For more than 10 years, the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine has held a commemoration in Bangor to remember those who died 68 years ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the U.S. Armed Forces dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities.
We’ll never know how many died, but studies estimate that 60,000 to 90,000 died instantly in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and 40,000 died instantly in Nagasaki on Aug. 9. The total estimated death toll for both cities that year was about 200,000.
Every year, we remember the civilians who died, and we recommit to doing all that we can to make sure nuclear weapons are never used again.
Some suggest dropping the bombs was necessary to save more lives. But Admiral William D. Leahy, who served as chief of staff to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, disagreed. Using “this barbarous weapon … was of no material assistance in our war against Japan,” he wrote in his memoirs. “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.
“My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the dark ages,” he continued. “I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Allied commander in Europe during World War II, said of the Hiroshima bombing: “I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.”
Why should we reflect on the death and destruction caused by the only use of nuclear weapons 68 years ago?
Recently, President Barack Obama, while speaking in Berlin, said the U.S. would reduce the number of its deployed strategic nuclear warheads — currently 1,722 — by a third if Russia did the same. The president also called for reducing nuclear weapons in Europe.
“There is no ‘acceptable’ level of nuclear weapons that is consistent with the ultimate survival of civilization,” Robert Dodge, a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote in a recent essay.
Many of the world’s nations seem to agree.
South Africa recently issued a statement on the “Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons” on behalf of 74 nations that have signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not among this group.
“It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” the statement reads. “The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design cannot be adequately addressed.”
Not only do these weapons continue to pose a threat to the survival of humanity, they also drain dollars needed in our communities as we see the impact of federal cuts in education, health care and other needed services. According to the National Priorities Project, nuclear weapons and related spending would cost Maine taxpayers $56.28 million in 2014.
Last February, then-Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who was recently elected to the Senate, introduced the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act that would freeze, delay and cut funding for nuclear weapons and related programs, saving $100 billion over the next decade. The Friends Committee on National Legislation points out that just canceling one program, the B61 nuclear bomb refurbishment, would save $10 billion. We could save much more by cutting other oversized and unnecessary nuclear weapons programs in the federal Defense and Energy departments.
What can we, as individuals, do to continue to call for nuclear disarmament?
On Tuesday at noon at Peirce Park in Bangor, next to the Bangor Public Library, there will be a symbolic “die in.” Some will lie down to represent those who died. Others will stand silently as witnesses. Some will fold origami cranes in memory of Sadako, a young girl who died from the after-effects of the bombing. The ceremony will be followed by A Walk for Peaceful Priorities through downtown Bangor.
Join us as we remember the dead and recommit to the living by working for a nuclear-free future and budget priorities that promote life. We can promote life-affirming values that greatly increase real security nationally and in our Maine communities.
Ilze Petersons is part-time program coordinator for the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine. Doug Allen is the center’s education committee coordinator and professor of philosophy at the University of Maine.