BY DOUG JENNESS
HIROSHIMA, Japan - An international spotlight was focused here August 6 to mark the day 50 years ago when the U.S. government dropped the first atomic bomb virtually obliterating this city. Some 60,000 people, including hundreds from overseas, turned out for the official ceremonies sponsored by the Hiroshima municipal government.
Thousands of others gathered at later rallies called by antinuclear organizations. Similar commemorations will be held in Nagasaki where a second nuclear weapon was dropped on Aug. 9, 1945.
The unprecedented death and destruction to the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was one of the most monstrous crimes ever committed against humanity.
During the days preceding the August 6 activities several conferences heard survivors (hibakusha) of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts describe the infernos that ravaged their cities 50 years ago. Some 70,000 to 100,000 people were killed outright in Hiroshima as a result of the firestorms that incinerated everything within a radius of 1.25 miles or from the effects of the high-pressure blast that knocked down nearly all standing structures. In the weeks that followed, many died from heavy doses of radiation, burns, and other injuries. By the end of 1945, 140,000 were dead in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki. The casualties continued for some years afterwards.
Participants at a number of conferences taking place here discussed why Washington dropped the atomic bombs, considered proposals for banning nuclear weapons, and condemned the recent decision by the French government to begin a series of nuclear tests in the South Pacific.
A three-day international symposium, cosponsored by the Special Non-Governmental Organizations Committee for Disarmament and the Japanese Preparatory Committee involved a broad range of organizations, including particularly strong participation from the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers' Organizations.
The conference, which drew 300 participants from 24 countries, heard Takeshi Ito, cochairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers' Organization, report that the Health and Welfare Ministry of Japan "confirmed the death toll totaled 295,956 hibakusha by 1985." Today, he said, 328,629 survivors "are still struggling against physical, living, and mental difficulties, which are becoming harder as they get older."
Suh Seok Woo, vice president of the Korea Atomic Bomb Casualty Association, was a young truck driver in Hiroshima in 1945, and one of tens of thousands of Korean workers forcibly brought to work in Japan during World War II. Two of his three children perished in the attack. They "might have been burned or they may have jumped in the Ota River to escape the heat and drowned," he said. He reported that a disproportionately large number of Koreans were victims of the Hiroshima blast, but have not received "the same level of assistance from the Japanese government as our Japanese counterparts."
One of the central issues raised during all the gatherings is the fight to get the Japanese government to provide more adequate compensation to all victims of the A- bomb attacks.
Lethal effects of nuclear testing
Another theme of the symposium was the damaging effects of nuclear weapons production and testing for the past 50 years. Between July 16, 1945, and July 31 of this year, 1,452 nuclear tests - 65 of them in the atmosphere - have been conducted by six countries. Participants from the United States, Russia, Australia, and the Marshall Islands testified to the harmful human and environmental consequences of radiation from nuclear testing. Some denounced the recent underground test in China.
Lethal effects of nuclear testing
Vladimir Iakimets from the Russian Academy of Sciences reported on the human and environmental costs of nuclear weapons in the southern Ural and Altai regions. He cited the example of an accident in 1957 where an explosion at a nuclear production complex in the Urals exposed 28,000 inhabitants of nearby towns to high doses of radiation. He referred to the region as "one of the planet's most radioactively contaminated areas." He said no information was available to the public in the former Soviet Union on this and other accidents until 1990.
Small islands in the South Pacific have been favorite nuclear testing sites for the French, British, and U.S. governments without regard for the welfare of the people who live in the region, Nelson Anjain from Rangelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands explained. An eyewitness to Washington's hydrogen bomb test on nearby Bikini Atoll in 1954, he described the radiation sickness that afflicted the inhabitants of his island.
Two U.S. residents from Utah, who live downwind of nuclear testing sites in Nevada used in the 1950s, described the increase in cancer in their area. They also described the hazards of uranium mining.
Why Truman dropped A-Bomb
Several speakers from the United States addressed the debate that opened up earlier this year when the Smithsonian Institution pared down, under pressure from the American Legion, conservative politicians, and others, its original plan for an exhibit of the A-bombing attack of Hiroshima. This debate has been widely covered in the Japanese press.
Why Truman dropped A-Bomb
Martin Sherwin, a professor at Dartmouth College, and author of A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and the Origins of the Atom Race, challenged the museum's contention that it was presenting the "facts" in the Enola Gay exhibit. He disputed the text of a plaque at the exhibit that states "the use of the bombs led to the immediate surrender of Japan and made unnecessary the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands."
Sherwin countered that the Japanese government was already suing for surrender. "It is spurious to assert as fact that obliterating Hiroshima in August obviated the need for an invasion in November," Sherwin wrote in a letter to the Smithsonian that he shared with the conference. The U.S. professor told the participants at the symposium that Washington dropped the A-bombs "to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the United States had a monopoly of the most powerful weapons ever invented."
Following Sherwin's presentation, Takeshi Ito also condemned Washington's nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, he added, Japan's war-time military regime shared responsibility for the bombings. They could not have occurred he said without "Japan's war of aggression," which not only attacked "Asian people but oppressed Japanese people as well."
Ito's comments reflect a debate that has sharpened recently in Japan over the Japanese government's harsh colonial policy toward Korea and China in the 1930s and '40s and whether or not the government today should apologize for the atrocities committed. One sign of this controversy is the recent additions to the Peace Museum that show the development of Japan's militarist and colonial policies and condemns such actions as the massacre of civilians in Nanking in 1937.
Later in the conference, Joseph Gerson, New England Program Coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee and author of the recently published With Hiroshima Eyes, agreed that President Harry Truman's decision to drop the A-bombs "was timed to end the Asia/Pacific bloodletting before the Soviet Union could share in the war's booty: Manchuria, northern China, Korea, and even Japan."
At one point Gerson charged that during the missile crisis in 1962, Cuban president Fidel Castro asked the Soviet government to strike the United States with atomic bombs if U.S. armed forces invaded Cuba. He referred to former Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev's memoirs and to a speech Castro allegedly made in 1992. Gerson's book, published this year, has an entire chapter on the missile crisis where he makes the same charge.
The Cuban representative participating in the commemorative activities here, Orlando Fundora López, vigorously refuted Gerson. Fundora López, who is president of the Cuban Movement for Peace and Sovereignty, said the charge "was not true. Neither Fidel nor anyone in the name of Cuba ever asked for such a thing. If Cuba were attacked - as indeed it was attacked - we would know how to defend ourselves. Nobody need have any doubts about this."
Following the symposium, annual gatherings of two long- time prominent antinuclear organizations, Gensuikyo and Gensuikin, were held in Hiroshima. The Gensuikin gathering began in Tokyo and was continued on August 4 in Hiroshima. It concluded on August 6 with a rally cosponsored by the national trade union federation, Rengo, of some 4,000 people.
The 41st World Conference Against A & H Bombs (Gensuikyo) met for three days in Hiroshima and drew sizable overseas delegations, including most of the people who had attended the earlier international symposium. The largest delegations outside of Japan came from France, Russia, and the United States. Some of the 22 other countries represented were New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines. Many of the same discussions from the earlier symposium were continued. Among the delegations from the United States were participants from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, War Resisters' League, Veterans for Peace, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Young Socialists.
The high point of this meeting and of a rally of some 10,000 on August 6 was the presentation by Vito Maamaatu from Tahiti who denounced the French government's announcement that it will resume nuclear testing in the Pacific. Maamaatu, representing the Polynesian Liberation Front, received a prolonged ovation after describing the mobilization of 15,000 people in the streets of Tahiti immediately following French president Jacques Chirac's June 13 announcement to resume testing.
The Polynesian leader said that French scientists in the military had issued a report claiming the projected tests were innocuous.
One of the running debates throughout both the symposium and the other conferences was how to assess the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreed to by 174 governments on May 11. Sheila Oakes from the National Peace Council in the United Kingdom argued that if it wasn't for the Non-Proliferation Treaty "there would be 35 to 40 nuclear weapons states in existence in the world today instead of the present 5 to 9. We cannot afford to dismantle the NPT before we have a better treaty."
A good many participants opposed this outlook. The Japan Association for A Nonnuclear Government, for example, issued a statement arguing that the treaty "has nothing to do with the elimination of nuclear weapons." The statement denounced the Japanese government for backing "U.S. nuclear strategy by taking the lead for the indefinite extension of the NPT."
Bob Miller, a member of the Socialist Workers Party and an auto assembly worker from New Jersey, told the meeting that the debate that has opened up in the United States on the Hiroshima bombing has made it easier to get a hearing from coworkers for the truth about why Washington dropped the bomb.
The delegation from the SWP participated in the conferences and issued greetings stating, "The real reason Washington bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to issue an arrogant warning to hundreds of millions of toilers throughout the world that the rest of the 20th Century would be an `American Century' dominated by U.S. imperialism. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," the statement said, "were guinea pigs for testing this new and terrible weapon, and they were fodder for Washington to signal its post-war objectives."
`Predatory war aims'
The SWP message said that the atrocities committed by both the U.S. and Japanese governments during the war flowed from the "predatory war aims" of the "capitalist rulers in both the United States and Japan."
`Predatory war aims'
The deepening economic crisis of capitalism, the SWP statement explained, is driving the capitalist rulers toward fascism and "a new predatory world war. In a third world war, the profiteers, as history has shown, will ruthlessly use the weapons in their arsenal and will not exclude the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons."
"Nuclear weapons," the SWP participants stated, "need to be banned, but the only way this can be accomplished once and for all is for working people to join forces internationally. This international solidarity is necessary for workers and farmers in each country to develop the broad social and political understanding and confidence to organize a revolutionary movement that can get rid of the political rule of the tiny capitalist minorities and disarm them, including of their nuclear weapons."
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