Thursday, August 3, 2017

Original Child Bomb: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Bomb (Part 1)

Peace Vigil, Los Alamos, NM, August 6, 2015

We are coming up on the 72nd Anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6th and 9th). Which got me to thinking about two years ago, on the 70th anniversary, when Michaela and I went to the annual Sackcloth and Ashes vigil in Los Alamos (where the original bomb was designed and made, and continues to be a major laboratory complex for nuclear and conventional weapons manufacture), protesting against the continual existence of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (and all other laboratories and factories that include the vast nuclear-industrial complex), keeping a nonviolent witness for those that had suffered from the bombings, and, most importantly, through that witness imagining the possibility of a universal nuclear weapons ban.   
There was a rally at Ashley Pond, a park that rests on the physical site where the original bomb was made, and then we walked up Trinity Drive, towards the laboratory entrance. Most wore burlap, some covered themselves with ashes. We sat for an hour on the sidewalk in silence before heading back to the pond. Many cars drove by. Some honked in support. Some honked and yelled in disgust or anger. Some - mostly the young - looked confused, having no idea why we were there.  
Most of the cars that drove by were probably driven by those employed or related to those employed in some capacity by the Department of Defense. They work at the laboratory. They make a good living. There is a lot of money in weapons research. The county that contains Los Alamos is one of the richest counties in the United States. The county that houses the Santa Clara Pueblo in the valley below is the second poorest county in the nation. It's clear where our priorities lie.
While sitting on the sidewalk, I began to think about how little I knew about the decision- making process over the dropping of that first nuclear bomb. I have, for the most part, focused on the consequences of the bomb - and the economic and environmental devastation left in the wake of the nuclear-industrial complex. Since that vigil two years ago, I've read about the history of the making of the first nuclear bomb and the factors that went into using it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and discovered how that history has had a direct influence on how the US views its nuclear arsenal today - and has helped shape conventional military strategy and thinking. I'll be posting some of that information in the next few posts.  

But first…

A Global Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons

UN Treaty Negotiations, 2017
I want to start with a glimmer of hope. On July 7, 2017, a global treaty was approved to ban nuclear weapons. 122 nations in the UN endorsed this treaty (two thirds of the 192-member body). Within two years the treaty could have the 50-state ratifications it needs to become international law. To no one's surprise, all those nations who have nuclear weapons, and those that come under their protection or host weapons on their soil, boycotted the negotiations.

There was very little coverage of this event in the US media. So, here's a little more detail from a Guardian article:

“'It’s a prohibition in line with other prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction,' said Beatrice Fihn at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in Geneva. 'We banned biological weapons 45 years ago, we banned chemical weapons 25 years ago, and today we are banning nuclear weapons.' Within two years the treaty could have the 50-state ratifications that it needs to enter into international law, she said.

"Previous UN treaties have been effective even when key nations have failed to sign up to them. The US did not sign up to the landmines treaty, but has completely aligned its landmines policy to comply nonetheless. 'These kinds of treaties have an impact that forces countries to change their behavior. It is not going to happen fast, but it does affect them,' Fihn said. 'We have seen on all other weapons that prohibition comes first, and then elimination. This is taking the first step towards elimination.'” (Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Approved, The Guardian, July 7, 2017)

It's a given that the nuclear powers would not sign this treaty - who wants to give up such power? - but the treaty is a step in the right direction. If only giving voice to the desire to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation. Especially now that nuclear weapons are back on the menu, what with all the nuclear saber rattling between North Korea and the US.


Next: A Poem by Tōge Sankichi,
activist, poet, survivor of the atomic bomb


(Original Child Bomb is a mistranslation of the Japanese term for the atom bomb, genshi bakudan. Genshi, which means "atom," contains root characters which, when rendered individually, can possibly mean "original" and "child." There is a Thomas Merton poem and a documentary of the same name. It was supposed for years that this was the literal translation of atom bomb because the Japanese saw it as the first of its kind. As far as I can tell, original child bomb was never used by the Japanese - and yet it seems to contain, in English - because of it's strange and innocent distance from the horrors of the explosion and its aftermath - a more appropriately ominous and terrifying feel than "atom bomb.")

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