With the 61st anniversary of the United States bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan coming up on 6 and 9 August, John Maynard of Wellington Catholic Peacemakers remembers seeing the devastation of Nagasaki city more than 50 years after the bombing.
It is a shocking experience to read the sign in front of the fountain in the Peace Park in Nagasaki city, Japan. The sign explains that the fountain was built as a memorial to the thousands of innocent civilians who were deeply burned and died crying and groaning for water.
The battered and twisted clock in the nearby Nagasaki museum is stuck on 11.02, the moment on 9 August 1945 that over 73,000 civilians died when a United States military aircraft happened upon a small gap in the clouds and dropped a nuclear bomb on the centre of Nagasaki city.
Another 73,000 suffered painful deaths in the following days, weeks, months – and years. The bomb landed 500 metres from the Catholic cathedral in Nagasaki, causing severe damage to the building.
My Japanese host in 1999, a colleague in an international workers’ network, had particularly wanted me to visit Nagasaki with its strong Catholic influence which followed Francisco Xavier’s arrival in Japan in 1549. My host also wanted me to see the striking similarities of the beauty of the hills and harbours of Wellington and Nagasaki.
A lasting impression I have of the Japanese workers and their families I met at that time was their passionate opposition to war – not only war waged by other countries against Japan, but their strong opposition to wars waged by the Japanese military against neighbouring countries.
The Japanese people do not want to again be either military oppressor or civilian victims.
But 60 years later civilians continue to die slowly and painfully from burns suffered from aerial bombing – this time in Iraq. Civilians died painful deaths from being exposed to white phosphorus during US military bombing raids in the October 2004 siege of Fallujah.
After the Wellington Catholic Peacemakers delegation raised this issue with the US Ambassador [see Wel-com June 2006], we received a letter claiming that phosphorus bombs are not chemical weapons but incendiary devices, and that civilians are not their intended targets.
We do not believe that the seriously burned children pictured on BBC news and other media sources will particularly care about such distinctions. Civilians in Iraq continue to die in very large numbers – estimates range from 30,000 to over 100,000 in four years. The weapons may be more ‘hi-tech’ but the indiscriminate killing is no less brutal.
A few years ago we saw BBC news pictures of an anguished father on the morning after a family wedding in Afghanistan standing in front of the bombed out home of his newly married son and daughter-in-law. Their bodies lay buried in the rubble behind him, along with other wedding guests.
The custom of the locals of firing a few rifle shots into the air to celebrate a wedding had brought a bombing raid from a multi-billion dollar war machine.
‘Why do the Americans hate us so much?’ the old man wailed.
So today as the US wages its war on its latest ‘enemy’ in the so-called ‘war on terror’, we approach the remembrance days for the Japanese atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima on 6 August, and Nagasaki on 9 August.
For me, standing at the Peace Fountain in Nagasaki must not only have been in respect to the memory to those civilians who suffered from a military attack in 1945; it must also be a challenge to action against the US military coalition campaign which is torturing, maiming and killing the people of Iraq today.