On 6th August 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. While on holiday in Japan, I visited the Peace Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima. It was a very moving experience.
As we alighted from the tram at the entrance to the Peace Park, we were immediately confronted by the building now known as the A-bomb Dome - after the busy modern city a startling image. It was one of the few structures within a 3km radius that remained standing after the blast, despite being almost at the hypocentre. The people of Hiroshima decided to maintain it in its distressed state, as a historical witness of the city's suffering.
Near the Dome is the rebuilt Aioi Bridge. The original T-shaped bridge, the apparent target of the A-bomb, was subjected to a blast pressure estimated as 15 times greater than normal, causing it to thrash like a leaf-spring being snapped back and forth with the slab floor up in the air. However, it did not collapse and, when repaired, the bridge was usable for another 35 years.
In the centre of the park is the Memorial Cenotaph, embodying the hope that Hiroshima will stand forever as a city of peace. The stone chamber in the centre contains the register of deceased A-bomb victims. An inscription on the front panel offers a prayer for the peaceful repose of the victims and a pledge on behalf of all humanity never to repeat the evil of war. Through the arch can be seen the Flame of Peace, which is to be extinguished when all nuclear weapons on earth are destroyed.
One of the striking features in the park is the Children's Peace Monument, built by schoolfriends of Sasaki Sadako, who died aged 12 of leukaemia, ten years after the dropping of the atomic bomb. On top of the monument is depicted a girl holding a giant origami crane, symbol of health & longevity. On her sick bed Sasaki folded paper cranes, in the hope that if she reached 1000 cranes she would be cured (as time went on she made smaller cranes, sometimes folded with the aid of a needle, and some of these are displayed in the museum). Sasaki's classmates continued making cranes after she died. Now cranes are brought by children from all over Japan and other parts of the world, some of which are displayed in cabinets around the monument..
There are numerous other memorials in the Peace Park, including the Memorial to the Workers; the Bell of Peace, dedicated 'as a symbol of the aspiration that all nuclear arms and wars be gone, and the nations live in true peace'; the Memorial Mound, containing the ashes of thousands of the victims of Hiroshima; the Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the Bomb, who died anonymously - Korea was then a Japanese colony, and in 1945 there were about 100,000 Koreans living in Hiroshima as soldiers, civilian employees, army, mobilised students and ordinary citizens. Of the 200,000 inhabitants of Hiroshima lost to the bomb, about 10% were Korean.
The Museum is in two sections, both excellently presented. The first part displays some history of Japan and the evidence of the planning and decisions made by the western powers, which led up to the dropping of the bomb. It presents the information in an unbiased and factual way, and does not go into the politics of the war itself. There are minutes of meetings at which discussion of possible targets for the Bomb took place. A large urban location, which had not already been ravaged by bombing, was desirable so that the effects of the blast could be observed and measured (there was more interest in testing the weapon than ending the war). Several cities were identified as being suitable targets and conventional bombing of these locations was avoided in the months before the eventual dropping of the A-bomb. In the end it was timed to stop the Soviet Union entering Japan. When the official Bombing Order was made on 25th July it was "as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki". Hiroshima was chosen because it was a military town, but there were no Allied POWs being held in the vicinity.
In the second part of the museum are models of the city before and after the Bomb, articles belonging to victims (including watches showing the time - 8:15, when the bomb went off), photographs and pieces of masonry showing the effects of the bomb. Particularly poignant are pieces of clothing, items from lunch boxes, etc belonging to school students who were being employed on building demolition work in the city (many buildings were demolished so that fire breaks could be created, as a precaution against the effects of anticipated fire bombing). There are also drawings and accounts by children who survived, and videos showing survivors telling their stories about 40(?) years on.
The worldwide 'Mayors for Peace' is actively campaigning to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2020. On 6th August every year the Mayor of Hiroshima delivers a Peace Declaration. In 2008 Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said in his declaration:
"We who seek the abolition of nuclear weapons are the majority. 190 states have ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 113 countries and regions have signed nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. Last year, 170 countries voted in favour of Japan's UN resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Only three countries, the US among them, opposed this resolution. We do hope that the president of the United States elected this November will listen conscientiously to the majority, for whom the top priority is human survival. .......Mayors for Peace, now with 2,368 city members worldwide, proposed in April of this year a Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol to supplement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This Protocol calls for an immediate halt to all efforts, including by nuclear-weapon states, to obtain or deploy nuclear weapons, with a legal ban on all acquisition or use to follow by 2015. Thus, it draws a concrete road map to a nuclear-weapon-free world."
The Museum has an outstandingly good website: http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/index_e2.html
Roosevelt, following the best American ideal, was strongly opposed to the French recolonisation of Vietnam after the war. He wanted a transition to self-government, overseen by the United Nations. The idea that the Vietnamese might be left alone to organise their own future does not appear to have been considered, even by Roosevelt. The responsibility to set Asians on the right path was still felt to be the white man's burden. But Roosevelt died before the war's end, and history changed course. With American opposition withdrawn, the French forces set sail in US ships, some in uniforms of US issue and carrying US weapons, and began the process of setting up French administration in Vietnam.
They encountered fierce opposition. Before the arrival of the French, the Viet-Minh, a coalition of groups with nationalist aspirations, had already announced the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. From the beginning voices predicted that France's war against an elusive, guerrilla foe was unwinnable. The French commander, General Leclerc, surveyed the situation, noted the power of the nationalist movement and reported back to his political masters, 'It would take 500,000 men to do it, and even then it could not be done'. In view of what happened over the next decades, his original assessment proved remarkably accurate.
In America events in Vietnam were seen though the lens of the Cold War. This was the time of the communist victory in China, of extended Soviet control in Eastern Europe. In 1948 the USSR absorbed Czechoslovakia. In 1949 NATO was formed, and USSR exploded its first atomic bomb. In 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy announced his list of communist infiltrators, and for the next four years provoked anti-communist hysteria in America. In May 1950 president Truman announced the first grant of $10 million of military aid to France, who were seen to be holding the line against the commies. With USSR and China recognising Ho Chi Minh's government in the north, and the West, including US, recognising the puppet Bao Dai government as legitimate rulers of 'independent' Vietnam, the scene was set for the tragedy that followed.
From the outset US military chiefs warned that 'Once United States forces and prestige have been committed, disengagement will not be possible short of victory'. This fear of loss of face was to be a powerful spur to continuing the war, against advice from experts sent to assess the situation on the ground, and even when opportunities came to disengage. The CIA warned that 'Even if the United States defeated the Viet Minh field forces, guerrilla action could be continued indefinitely'.
French forces were having a hard time against just such an adversary, and French public opinion against the long and costly war was growing. Political pressure for a negotiated settlement mounted. US aid to the French increased. In three years, 350 shiploads of arms had been delivered, in addition to financial aid, all to no avail. Then came the terminal catastrophe of Bien Dien Phu. 12,000 French troops had been sent to fortify this northern city, situated in an area controlled by Viet-Minh, who were able to cut off French supply lines and destroy the airstrip . The action culminated in a comprehensive defeat that effectively ended their war. 50,000 French troops had been killed, 100,000 wounded. Even so, when Dien Bien Phu forced the French to admit defeat after six long, costly years, the US Executive decided to step into the breach, against advice of their own experts.
Why was this? Though the military assessment was dire, the US Executive, behind closed doors, decided that politics must overrule everything else. US ground forces were stealthily committed, and the war in Vietnam, costly to even the huge US treasury, and morally even more so to US standing in the world, which was to end twenty years later in ignominious defeat, commenced.
On June 30th a small ferry, carrying 21 unarmed civilians and a small amount of humanitarian aid, was forcibly boarded by armed Israeli commandos as it sailed towards the partially destroyed seaport of Gaza city, in the besieged Gaza Strip. The boat, the Spirit of Humanity, was in international waters at the time it was taken. Through the night prior to the boarding, the boat had been sailing only by compass after its navigational systems had been jammed by Israeli war ships which had surrounded and trailed the boat. The Navy also threatened to fire on those on board. Following the boarding, in which the Al Jazeera journalists on board had their cameras taken, and in which at least one passenger was assaulted, the boat, its cargo and the 21 were forcibly taken to Israel, where they were then charged with illegally entering the country.
The voyage was the latest attempt by the international Free Gaza movement to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip (on December 30th, their boat the Dignity was rammed in international waters, on its way to deliver emergency medical supplies to Gaza). Amongst those on board was Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire, former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney from Georgia and award winning British film maker Ishmahil Blagrove. Six of those on board were British, and after almost a week in Israeli custody the six were deported to Britain.
The abduction in international waters reveals Israeli determination to enforce its illegal blockade, and to prevent any attempt by human rights workers to travel to Gaza. International governments, including the British Government, have maintained silence over Israeli actions.
Further information: www.freegaza.org
The London Guantánamo Campaign and Cageprisoners held a public meeting on Saturday 11th July, at the Battersea Arts Centre, to raise awareness about Shaker Aamer, a 42 year old Saudi national with a British family, including a 7 year old son he has never met, who is one of two remaining British residents held at Guantánamo Bay. The other is Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian asylum seeker from Bournemouth. Neither man has ever been charged or tried, nor are there any plans to bring them before a military or civilian court. The British government sought the return of Mr. Aamer in August 2007 along with four other residents, all of whom have since returned to the UK, but the government now claims that assurances sought by the US government as to his treatment - restrictions on his freedom of movement, etc. - are hindering his return.
The meeting was attended by nearly one hundred people. All speakers urged the audience to demand the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha to the UK, as well as calling on MPs to seek answers from the Foreign Office and not let the issue fall out of the public eye. At the meeting, sixty five people signed a letter to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and a local resident agreed to coordinate local groups and individuals who would be interested in forming a deputation to meet him, if possible before the end of the parliamentary session. Noel has written to David Miliband on behalf of KPC, seeking the very early release and return to Britain of Shaker Aamer.
We should like to thank Maggie Rees for all her hard work in raising the magnificent sum of £616 for Kingston Peace Council by holding 2 garage sales in May and organising the KPC stalls at the Ham Fair on 13th June and New Malden on 11th July. Without her sterling efforts we would be struggling to maintain the level of campaigning that we carry out. Our thanks go also to Andrew Keene and KPC members who helped at these events and provided bric-a-brac etc.
In spite of earning this very welcome income, we do still need your subscriptions, so if yours is overdue (look at the address label on your newsletter - the code at the top shows the year and month that you are paid up to, so 200905 means that your membership expired at the end of May 2009), please send a cheque to the treasurer (details on contacts page).
Dorothy Bridgeland left £500 to KPC/CND in her will "to further the cause of peace". At the KPC meeting we discussed how we might spend the money to fulfil Dorothy's wishes. A number of suggestions were made including: a peace bench (outside the Guildhall where Dorothy worked for many years?), a cherry tree (in Canbury Gardens?), a special speaker(s), a portable exhibition stand, and a Schools competition with a shield awarded each year. Do you have any suggestions as to how we should spend this money? If so, please contact Hilary (details on contacts page).
If you would like to receive email copies of the minutes of the monthly meetings, contact Hilary. If you would like to receive this newsletter by email, thus saving the cost of printing and postage, contact Gill.
A letter about the UN Day of Peace, on 21 September, went out to all primary and secondary schools in Kingston and Richmond in April this year. We suggested schools consider marking the day and offered to come and talk to teachers, and perhaps run an assembly or provide resources.
Last year we also wrote to schools, but following our conference we were able to add endorsement letters from the local MPs. Four schools that we know of organised events last year. We decided to write to schools again this year, after some discussion, because the general feeling was that at least this raises the issue of peace and reminds schools of the resources available.
We haven't had any responses so far this year which is a pity so I am now contacting senior educational advisers at Kingston Council to see if we could meet teachers' groups next term and get citizenship teachers involved. Some publicity in the local press is being planned for the start of next term. Ideas would be welcome.
Everyone agreed last year's Peace Day stall in Kingston Market was a brilliant success thanks to Fiona, Hilary, and Maggie and lots of paper cranes and doves. Plans are already afoot for something equally inspiring on Saturday 19 September.
CND Annual Conference will be held on 10-11th October 2009 at Mary Ward House, Tavistock Place, London. The whole of the first day will be taken up with an international conference on the 2010 NPT Review Conference and how we can be effective in making an impact at this crucial time. The AGM will be held on the Sunday morning and will include elections for officers and directly elected council members, and the review of campaigning activities and finances. The AGM will be followed by Conference, including a strategy debate and ordinary resolutions.
Info from the CND web site.
Jim McCluskey suggested the following motion for submission to Conference by KPC/CND. This was discussed and accepted at our July meeting and has, together with its introduction, been forwarded to CND:
There has never been a better time to push for a nuclear free world. Powerful forces are stirring that could remove the nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over us all. They include The New Agenda Coalition, The Middle Powers Initiative, The Nuclear Security Project and Global Zero. The time is right for all of these forces to amalgamate under an overarching body so that they act as a single unit and overwhelm the dwindling resistance to abolition.
The Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons, already exists and has been lodged with the United Nations. This treaty includes a framework for the practical running down to zero of existing nuclear arsenals. It also covers the issues of verification and ongoing inspections.
The cacophony of voices calling ever more loudly for abolition, if brought under the umbrella of a Nuclear Weapons Disarmament Coalition, could no longer be resisted by those few leaders who still think that having a nuclear arsenal brings them prestige and power.
'CND will, as a major goal, work for the setting up of a Nuclear Weapons Disarmament Coalition composed of national and international non-governmental bodies operating together with governments to ensure that a Nuclear Weapons Convention is brought into effect as a matter of urgency.
Towards this end CND will set up a sub-committee charged with the task of studying and reporting on the best means of achieving this goal, by studying the precedents of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Cluster Munitions Coalition, and by other appropriate means.'
If you would like a copy of a supporting article that Jim has written, or if you would like to represent KPC at Conference, please contact Hilary (details on contacts page).
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Gill Hurle.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.