VOX POPULI: Where We Are — 75 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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Genbaku (Atomic Bomb) Dome in Hiroshima, the remnants of a building that was gutted by the blast in 1945.

By ARLENE INOUYE

Aug. 6 and 9 marked 75 years since the U.S. dropped the first atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number killed is an estimated 100,000 in Hiroshima and 75,000 in Nagasaki with three, four, five generations all living today with this trauma and the human cost of atomic war on their physical, social, psychological, and economic health.

In addition to the Japanese, we often don’t realize that there were people living in Japan from Korea, China, Indochina who were brought there because of Japan’s imperialistic military aggression. Today there are over 13,410 nuclear warheads worldwide and counting.

This year, I view this horror with a larger frame. I thank Tsukuru Fors and the sponsoring organizations of PANA and Pacific Asian Nuclear-Free Peace Alliance for planning a commemoration on Aug. 8 that interconnects these issues and people.

Because the bombing on a people is not a single event in the past, it is the present and future. Today we are in more danger of a nuclear war, and as Noam Chomsky and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reminds us from the perspective of the world clock, we are 100 seconds to midnight from nuclear war and the annihilation of the planet. We have never been in more danger than now.

Participants in Hiroshima rally for peace, August 2008.

But it’s more than that, because climate change coupled with nuclear waste heightens the danger for people living in the Marshall Islands. With rising waters, their islands are sinking, while they live with radioactive waste hastily buried and covered by a cement dome. They know the clock is ticking and they will need to leave their beloved homeland again.

The U.S. military in 1945 asked them to do God’s will and sacrifice their islands to test nuclear bombs — 1.6 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. They were uprooted from their land, which is now in danger from climate change. They are speaking out, but are we listening?

This 75th anniversary also made visible the people who have been erased from history. People in the Congo from Shinkolobwe since 1915 who with their own hands collected the uranium rocks from the mines to make the atomic bombs. Can you imagine the radiation inflicted upon them without their knowledge? Their lives were sacrificed to cause more suffering for others.

It is also revealing that the CIA and U.S. government were linked to the execution of Patrice Lumumba the first democratically elected prime minister, to keep America’s stake of resources (i.e. uranium). Lumumba leaves a legacy of national unity and independence, and the struggle continues.

The Navajo Nation has also experienced decades of contamination with the uranium boom from the 1950s-80s on their reservations that led to New Mexico being the first place where these bombs where tested. The danger of the uranium on this sacred land continues to contaminate, with present legislation currently proposed to try to stop the dumping in New Mexico and Texas (Nuclear Issues Study Group in Albuquerque). They ask us to remember Churchrock — the largest spill of 90 million gallons of nuclear waste on indigenous lands in Arizona on July 16, 1945. But the impact of the radiation continues today.

Michiko Kato (1970-2020), pictured with Tsukuru Fors, was a Fukushima survivor who spoke at Hiroshima-Nagasaki commemorations in Little Tokyo.

For us in California, we can’t ignore Diablo Canyon and the threat of an earthquake or any other physical catastrophe on this nuclear power plant that will wipe out Southern California. And we remember Kazakhstan, where the most uranium deposits are found along with Australia and Canada.

And for me this is personal. In addition to visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima over ten years ago, and participating in the rally and commemoration of the 63rd anniversary of the bombing, I also visited Fukushima around five years ago to specifically understand the devastation from the tsunami that took place on March 11, 2011.

I heard about the high increase of thyroid cancer in children, which keeps increasing (in 2018 it was up to 47% of the children) and I saw the devastation and heard the pain expressed by the parents and educators in Fukushima. And yet Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese government wanted to pretend that the disaster never happened or is something of the past.

The event ended with a dedication to Michiko Kato, a mother with a young child who immigrated to the U.S. as an activist to dedicate her life to speaking out about Fukushima and nuclear radiation. She was with the Pacific Asian Nuclear-Free Peace Alliance and contracted ovarian cancer in 2013. She died this past year, and this event was a tribute to her life. I had the good fortune of meeting her, and speaking together at an event.

We cannot undo the past, we cannot bring back lives. But we can do something about the present and future. The clock is ticking.

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Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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