0845hrs, August 6th 1945. Around 27,000 primary and high school age children are at work in Hiroshima, carrying out building work. A massive white flash fills the sky, the likes of which the world has never seen in anger before, and the imposing mushroom-like cloud rises in the sky.
All living beings within one kilometre are dead almost instantly, suffering an agonising
final moment of bewilderment. Temperatures on the ground reach thousands of degrees celsius and buildings are razed to the ground effortlessly by the verocious power of the blast.
80,000 people were killed in the immediate blast. A staggering 90% of the city was obliterated.
Within three seconds an area within three kilometres of the hypocentre of the blast was around 40 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Yet one building, the Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall, survived because it was positioned 600m directly below the detonation point. The people within weren’t so lucky, all killed instantly.
That a tree at Hiroshima Castle survived is something of a miracle. The Japanese have a name for survivor trees, Hibakujumoku.
Those who were fortunate enough to be further from the hypocentre suffered agonising burns, frantically trying to help loved ones and searching for water to cool themselves and quench unbearable thirst.
Tens of thousands more would die horrifying deaths in the days, weeks, months and years that followed due to radiation exposure.
People are still dying today, prematurely, because of it.
These days the Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, often referred to as the ‘A Dome’ (Atomic Bomb Dome). Surrounding it, where the old business district of the city once lay, is a peace memorial garden and a large gong, which is said to emanate peace around the world each time it strikes.
There is an underground museum too, which showcases personal stories gathered from survivors in the years after the war when survivor memories were still relatively fresh. Sitting in a front of a small cinema screen is a moving experience, listening to first hand witness testimonies that vividly bring to life what can only be described as hell on earth.
The experience completely humanises war. Governments often seek to do the opposite to gather public support for it.
In my view the atomic blasts were atrocities (though I don’t blame the individual servicemen for being cogs in a wheel).
They were war crimes, in my view just as scandalous as genocide or the use of chemical or biological weapons to indiscriminately kill huge numbers of ordinary people.
In todays’ world the threat of nuclear war still hangs over us, perhaps at it’s worst since the Cuban Missle Crisis during the Cold War. The threat of nuclear war in Asia is gathering, with talk in South Korea – and, incredibly, even Japan – of building their own atomic bombs to defend themselves against the atomic bombs of the North Koreans, which in turn are built to defend themselves against American Imperialism in the region.
In my experience there are two sides to every story and the solution, invariably, lies somewhere in the middle.
In the West we don’t often pause to consider things from other points of view, but when we consider recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and an unpredictable Donald Trump in the White House it’s easy to see why Kim Jong-un is so concerned about “imperialism” and the need to defend his country. Take the example of Colonel Gadaffi in Libya, who was persuaded to give up his pursuit of nuclear weapons and then overthrown and executed by Western-backed rebel groups.
What people across the world – especially those in power – need to remember though is the first hand accounts of what happened in Hiroshima (and, of course, Nagasaki).
For whenever there is war the powerful elite, safely distanced in their fortified command centres, survive. It’s the ordinary man in the street, like you and I, that pays the unbearable price in terms of human suffering.
72 years after the first A-bomb was first dropped in anger, the radiation levels may have subsided, however paradoxically the fallout from the blast still retains the energy to educate, to shape minds and foreign policy, and to advocate world de-nuclearisation and peace.
That is the power of Hiroshima in the 21st century.