Adrian Glamorgan, Western Australia Regional Meeting


Adrian Glamorgan

Adrian Glamorgan

It takes only minutes for an atomic bomb to plummet to earth. But for that to happen, first years of premeditated human ingenuity must play their part. Leading scientists will have invested their clever insights and secret diagrams; countries will have diverted untold wealth into hidden caves; logistics will have calculated thousands of prospective deaths.

As the bomb drops towards the city below, sophisticated mathematics determines the timing of a small explosion inside the casing. Neutrons then collide with neutrons. In less than a moment a temperature hotter than the sun sears outwards, burning to thousands of degrees, instantly destroying the land area beneath, scything tens of thousands of human casualties, marking out a mushroom cloud reaching upwards to the sky, irradiating across country and continents, and later, passing down generations.

Two terrible mushroom clouds started this way in 1945, and their shadows have darkened the decades that followed. The threat of these mushroom clouds shaped Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) strategies, threatening to engulf all of humanity in a conflagration of ten thousand burned cities and a prolonged global nuclear winter of failed harvests and ailing populations. But the end of the Cold War ideological struggle did not diminish the threat; it only made it less visible. Instead, the need to outlaw these nuclear weapons has grown, for us to limit any proliferation and accidental genocide.

It is easy, though, for memories of nuclear war to recede; for the sheer impact of a single bomb on a city to be shrugged off as a distant memory; and the supposed national prestige of nuclear weapons to override their essential threat to humanity. That is one reason why we chose to go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the 68th commemoration of the bombing. We wanted to meet atomic bomb survivors – hibakusha – and learn from their stories. We planned to share what we learned for our Beyond Nuclear War and Radioactive Peace community radio series. We wanted to extend the story about Australian uranium, its impact on Aboriginal people, and the ongoing damage at Fukushima to the wider nuclear weapons cycle in which Australian uranium may be inadvertently – or covertly – playing a part.

In 1945 Hiroshima was picked as prime target. On the 6th August the Boeing B-29 Enola Gay flew directly over the port. “Little Boy”, a uranium-gun activated bomb, exploded 560 metres above, just 160 metres from the T-shaped targeted Aioi Bridge. Seventy thousand people died instantly. Two-thirds of the city buildings were rendered unuseable. There seemed nothing but death, in all directions: all pregnant women in the immediate area had miscarriages; up to 2 km away they suffered miscarriages or soon gave birth to premature infants who died. Parents, teachers and doctors stood bewildered as burned students begged to be killed on the spot. It was an inferno made from the best scientific minds.

Instead of thus ending the war, news of the bomb prompted an extension of battle: the Soviets invaded Manchuria.

The next bomb, Fat Man, was due to be dropped on 11 August, but General Groves decided to go earlier, to catch good weather. So he ordered the captain of Bockscar, a B-29 bomber, to set course on the 9 August, with the preferred target in mind: Kokura. But the major munitions city of 168,000 was obscured by remnant smoke from US raids on Yawata. After three failed runs, the plane diverted to the only secondary target in range, Nagasaki. The death of tens of thousands can be an arbitrary, even accidental, event. On arrival, clouds obscured that port. With limited fuel left on board, and keen to see the job done, the captain spotted a gap and some buildings below – and ordered the bomb away.

The bomb missed its target, the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works, by a few kilometres. Instead, the plutonium bomb exploded further north, above the district with all the city’s hospitals, and most of Nagasaki’s schools, obliterating all; two thirds of the first substantial Catholic enclave in Japan was wiped out. The temperature was estimated to be 3900o Celsius, and the winds 1000 km/hr, pushed destruction along a valley’s contours. It was Dante’s Inferno.

In August 2013 we were there in Nagasaki, walking past the noodle houses of a narrow street. An old man suddenly stopped us, directly sharing stories about his father, a doctor who was called out the day the bomb destroyed this city. It is hard to imagine the horror that his father faced, so courageously, and ultimately fatally. The bomb is a menace to civilians, a potential crime against humanity that must never be underestimated.

Since the war, Hiroshima has oriented itself to the world. Successive Mayors have reached out: ground zero itself has been turned into a global museum and garden dedicated to peace. We attended the Mayors for Peace international conference near ground zero, representing the Mayor of Fremantle and became determined to play a role in helping revitalise the movement in Australia. We were strengthened by stories from those who survived the atomic blast, hearing how they had been shunned by the rest of Japan until they had finally spoken out in their seventies. We heard links being made with Fukushima, and the similar medical collusion and obfuscation that was preventing full recovery.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall

Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall

Nagasaki, the less well-known city, is a different modern experience of reflection altogether. The Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, next to their Peace Museum, makes for an extraordinary inward journey. At night, 70 000 optic lights illuminate the water, beneath which is a subterranean space, a Remembrance Hall where water drips and falls and pours to salve the memory of nuclear victims who in 1945 pleaded for water to relieve their burned bodies for a moment. On a wall, photographs of each person who died from harm done that day light up a screen, one after another, scrolling through many hours.

As in Hiroshima, this Hall functions as a place “to pray for those died after exposure to the atomic bombings, and to encourage people to contemplate peace.” We felt the inward contemplative dimension most strongly manifested for us in Nagasaki. Only later did we hear an adage, from the 1950s, that “Hiroshima rages, and Nagasaki prays.”

Both faith as well as action will be needed to stop nuclear weapons.

As Quakers, we might dare to envision for the world a time beyond enslavement to the ideology of nuclear threat; yet, at the same time, we might experience the despair faces us, through the enormity of the task. If so, it could be a reminder to trust in the love that passes understanding, while calling up the best of what it means for each of us to be human.

Current talks to honour the declared promises in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to pursue ultimate nuclear weapons abolition, have been resisted by the current Australian government. So, then, must we turn to the cities that could one day come under attack. As Friends, we can speak to our local Mayors and ask them to join the movement to free civilians of the threat of nuclear attack by joining, or becoming active in, Mayors for Peace. On September 22nd this year there will be a regional meeting of Mayors for Peace in Fremantle: it would be wonderful if you could suggest to your local council they send a representative to attend!

Our spiritual life deepened in response to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What does love require of us? Nuclear weapons must be dismantled, and the ingenious thinking behind them seen for the error in love that they are.

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