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Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Response to Critics

By Raymond G. Wilson
Emeritus Associate Professor of Physics, Illinois Wesleyan University

In 1959 my first teaching responsibilities in physics were in a school which had been the recipient of official U.S. Civil Defense radiation sources and detection equipment; "Teach the kids about protecting themselves in the event of a nuclear 'exchange' ." . . . Well, O.K.; but what was it like for people? All that had been mainly revealed by 1959 was what had happened to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki . . . and incidentally (it almost seemed) a lot of people died. But really, what had happened to people?

Well you might wonder why the US government, US industries and others in the ten years following 1945 would not want to reveal the truth about any nuclear dangers.

In Hiroshima Dr. Nobuo Kusano had apparently not surrendered to the US Occupation his photo evidence of what happened to people caught in this first nuclear war. So finally someone had the courage to report, and to report a great many details at a medical conference in Vienna just after the Occupation ended. I learned a great deal from that; it’s a teacher’s responsibility to know. Most people at that time did not know the truth because the Occupation not only confiscated such evidence but also placed severe restrictions about what the Japanese could reveal about the two nuclear catastrophes that had befallen them. I have spent eight summers of study in Hiroshima and Nagasaki so that I could get it right.

"I always had the sense that people in the Atomic Energy Commission were sorry we had dropped the bomb. The Air Force - it was also sorry. I was told by people in the Pentagon that they didn't want those [film] images out because they showed effects on man, woman and child...They didn't want the general public to know what their weapons had done -- at a time they were planning on more bomb tests. We didn't want the material out because ... we were sorry for our sins." -- Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the US military filmmakers in 1945-1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept watch on all of the top-secret material for decades.

I have spoken before a local Peace and Justice Coalition and published online and in newspapers about the truth of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki experiences. In such instances there is neither time nor space allowed for consideration of the “justification” of these first uses of weapons of mass destruction. To use such weapons now would be considered a crime against humanity, of course; they are worse than poison gas. It was a horrible way to end WWII. Criticism often arises due to my commentaries. It is easy to arouse; just use “Hiroshima” or “Nagasaki” in the title.
Critics seem to think I am embracing the former Japanese enemy, i.e., citizens of these two cities, as undeserving victims of a nuclear massacre, rather than embracing all our own heroic veterans who fought to bring that war to an end.

They are mistaken.

Every Memorial Day, every Pearl Harbor Day, every Anzio Beachhead Day, every Tarawa Invasion Day, all thoughts of battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, remind us of, the honors due those veterans, and the thousands of lives wasted.

But, in August of every year now, there would be no “Hiroshima Day,” there would be no “Nagasaki Day,” if nuclear weapons had not been used. That is the difference and critics seem not understand this. Or more likely and all the more regrettable, critics and perhaps many Americans do not wish to understand this. These were not military battles.

It is easy not to have understood. Schools and media have presented incorrect assumptions and conclusions about the nuclear weapons used against Japan; the Japan already defeated, trying to find a way to end the war. Even President G. W. Bush’s alma mater, Yale University, in its Avalon Project about the end of WWII, still reports the death toll at Hiroshima to be 66,000. Why? Is this what history student Bush might have learned at Yale? The Hiroshima death toll was more than 140,000.

The Yale Avalon Project also reports, “No casualties were suffered as a result of any persistent radioactivity of fission products of the bomb, or any induced radioactivity of objects near the explosion.” Wrong again, because we know that people who were not present when the bomb exploded but who worked in the rescue effort afterward, died of radiation induced leukemia a few years later or suffered “radiation sickness.”

One who really understood was Marine Sgt. Joe O’Donnell, photographer of Hiroshima and Nagasaki beginning in September 1945. He was the photographer of Sumiteru Taniguchi, he of the “red back”, who has now carried the atomic bomb on his skinless, scarred and eroded back for 63 years. In August, 1995 O’Donnell said,

“I believe it was wrong; morally wrong. Just as wrong as the holocaust. It was a crime not just against history but against humanity. I walked in the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and photographed the children, the women, the elderly, the mutilated and disfigured. The victims who suffered and died like no other people in the history of the world…We owe it to those who died to keep their memory alive…We cannot, we must not, let any one country become the victim or attacker again. No more Hiroshimas! No more Pearl Harbors! No more Nagasakis! No More! For Peace is the future and without peace there will be no future.”

What this former Marine with A-Bomb experience is saying is this: If we do not keep the memory of the first nuclear massacre alive, there is a much more likely chance that it will happen again. And we might say, especially likely if left to “deciders” whose wisdom and motives are highly questionable.

My critics might consider the deep meaning of this short tale:

An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me...It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too."

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied..."The one I feed."

In addition to teaching about nuclear war issues for 49 years, Professor Wilson has been a somewhat regular visiting scholar to a Hiroshima University which lost 352 women students and 20 faculty and staff on August 6, 1945. With Akiko Wilson he is co-director of the Hiroshima Panorama Project in the United States. Wilson guides a workshop at IWU, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki for College Teachers." Each May Term he teaches Physics 239, "Problems of Nuclear Disarmament." For more on Professor Wilson’s approach to solutions for peace, please refer to “Peace: A New Way of Thinking about Achieving and Preserving It,” at http://titan.iwu.edu/~rwilson/Peace.pdf.