On August 6, 1945, an American aircraft dropped a uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people out of 350,000 residents instantly with its explosion, according to the city’s website.
Three days later, a second atomic bomb called “Fat Man” struck Nagasaki, home to 270,000 people, resulting in 70,000 deaths.
Seventy-five years later, Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors and anti-nuclear activists call on governments to eliminate “the most immoral weapon of mass destruction.” Over 160 activist organizations and experts participated in the livestream events called #stillhere to discuss the history and impact of nuclear weapons on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
“We can’t continue [having] nuclear weapons,” said Yasmeen Silva during a phone interview. Silvia is the partnerships manager at the anti-nuclear violence organization Beyond the Bomb, and she coordinated the event. She said she took an opportunity at the 75th anniversary because many activist organizations came together to raise awareness of nuclear weapons policy and pass down the stories of Hibakusha, people affected by the 1945 atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“We wanted to do everything we could to present the united fund as not only as nuclear nonproliferation community but also as citizens and as voters and as people who are tired of 75 years of nuclear violence,” said Anna Schumann, communications director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, who also helped to organize the event.
On the first day of the event, Nobuaki Hanaoka, a Nagasaki bombing survivor, declared, “Nuclear bombs make you suffer physically, mentally and socially for the rest of your life……as the most immoral weapon of mass destruction.” Before adding, “It has to be eliminated from the face of the earth.”
Currently, the nine countries − the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea − have over 13,400 nuclear warheads, according to the study published by the Federation of American Scientists. Japan is the only country ever to experience a nuclear attack yet has not signed the U.N.’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapon, which 50 nations have done.
Hanaoka, who was eight months old when the atomic bomb struck Nagasaki, said he had felt “survivors guilt” and repeatedly apologized to his dead mother and sister for being alive. “I always felt I was not supposed to be living,” said Hanaoka while remembering his childhood. “Why did the good people, like my mother and sister, have to die, and I, good for nothing, am still alive?”
“I was too young to remember what happened…But, I was there with my mother and grandfather,” said Masako Wada, another survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, at the event on August 9.
She read her mother’s journal, which provided detailed descriptions of the bombing’s aftermath. One passage read, “Everybody became numb to what was happening. What is human dignity? Should human beings be treated like that? We are not created to be burned like garbage.”
Wada, who was a year and ten months old at the time of the Nagasaki bombing, works as assistant secretary-general of Japan Confederation of A and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations to pass down the history of the bombing.
“……One of the biggest problems is that people just don’t understand nuclear weapons are still a problem,” said Cecili Thompson Williams, executive director at Beyond the Bomb, in a phone interview. “But once they do understand, they also don’t understand what to do about it.”
Williams added that livestream events like #stillhere and her organization’s activities allow people to discuss nuclear violence and be vocal without in-depth knowledge.
“The number one thing that our opposition in this fight, those who support more nuclearization, have succeeded is convincing us that this is a question that should only be discussed by experts and should only be discussed behind closed doors,” she said.
“If you care about the issue, you don’t have to be an expert,” said Silva, adding more people are realizing nuclear violence is intertwined with all other issues around the nation, such as climate change, reproductive justice, gun violence, and police brutality.
Passionate about social justice issues, she said hearing the stories from Hibakusha inspired her to pursue her career in the anti-nuclear movement. Today, she continues to organize events for the movement.
Hanaoka explained that many survivors have recently shared their experience and fought for Hibakusha rights after years of silence. “It was a hush-hush in my family,” he said. Survivors were fearful of being discriminated against if they spoke out. Many survivors were unlikely to get married or hired due to misinformation and misunderstandings about the effect of radiation.
Wada said she first hesitated to share her mother’s experience from the third-person perspective, but she felt compelled to talk to the next generations after realizing that many survivors are elderly. “She looked unsatisfied. The words couldn’t capture her experience of the hell on earth,” Wada declared while describing her mother’s conversation with her on the deathbed nine years ago.
According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s website, the average age of Hibakusha became 83 this year.
“We, younger Hibakusha, must continue their work and speak on their behalf,” she said.
Seventy-five years after the atomic bombings, Thompson Williams said many Americans still don’t know that the U.S. president has the sole authority to release a nuclear attack. Americans are often unaware that many are still suffering due to nuclear testing and atomic bombings in Japan. “There are victims of nuclear violence in our country and around the world, still suffering, still experiencing the impacts [on] health and economy of our nuclear testing and [atomic bombs] in Japan,” she said.
As of August 6, 2020, the death toll of Hibakusha exceeded 510,000, according to the cities’ websites.
“I personally don’t remember learning much about nuclear weapons when I was at school,” said Schumann. She added that she was informed in high school history class that the U.S. army had dropped atomic bombs to end the war.
Although history textbooks, popular movies, and novels describe the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing as necessary to end WWII, many U.S. government officials knew they were unnecessary. Gar Alperovitz, a prolific author and historian of nuclear weapons, has highlighted these facts throughout his writing. “The Hiroshima story strongly suggests the irresponsibility of the part of American leaders,” said Alperovitz, who is also a co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. This organization develops community wealth-building approaches to local and national democratic reconstruction. He said the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing were diplomatic weapons to control allied forces. In short, the war would have ended without the bombings.
Today, the number of nuclear warheads significantly declined by 57,000 since the Cold War throughout the world. However, according to the study published by the FAS, the U.S. has struggled to achieve former President Obama’s goal of achieving a nuclear-free world. Obama’s plan to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal was estimated to cost $348 billion from 2016 to 2024. The country would have spent $1 trillion over three decades. Moreover, the Trump Administration also revealed its plan to develop a new submarine-launched nuclear warhead. Trump also proposed $46 billion for nuclear weapons programs in the fiscal 2021 budget submitted in February.
“They are sinking money into something they don’t really need,” said Silva.
Williams agreed that the government could put nuclear weapons spending to other priorities such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Although nuclear weapons and foreign policy can be complicated and often seem untouchable, Schumann said people could push the anti-nuclear movement forward by educating themselves and helping others understand the issue.
“People are not powerless,” she said. “….You, just an average citizen, can do something about it.”