commentary (2005-32)

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We Need to Remember

Hiroshima’s anniversary and nuclear proliferation

What were you doing last Saturday night at 7:15? Maybe you were eating dinner with your family or just watching the tube. Maybe you were hanging out with your friends or riding your bike somewhere. That’s about what the civilians of Hiroshima were doing at that same time 60 years ago on Aug. 6, 1945—normal stuff. Only, in Japan it was 8:16 a.m., so people were doing morning things like getting ready for work and eating breakfast. Then, all of the sudden, life was turned upside down.

Eiji Nakanishi, a freelance journalist and peace activist from Hiroshima, described his experience as a hibakusha (a term for survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings) while he was in Knoxville for events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Last week, Nakanishi stayed at Ralph and Lisa McLeod’s South Knoxville home, which had turned into something of a hippie commune for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance’s Saturday protest against nuclear weapons proliferation. Volunteers of all ages cooked food, painted signs and put finishing touches on protest puppets. Surrounded by a room full of volunteers, two reporters and a translator, all sweaty from the August heat, Nakanishi retold the story he’d heard from his parents. He was only 3 at the time, and doesn’t remember much about that day.

Thin and spry at age 63, Nakanishi’s eyes crinkle and his gray whisker-fringed lips curl into a smile despite the sorrow in his story. No members of his immediate family were killed, but his house was demolished, and his family witnessed inhumane suffering. He spoke frankly about those that were burned alive or plagued by radiation-related illnesses for years to come.

Many people think the bombs dropped on Japan were justified and necessary to end World War II. And maybe that’s true. I’m no historian, and I’m not here to argue the past.Whether that action was right or wrong is not the point. The problem now is the ominous mushrooming of the world’s nuclear potential.

The powers that be in Washington seem to wallow in hypocrisy when it comes to “national security.” Y-12, the plant in Oak Ridge that built the first atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project during WWII, still churns out nuclear weapon components steadily, despite the fact that the national arsenal is already shockingly powerful. Plus, when we “disarm” other countries and relieve them of their nuclear weapons (that is, when we’re not just making up the fact that they have some so we can attack them), we keep them for ourselves in plants like these. You never know when those puppies are gonna come in handy.

And maybe there is something to be said for keeping up with the Joneses. I guess we need some bombs. But, we are the Joneses. Who says the Joneses can’t set a good, peaceful example once in a while?

What’s truly scary is that for all our padding the nation’s “security” with loads of nukes, who’s to say that terrorists aren’t going to target Oak Ridge next? Bushco doesn’t seem concerned about that. In their logic, if we just build more bombs, we’ll be OK.

As much hullabaloo as “national security” gets from the talking heads, it’s really just a smokescreen. Building bombs isn’t making us any safer, and it certainly isn’t making the world any safer. And we’re definitely not making any friends because of it.

Nakanishi points out that the most horrifying aspect of the atomic bomb is that it targets civilians and doesn’t discriminate in who it kills. Many who died probably didn’t even support the Japanese government and military actions, but the bomb didn’t ask them first, which essentially parallels dropping A-bombs with terrorism. The ironic thing about terrorist attacks is that the working hacks they kill are probably just as pissed off at Bush and Blair as the terrorists themselves.

Humans’ perception of reality can have a numbing effect. When we hear about Japanese civilians or even American soldiers in Iraq getting killed, it doesn’t phase us unless we knew the civilians or the soldiers. The reality doesn’t hit us unless it’s closer to home. But sitting in the same room with Nakanishi brought the reality of the bombings in Japan, though they were 60 years ago, into stark focus. He says he wanted to ask workers at Oak Ridge if they had seen the pictures of devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He guesses that they will say they are just trying to feed their families. But that’s the same goal of Japanese families, now and 60 years ago, says Nakanishi.

As we filed out of the room, an OREPA volunteer noted that 15 minutes later would mark the exact time of day that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.As I exited the house, the gang of volunteers sat down to a big family-style dinner, noisily digging in and passing around bowls of food. Driving north on Chapman Highway, moms and dads hurried home from work. In 15 minutes, I would be sitting on a friend’s porch, celebrating a birthday, relishing the drenching August air.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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