Remembering Hiroshima, fight nuclear weapons, power and capitalism

Remembering Hiroshima, fight nuclear weapons, power and capitalism


Kunal Chattopadhyay

Even if all the words about Hiroshima have been uttered, even if all the adjectives have been applied, it is not enough. For we have not yet removed the conditions that make Hiroshima and Nagasaki possible, even likely. It is right to remember Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on the 9th. But it is also necessary to remember the brutality of the imperialist war of which this was the culmination. When we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we should also remember the Shoa, the death camps of Auschwitz and the rest. Even if we take the minimalist definition and split hairs between “Concentration Camps” and “Extermination Camps”, we get the following figures for the Nazis. 

Camp                                   Estimated deaths
Auschwitz–Birkenau               1,100,000
Bełżec                                     600,000
Chełmno                                 320,000
Majdanek                                360,000
Maly Trostenets                         65,000
Sobibor                                   250,000
Treblinka                                 700,000–800,000

This however is not meant to relativize it and reduce its gravity. On that one day of bombing, the total destruction and suffering cost was so high that nothing we say about the bombing of Dresden or the sustained use of bombs and missiles on London can relativize that one day’s cost. But the reason I want to remind myself, and anyone else, of these other events, is that it is easy to slide into a form of pacifism that leaves untouched all the links between the Hiroshima incident and the violence of capitalist imperialism as a whole. 

This is rather like the debate we had in India at the time of the Gujarat pogroms, only multiplied a thousandfold. Then too, the debate was whether the pogroms should be viewed as being in the continuity of past riots, or whether it was something new. Of course it was radically new, being an openly fascist expression. But of course it had its roots in Hindu communalism more generally. 

One remembers 6 August 1998, when we organised a protest against the Indian (and the Pakistani) nuclear weapons. Ananda Bazar Patrika had been opposed to the nuclear tests, and had indeed allowed many of the anti-nuclear activists, such as Pradip Dutta, to write. But it was sharply critical of the demonstration itself, for our protests spilled over, quite easily, form anti-bomb or anti-nuclear to anti-war and anti-imperialist views and slogans and songs. It was really angry because protesters had sung Aaj Jato Yuddhabaaj (a militant anti-militarist song). 
So even if it has been told many times, it should be told repeastedly, until there is no more reason to tell it, because the world has ended the nuclear weapons industry, the nuclear power industry which is inextricably linked to the weapons making, and capitalism and imperialism the progenitors of this monstrosity.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used a massive atomic weapon against Hiroshima. This atomic bomb was equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. Some 80,000 people were killed instantly. The death swelled up to about 140,000+/- 10,000, of which around 20,000 were soldiers, by the end of December. There were 76,000 buildings in the city at the time and only 8% remained intact after the bomb explosion. The bomb affected an area of around 13 square kilometres and turned that into ruins. The important thing about this bomb was that not only did it carry a terrifying punch (20,000 tons of TNT) but also that it emitted neutron and gamma radiation, which covered a much larger area. All radiation, even low-level background radiation, can damage exposed parts of the human body. Scientists use the term "rem" to describe an amount of radiation to which a person is exposed. A millirem is 1/1000th of a rem. cases where the whole body is exposed to 100 rems at a very rapid rate, human cells might be damaged and lose the ability to function. At exposures greater than 100 rems, a person may suffer immediate radiation sickness. The symptoms are flu-like in nature: diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. At doses greater than 300 rems, the body's immune system could become permanently damaged. Fifty percent of the people exposed to doses greater than 400 rems at one time would die within 60 days if a doctor did not offer immediate treatment. A rem is one unit-measure of radiation to which a human body has been exposed. (Remember: rEm = radiation Exposed.) Rad (radiation absorbed dose) is the term used to describe the radiation that a body actually absorbs. 

If people are impacted by 150 to 1100 rad, severe blood changes will be noted and symptoms will appear immediately. By two weeks, some of those exposed may die. At 300-500 rad, up to half the people exposed will die within 30 days without intensive medical attention, and that is today, when we know much more about the effects as well as treatment. At the upper end of the dose range, a bone marrow transplant may be required to produce new blood cells. At Hiroshima people nearly 925 metres away from the epicentre were exposed to 700 rad. 

Those who survived the blasts described scenes of nearly unspeakable horror—civilians, mainly women and children, burnt so badly there could be no treatment; “walking dead” staggering through the streets in their last hours, their skin hanging like rags from their bodies; atomic shadows seared into the pavement where humans had stood. Tens of thousands more continued to die and suffer in the years and decades after the attacks. There was not even any semblance of effective medical attention, because over 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in Hiroshima were killed or injured—most had been in the downtown area which received the greatest damage.

And US imperialism has gone on mouthing its arguments. You could replace one president by another and not even feel the difference. Truman said, in unctuous tones, after Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, that

I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb... It is an awful responsibility which has come to us... We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.

This could as well be George Bush in one of his wars. 
The parallels are not drawn artificially. The Obama as qwell as the Bush administrations have fought aggressive imperialist wars. They have threatened both weak states and those stronger. In the case of Iran there have been repeated reports, beginning in 2006, that the US and Israel are contemplating the use of so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike against military targets. Late in 2008, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates—then still in the employ of the Bush administration—speaking before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace formally advocated the use of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

If the dead of Hiroshima do haunt our dreams, then we must not observe this day through token gestures, but by passing on the knowledge of the nuclear weapons and imperialism to the next generation, and by fighting against both.