This month 75 years ago, atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Later that year, the United Nations was formed to help the world formulate peace with justice, and I grew up learning how to get under my school desk when the Russians dropped the “Big One.” When coal no longer heated our home, my frugal father declared the vacated coal bin a no-cost bomb shelter. I graduated in 1964, the year of the bizarre movie, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
The main, opposing A-bomb arguments were (and still are):
1. Horrible as it was, the bombs saved many lives.
2. They weren’t necessary as the Japanese were ready to surrender.
Drafted in 1970 as an army medic, I received Geneva Conventions training, which said “Killing civilians is a war crime.” For me, that translated to “Nuclear weapons are wrong.” My military experience was meager, but I was in good company as high-ranking officers like Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur also opposed the 1945 bombings. I don’t know their exact reasons, but mine? The military told me killing civilians is a war crime.
When I returned to the U.S. in 1972, it was hard to get a job. My university broadcasting degree only yielded a “Thank you, but you have no experience” when I tried to interview for TV jobs. Persistence gave me the opportunity to create a specialized TV channel at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. We made fun and patient-connected live TV shows a part of getting well, alleviating fear while medical procedures did their work. The difficulty? Most patients got well quickly. Those I got to know best were longterm, fighting debilitating diseases like leukemia.
In 1982, for the first local Hiroshima Remembrance, my wife and I were asked to tell the story of Sadako, the young Hiroshima runner who died in 1955 of leukemia, or “atom bomb sickness.” Sadako was 2 when the bomb killed her grandma and melted the city of Hiroshima.
When people began to die slowly from radiation, Sadako collapsed in a race. A friend told her the legend that folding 1,000 origami cranes would bring “good fortune,” and crane-folding in the hospital replaced Sadako’s passion for running. She folded over 1,000, but her wish to recover withered. Weakly holding her last, unfinished crane, she said, “I’m writing peace on your wings. Please fly everywhere, and tell everyone no more bombs.” I was hooked. I believed nuclear weapons violated international law, and I knew too many children with leukemia. We have since told the story to everyone, everywhere.
In 2017, the United Nations initiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Sadly, such efforts usually stall because they can’t be enforced. Like Orwell’s “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” the U.S. and other Nuclear Nations insist “We need nuclear weapons, but you can’t have them.” Yet last November, the Pope said that owning them is immoral, and Mayors for Peace has 7,900 mayors in 164 countries shouting in unison: “It’s not OK to bomb my city!”
In my opinion, vaporizing two cities of Japanese civilians was as evil and racist as repeatedly killing black citizens for minor or quasi-offenses. The OGP wants “all the children of the world” to be able to tell stories and grow gardens with their grandkids until they’re at least as old as the United Nations. I’ve almost made it, but still horrified when leaders say, “If we’ve got nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?” I also feel no comfort with the more common strategy: “Nuclear weapons keep us safe, but don’t worry: We’ll never use them.” The OGP urges all to call your legislators. Advise them to side with the Pope, Mayors for Peace and the Geneva Conventions.