushima on Earth Day. I respect the dedication of these activists, but each time I see them holding their banners at the west entrance to UC Berkeley, I am saddened by a futility I can't help but feel attends their focused vigilance.

There are so many ways, in addition to nuclear weapons, that human civilization and all our resilient biosphere are threatened.

There's catastrophic climate change that is coming sure as the three simple measures Bill McKibben wrote about in his article Global Warming's Terrifying New Math published in Rolling Stone last month.

Vicious war waged against civilians in Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan (north v south) -- not to mention the many elsewheres -- is grim confirmation that humans don't need 'special' weapons to raze vast tracts of the planet, and to traumatize millions with ferocity sufficient to make brutal violence an autonomic ritual for generations to come.

Then there are the coming water wars. The Great Extinction. The planet-killing predations of industrial agriculture.

And so on.

Yet at the national level here in the United States, where we still have the largest national economy and the highest military expenditures -- and hence a disproportionate effect on every other nation on earth -- political conflict and discourse (to the extent we can call irrational populism 'discourse') orbits around squabbling about the rate at which estates ought to be taxed, who ought to be permitted to marry whom, and the validity of birth certificates.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrendous, savage, and utterly inhumane -- whether or not they forestalled worse.

I took the elderly woman's flyer outside the BART station on Saturday.

As I descended into the underground station, I wondered whether anybody will be left to consider Hiroshima as the beginning of humankind's seemingly-likely and catastrophic end.




Thanks to Pierre J for his scanned image of a hardcopy print of a photograph of the "Licorne shot" -- a nuclear test conducted by the French government in July 1970, courtesy of Flickr.



Related posts on One Finger Typing:
TV Debate on Nuclear Weapons Needed Now
Thinking of Fukushima on Earth Day
Nuclear meltdown abroad and at home
Water, water everywhere and a lot of murky reasoning
The lemming situation: things we've known for 50 years about environmentalism
Monoculture v complexity; agribusiness and deceit
Mutant food: agribusiness vs. everybody else

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