Anniversary questions for today from the second atomic bombing

by Jonathan Frerichs last modified 24 August 2015 11:30 AM
Anniversary questions for today from the second atomic bombing

Women participating in a memorial ceremony in Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9 2015. © Paul Jeffrey.

10 August 2015

Nagasaki, 9 August 2015 — Why did “it” have to happen again?  Why was Nagasaki also bombed in August 1945?  Why was a weapon, which can kill an entire city, used against a second city? 

Even a lifetime later, the inhumanity of what happened to Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, is still so incomprehensibly strong that there is scarcely room in one’s heart to accept that it had also happened again.  Just three days later.  Why?

An air raid siren brings the question home.

Nagasaki’s annual memorial ceremony pauses solemnly each year, at 11:02 in the morning, the moment when the atomic bomb exploded.  This year some 7,000 people, including many descendants of those who died in 1945, fill the Peace Park built around ground zero. After a deep, massed silence, an air raid siren sounds.  The hushed crowd remains silent.  In that instant 70 years ago, 70,000 people much like them, and all of us, would die. 

We have all seen pictures of Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the bombings.  Many of us know the history and the various rationales for what was done.  But to come and see the evidence here is something more powerful.  What happened 70 years ago is brought to life by being where it happened and by what is happening now.

Terrible images of lives cut short are, if anything, more terrible to see when one is here.  The hibakusha’s* stories bring tears to many who hear them, including the seven church leaders from nuclear-dependent nations who are on the World Council of Churches Pilgrimage to Japan for the 70th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings.  The group spoke with Koko Kondo, who was one year old in August 1945. Her father, a Methodist pastor, dedicated his life to the survivors.  Yet for the first 40 years of her life, she said, she could not ask her parents how she had survived the bomb because it would be too painful for them to recall.  

A pilgrimage to the site of such a tragedy also brings one close to the everyday life going on now in the modern city which has risen from the ashes.  Kondo could not ask her own parents her burning question, but go out on the street after visiting Nagasaki’s Peace Museum.  It is as if each baby, each mother, each father and each family together are part of a pageant of normalcy and of healing.  Something has saved a third city from nuclear attack.

The memorial air raid siren sounds over Nagasaki and the enormity of what happened here floods the soul.  Space and time are not enough to separate us from the event, or the victims, or the need to finally ban the weapon used on them.

The WCC pilgrimage set out for Japan with three questions.  There and at home each of the church leaders can rightly ask:  Why is my country still willing to use such weapons against cities 70 years later?  Why is such a weapon still legal?  When will my government join the world majority of governments that have already joined a new pledge to fill that legal gap?

A 70th anniversary of an unsolved problem is surely a time for new action. After the commemorations, the WCC pilgrims in Nagasaki shared their experience and these questions on “live” Sunday morning BBC radio programs across the United Kingdom, a nuclear-armed country. 

Nagasaki’s A-bomb memorial ceremony, like Hiroshima’s, combines powerful symbolic actions with fervent calls for the goal that motivates the WCC pilgrimage to Hiroshima, Nagasaki and home.

To solemn music, the names of citizens who died in the past year from the effects of the bomb were placed in a memorial wall.  Nagasaki’s 70-year total is 168,767.

Children brought forward four large wooden buckets of water because here, as in Hiroshima, cries for water were heard all over the city amid the heat and fires caused by the atomic explosion. 

In his city’s annual appeal for peace, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue spoke to citizens and governments about remedial action.

“In Nagasaki the younger generation … are inheriting the hibakusha’s wish for peace and are taking action,” he told the crowd. “The power of civil society is the power to move governments, and to move the world.”

With Japan’s current prime minister in attendance, the mayor said, “For the sake of Nagasaki, and for the sake of all Japan, we must never change the peaceful principle that we renounce war.”  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is currently seeking to re-interpret Japan’s peace constitution to allow Japan to fight alongside its allies.  “Please explore national security measures which do not rely on nuclear deterrence,” Taue declared.

He called the international community to take the step that is the focus of the church leaders’ pilgrimage: “Debate a legal framework [to outlaw nuclear weapons] … at every opportunity including in the United Nations.”

Thanks be to God that nuclear weapons, which still exist in their thousands, have not been used in war since 1945.  Perhaps the first and the second use have given those who wield them enough good sense not to do so a third time. 

However, if it applies, that logic was not enough to protect Nagasaki.  If it applies, it is not enough to protect us all.  The only sure protection against nuclear weapons is what the hibakusha and billions of other human beings favor, namely, the abolition and elimination of all nuclear weapons.

When Nagasaki’s mayor finished his 70th anniversary plea, a flock of doves rose from behind the stage, circled the crowd like messengers of peace and flew away into a clear blue sky.

* Atomic-bomb survivors


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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