Sixty years ago, on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, the world changed forever, with the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For the first time, human beings could end life on earth. The struggle to prevent this unimaginably destructive power from ever being used again, and finally to achieve complete nuclear disarmament, has been a constant theme in the history of the past six decades.
This 60th anniversary year has seen a worldwide upsurge of people’s movements demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons. Among them are the Mayors for Peace Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons, initiated by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought mayors from around the world to the United Nations for the massive May 1 “No Nukes! No Wars!” peace demonstration, and the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.
As part of the mayors’ campaign, over 1,000 cities worldwide have enrolled in Mayors for Peace. Mayors of 456 cities including at least 70 from the U.S. have so far signed the International Mayoral Statement, based on the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ resolution urging President Bush to support starting nuclear disarmament talks. Hundreds more cities worldwide are giving other support to the campaign to start talks this year and achieve complete disarmament by 2020.
Many commemorations are planned around the world on the August anniversaries (see box for some U.S. actions.)
Bush administration ups the ante
The United States has always led in development of new weapons and ways to deliver them. The failure of the U.S., with the largest, most sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the world, to take meaningful disarmament steps has set the stage for Britain, France, Russia, China and others to keep them as well.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the original Cold War pretext for the U.S. nuclear weapons build-up vanished. But contrary to the hopes of people around the world, the threat of nuclear annihilation has not receded as a result.
The Bush administration has broadened the circumstances under which it might use nuclear weapons. Its 2001 Nuclear Posture Review refers to using nuclear arms against “targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack,” “surprising military developments” and “unexpected contingencies.” It is seeking funds for a “robust nuclear earth penetrator” and new “mini-nukes.” An Energy Department task force urges a complete overhaul of nuclear weapons production facilities, to facilitate the design and production of new more flexible types of warheads, while the Air Force presses for a “Global Strike” capability to deliver conventional or nuclear weapons quickly to targets anywhere on earth.
A survivor’s story
Sixty years after the bombings, the aging survivors are speaking out. One is retired Prof. Satoru Konishi, assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations.
In the following passage translated by Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, Prof. Konishi tells what he saw as a 16-year-old, that day in Hiroshima:
“The sky was very clear. As we sat at our desks, a flash of lightning ran in front of our eyes, so bright as if a large number of flashbulbs set off at once. I felt strong heat on my head … A little later, a huge blast came with a roaring sound, and window panes fell all over the desks and were smashed into pieces. …
“On the next day I went into the city with two of my schoolmates. When I stood at the west end of the city, oh, the city was totally disappeared. … I could not realize the fact that no marks of the city were left to see…
“All of a sudden, I heard a voice saying, ‘Give me water!’ I looked and saw it, it was a face like a lump of tofu, so white, swollen and soft, with its eyes, nose and mouth getting out of shape. It looked totally different from a human face. I cannot remember what I did and saw after that. One thing is sure, that I went away without giving him some water.”
It is not surprising that Prof. Konishi, in an interview during the United For Peace and Justice National Assembly last February, called the U.S. use of the atomic bomb “the biggest crime against humanity” and said “the responsibility for nuclear abolition is on the U.S. government.” He warned against the Bush administration’s drive to develop “usable” nuclear weapons, saying another use of the bomb would be “the end of the world.”
Leaders of U.S. and international organizations emphasize the need for grassroots involvement of cities, organizations and individuals, and integrating nuclear disarmament issues with ending the war and occupation of Iraq and preventing other U.S. initiated wars of aggression.
“The way forward, in my view, is a massive mobilization of civil society at every level,” said Ibrahim Ramey, director of the disarmament program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). “The abolition of nuclear weapons has to become a major recurring and persistent demand of all sectors of civil society — religious, civic associations, labor unions, professional organizations,” he added.
“People in the U.S. need to recognize that the major impediment to nonproliferation and abolition has been the expansion of the nuclear reality by the U.S., including the tactical shift in the possibility of nuclear weapons that has now become part of the Bush administration’s war plan,” Ramey said.
He said nuclear arms cause great environmental disruption and pollution at every stage of their manufacture and transport, with indigenous peoples in the U.S. and around the world bearing most of the burden.
As an African American growing up in a highly militarized area, he said, “I know first-hand that production and management of nuclear weapons has always had a very serious effect on the health of poor people and people of color.”
The antiwar struggle including nuclear disarmament “needs to be more a working-class and people of color-led struggle,” he said. “We need to democratize the nature of the ‘peace movement’ and recognize the work for peace and justice that unions and other formations in our own community circles are doing.”
“In this past period the anti-nuclear-weapons movement has found new life and has reinvigorated itself” based on realization of the dangers and on the mayors’ campaign to ban nuclear weapons, said Alfred L. Marder, president of the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities. He pointed to the success of the mayors’ campaign around the world, the call by both houses of the Belgian legislature for U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to be removed from Europe and other disarmament measures, and the May 1 demonstration in New York City that integrated the demand to end the war in Iraq with the abolition of nuclear arms.
Marder called the May 1 demonstration a major milestone in awakening people to the danger of nuclear weapons. He believes a divestment campaign would be an effective way to build a grassroots citizens’ movement. “Especially in the U.S.,” he said, the peace and anti-nuclear-weapons movement should reach back in memory to the anti-apartheid movement” and the divestment campaign “which forced us to go to every institution in American life, and say take out the money we have invested — it forced us to knock on every door and create that outrage.”
‘Encourage negotiations’ about
the Korean peninsula
Responding to the Bush administration’s threats and refusal to honor past U.S. commitments, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has withdrawn from the NPT and announced it possesses nuclear weapons.
An organization with a special concern about the situation on the Korean peninsula is Young Koreans United, USA.
YKU President Cliff Lee said his organization believes it is urgent to encourage the U.S. government to always continue any negotiations, especially with the DPRK. Lee, who is on the Steering Committee of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), highlighted the importance of results of the six-party talks involving North and South Korea, the U.S., Russia, Japan and China, slated to resume July 25. “We hope both sides can come to an agreement regarding nuclear proliferation, especially on the Korean peninsula,” and establish a genuine dialogue, he said.
Though the organization has not made specific proposals pending the outcome of the six-party talks, he said, his own view is that “we need to bring the nuclear issue more to the local level, and involve local leaders” who can bring their concerns and influence to higher levels.
Nuclear abolition &
the antiwar movement
“I’m sorry to say that all signs point to a more entrenched U.S. nuclear policy,” said Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, member of UFPJ’s Steering Committee and head of its nuclear disarmament campaign. She called the administration’s talk of a new complex to build nuclear weapons far into the future “illegal, immoral, insane and self-destructive.”
The UN Development program calculates that $40 billion — the amount the U.S. spends annually on nuclear arms — would fund basic food, shelter, health care, clean water and sanitary sewer systems for everyone on earth, she said.
The U.S. must take the first step to disarm, Cabasso said. “I continue to think that incorporating a demand for global nuclear disarmament in the antiwar movement is the most promising way forward,” because the antiwar movement has momentum and a stated commitment to linking peace and justice movements and upholding civil rights and civil liberties. “Nuclear weapons are the ultimate form of violence, threatening all people everywhere. Their production and testing destroys the environment, subverts the economy, and undermines democracy,” she added.
“I am very moved right now by the hibakusha, who are increasingly concerned that nuclear weapons will be used again,” Cabasso said. “The signs are there – the U.S. relentlessly determined to fully integrate nuclear arms into its global war-fighting strategies, modernizing its weapons – all these things legitimize nuclear weapons and make their eventual use more likely.”
The hibakushas’ concerns inspired the mayors’ campaign’s “2020 vision” program to start disarmament talks this year and complete them by 2010, with all nuclear weapons dismantled by 2020, Cabasso said. “There is a lot of potential for people to get involved at the local level. The mayors have committed themselves to a 15-year program, which is long-term planning for progressives. I think the challenge for the rest of us is to commit ourselves to a 15-year plan.”
Some U.S. actions
on Aug. 6 & 9
Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab,
“Seeds of Change” – Celebrate the vision of a nuclear-free world with music, a dinner/rally and candlelight march.
Saturday, Aug. 6, 5:00 p.m.
William Payne Park, 5800 Patterson Pass Rd., Livermore
Car pools, BART shuttle available
Information: Tara Dorabji, Tri-Valley CAREs, email@example.com, (925) 443-7148,
Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab, New Mexico
“Hiroshima, 60 years: It started here – Let’s stop it here!” Teach-in, sunflower pageant, workshops, music, candle ritual, meditation and more.
Saturday, Aug. 6, 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Ashley Pond Park, Los Alamos
Information: Los Alamos Study Group,
(505) 265-1200, www.lasg.org
Nevada Test Site
“Many stories, one vision for a nuclear-free world” conference. Speakers and public witness including storytelling, nonviolence trainings, liturgy, music, performance, workshops and nonviolent direct action.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Nevada (Nuclear) Test Site
Information: Nevada Desert Experience, (702) 646-4814, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Y-12 National Security Complex,
“Stop the Bombs!” remembrance/names ceremony; peace march, rally and direct actions; and peace lantern ceremony.
Saturday, Aug. 6, all day
Information: Ralph Hutchison, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, (865) 483-8202, email@example.com, www.stopthebombs.org
Nationwide on August 9 : Remember the bombing of Nagasaki!
Candlelight vigils at city halls across the country. Also, readings, lantern lighting ceremonies and more. In support of Mayors for Peace, local groups are encouraged to invite their mayors to participate in the vigils and read out proclamations.
Contact: Jackie Cabasso, Western States
Legal Foundation, (510) 839-5877,