Bombs, shadows, bells

Remembering the ‘awful brutality’ of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Cathy Webster is president of the Board of Directors of the Chico Peace and Justice Center.

It has been 64 years—two generations—since the opening salvo of the age of nuclear weaponry: the atomic bombings by the United States of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II. There are those who firmly believe that those bombings ended the war, thus justifying the singular destruction of at least two major cities and 500,000 people. In our society many wish to forget that awful brutality, hiding in denial of what we may now very well repeat with exponentially higher technology.

Others, however, feel the need to remember such a catastrophic event in the hope of not repeating it. Every year groups and individuals around the world solemnly commemorate the anniversary. But, it is not just “remembering the event” that motivates commemoration. It is also the hope that creative, peaceful solutions will emerge for dealing with conflict and environmental vulnerability. Today the threat of nuclear war is great; the disposal of nuclear waste is problematic; the vicious health effects of nuclear testing encompass the globe.

Today (Aug. 6), you may notice chalk figures on streets and buildings around town.

When the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, and three days later over Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m., people within 300 meters of the hypocenters were instantly vaporized by the intense heat, leaving nothing behind but faint “shadows” on nearby walls, pavement, and other stone and concrete surfaces. Survivors traced these shadows with chalk, and the tracings have become a symbol for state terrorism and nuclear annihilation.

Today, decades later, we remember this devastation with the chilling thought that the atomic bomb was only the beginning of a way of war that threatens the continued existence of all life, property and geography. The chalk shadows are symbols of what we stand to lose—indeed, what we have lost—as a human family.

You may also hear the tolling of bells from bell towers, and the ringing of bells from the One-Mile bridge at 8:15 a.m., and again on Sunday at 11:02 a.m.

The Peace Center’s Hiroshima Photo Exhibit will be on display at Café Culture, 931 W. Fifth St., Chico, during the month of August. This exhibit is one of poems, essays, drawings and photographs by survivors of the bombings. Included is information about the bombs, the politics surrounding the decision to drop them, and the modern progeny of nuclear warfare. The exhibit is also part of a day of storytelling, videos, and other activities Saturday, Aug. 8, from 1-5 p.m.

I am hoping that the remembrance serves to inspire reflection and action toward peaceful means of relating one to another.