On 6 August 1945 the first nuclear weapon destroyed Hiroshima. Amy Gilligan recalls travelling to Japan ten years ago to mark sixty years since the horror of the atomic bombs.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the devastation of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US. In 1945 two atomic bombs were dropped, three days apart on the 6 and 9 August. Some people died instantly – vapourised, leaving only shadows. Others died in the following hours and days. Some survived the immediate aftermath but in the years that have followed have died from the effects of the radiation.
Ten years ago, on the 60th anniversary of the bombings, I was fortunate enough to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki as part of the CND delegation to the the World Conference Against A and H bombs. While both cities have been rebuilt since 1945 it is impossible to visit them without coming across something that marks the bombings – be it the shells of buildings, memorials or meeting some of the Hibakusha, the people who survived the attacks.
One thing that made my visit to Japan especially memorable was staying with Junko, one of the Hibakusha. She was a wonderfully friendly and welcoming host. She was also an inspiring antinuclear campaigner. She was only 6 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and nearly all of her family were killed. She recounted how she had to use chopsticks to pick maggots out of the burns on her sister’s back. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to retell her story again and again, let alone have experienced it in the first place, but she felt she had to so as to make sure that the world knew the full horror of nuclear weapons. This was the case with all of the survivors we had the privilege of meeting.
There are many monuments that stand testament to the bombings in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and other cities in Japan. The Atomic Bomb Dome, the only building in central Hiroshima left standing after the blast, is one of the most iconic. Brightly coloured cranes, inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, adorn the memorial to the children that were killed. Each year lanterns are floated along the river in memory of those who jumped in after being burnt. It is a beautiful and moving sight. Growing up, along with other members of Rochdale and Littleborough Peace Group, we’d also floated lanterns every year on Hollingworth Lake, and so to be able to take part in this commemoration in Hiroshima was quite special.
I don’t think it would be possible to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum without being deeply moved. There are informative exhibits about the effect of radiation on the human body. There are scale models showing what Hiroshima looked like before and after the nuclear bomb was dropped. For me the most memorable piece was a lunch box. In it were the charred remains of rice that someone had prepared to eat on 6 August 1945. They never got to eat lunch that day.
For the 60th anniversary of the bombings the conference organisers had tried particularly to bring together young anti-nuclear activists from around the world. There were people from the US, Norway, Germany, Aotearoa/New Zealand, South Korea and a large group from Movement de la Paix in France. We met with school students and joined with Japanese young people in large rallies – over 3000 in Hiroshima and 1500 in Nagasaki – to call for a world without nuclear weapons.
In the UK at the moment the anti-nuclear movement is not one of the biggest, however in the anti-austerity movement CND have had a vibrant presence calling for Job, Homes, Climate, NHS not Trident. There are also many activists who continue to blockade the nuclear base at Faslane in Scotland and nuclear weapons factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield – their efforts should be supported. The success so far in the Labour leadership contest of Jeremy Corbyn, the vice-chair of CND, and the SNP’s strong anti-Trident stance mean that anti-nuclear politics have received more attention in recent months. Hopefully this will increase in the run-up to the debate about the renewal of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, and see a growth in the movement of those fighting for a nuclear-free world.