Events planned to remember atomic bombing of Japan 75 years ago

  • A huge expanse of ruins was left after the explosion of an atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945 in Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people. AP FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2020 6:33:32 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The atomic bombing of Japan was 75 years ago this week. Memorial services later this week seek to remind us why the bombing is more relevant today than we realize — particularly in context of recent social unrest.

Memorials will be held at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the day Hiroshima was bombed; and at the Easthampton Library on Sunday at 7 p.m., the day Nagasaki was bombed.

At the Greenfield Town Common, on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, people from various advocacy groups will carry signs, plus provide information and handouts as possible.

Speaking at the events will be members of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution, the New England Peace Pagoda and others.

The attacks themselves are estimated to have killed between 130,000 and 230,000 people. Variation in the numbers is due partly to the fact that deaths from the acute affects of the bombs went on for months, in injuries, burns and radiation sickness.

But the relevance of the bombing is not only in the terror of its sheer scale, but also in moral threads that continue today, said Pat Hynes, director of Traprock.

The decision to use the atomic bomb was controversial even within the military, Hynes said. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a military commander, argued against it. So did Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw America’s restructuring of Japanese society after the war.

The majority opinion, in favor of the bomb, must have been influenced by American feelings about the Japanese, which were heavily racist, Hynes said.

Infamously, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the discriminatory “internment” of Americans with familial or personal connections to Japan. According to government records of the program, 62 percent of the interned people were American citizens.

To support the war effort, anti-Japanese sentiment in the public was stoked with racist propaganda, which, Hynes said, tended to figure Japanese people as animals that could be “exterminated” if necessary.

“This would not have been dropped on white people,” she said.

Economically, America’s use of the atomic bomb started a nuclear arms race among the large nations of the world, all in the belief that they would be vulnerable if they didn’t have an arsenal that would instill terror in others.

The U.S. has since made military expansion arguably its top priority, perhaps to the neglect of other national issues, Hynes said.

“We are a fully militarized country. That’s where most of our resources go,” Hynes said. “The rest are like crumbs from the master’s table.”

The Japanese word “hibakusha” is the name used for survivors of the atomic bombs. As of March 2019, about 145,000 hibakusha were still alive.

Over the years, many hibakusha have advocated for disarming and banning nuclear weapons, Hynes said. Coming to terms with the meaning of the bombing, she said, would have to involve acknowledging the word of the hibakusha, and making a serious effort to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again.

Traprock and other organizations have supported campaigns that would limit the U.S.’s ability to use nuclear weapons. Several countries, including China, have legally resolved not to use nuclear weapons, except in retaliation against a nuclear attack. The U.S. has not established a similar policy, though some have advocated for it. There have also been calls for Congress, which approves the budget, to cancel the replacement and expansion of the nuclear arsenal.

More locally, Hynes said, towns can decide to not invest or contract with companies that have interests in the business of nuclear weapons. This can be a small but meaningful way of undermining the nuclear arms race, she said. Northampton, Easthampton and Montague have already made such decisions, she said.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-930-4231.

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