August 6: a controversial anniversary

Mari Yamaguchi, “Urgency to bear witness grows for last Hiroshima victims.” Associated Press, August 4, 2020.

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At meeting on Sunday a Friend reminded us that even during the pandemic we should not forget that this week — today, in fact — marks the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima, the first use of an atomic bomb.

Easy to forget with so much going on.

The “mushroom cloud” pictures from Beirut may have reminded some of us.

Beirut suffered less than 20% of the force at Hiroshima.

Probably 140,000 died, and for many it was not lucky to survive.

Hiroshima birthed the specter of nuclear war and the nuclear arms race.

Some of you will have seen the gleaming Enola Gay, the formidable B-29 that dropped the bomb, at the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport.

A few of you will remember the controversy over the Enola Gay as the Smithsonian  mounted an exhibit to commemorate the end of World War II in 1995, 50 years ago.

“The Enola Gay Controversy” occasioned one of Prof Gadfly’s most powerful teaching experiences.

The question was “How do we remember a war that we won?”

Several of you will know the iconic flag pole on the lawn at the center of the Lehigh University’s lower campus near Packer Chapel.

If you stand beneath the American flag there and extend your imagination east to Vassi’s  at Rt. 78 in Hellertown, swing your imagination north to Wegman’s above Rt. 22, and continue to arc west and south, returning to Rt. 78, you will have an idea of the size of the densely packed urban space leveled by the Hiroshima bomb dropped from the Enola Gay, leveled except for one orphaned building.

Devastation then unimaginable.

The Smithsonian curator posed the dilemma well: “Do you want to do an exhibit intended to make veterans feel good, or do you want an exhibition that will lead our visitors to think about the consequences of the atomic bombing of Japan? Frankly, I don’t think we can do both.”

Gadfly has always loved good conversation.

That question can still start one.

It would be a good idea to remember Hiroshima today if only fleetingly.

One thought on “August 6: a controversial anniversary

  1. As our national leaders continue to expand nuclear weapons and expand the ‘Defense’ budget, this deserves far more than a fleeting thought. See if someone from LEPOCO could provide a more complete statement.

    For now, I’ll offer this poem written by Lisa J. Parker, then a sophomore at George Mason University:

    Nine

    Nine seconds

    of red air

    crashing through blood and bone
    melting gold caps and wire glasses.
    Twisting every bike for as far
a
    s you can see.

    If you can see.

    Burning flesh, driven by blind eyes
    into the relief of scalding water.

    Nine.

    Nine fingers on a newborn’s hands
    no thumb to suck for comfort
    Mother’s milk sour with radiation
    crying into ears burned deaf.
    Doctors who will never recover from
    what they’ve witnessed:

    Skin melted over empty eye sockets
    dangling from arms like a shedding
    dog with three legs.

    Nine.

    Nine suns on one spot of earth.

    A man coughing ashes

    gray and white bone flakes that whirled people apart on
    scorched wind.

    And we gag at Hitler’s crematorium?

    I was taught that Hiroshima

    was a symbol of American triumph,

    The A-bomb made a mushroom cloud, and

    World War II ended.

    There was no discussion.

    There were no pictures of people writhing in agony,
    mutated babies and eyeless witnesses.

    Only a black and white of the mushroom cloud
    reminding me of cotton candy.

    In college I learned

    Those who can not learn from the past

    are condemned to repeat it,
    and I’m wondering now why
someone taught me nine was just a number
    and the bomb was victory.

    © 1994 Lisa J. Parker and Echoes Magazine

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