Marcel was able to look at some of the makeshift hospitals in the city centre. He writes,
These ‘hospitals’ had been set up on the outskirts of town in the rare buildings which had escaped complete destruction and were regarded as ‘less damaged.’ Even if there was no roof and only the walls standing, scores and sometimes even hundreds of wounded had been carried there. There were no beds, no water, no medical supplies and no proper medical attention… One could go on indefinitely describing the horror of it all; the thousands of helpless, suffering bodies stretched out on the ground; the thousands of swollen charred faces; the ulcerated backs; the suppurating arms raised up in order to avoid contact with any covering.
Each of those human beings represented an infinity of suffering. Those disfigured masks would always retain the horror of what they had witnessed. What must they have been thinking when they saw the neat American uniforms passing through their ranks?
At a speaker event yesterday, Matthew O’Meagher, an academic at Victoria University, spoke about the history of resistance to nuclear weapons in New Zealand. He explained that the Hiroshima bombings affected people in New Zealand and abroad in a range of ways. Some of the scientists who had been involved in designing nuclear weapons through the Manhattan project were shocked that their technology had been used to such lethal effect. Others were excited and proud. In New Zealand, some people were relieved that (apparently) WWII might finally end. Others were concerned that now such a dangerous weapon had been unveiled, warfare would never be the same. But in the years to follow, the Hiroshima event mostly blurred into the background of other wartime atrocities – of which there were so many. New Zealanders got on with rebuilding their lives and reflecting on (or trying to forget) how the war had impacted them personally.
Certainly on a global scale (I would add) there was a lack of critical analysis about the decision to drop the bombs. Often when people talk about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, they assume it was these actions which ended World War Two. (We are taught this line in school.) This is but one interpretation of history. It is a persuasive one, but it also the official one which the US government in particular would like us to believe, and it may not be a complete interpretation. There were alternatives to ending the war in the Pacific, such as threatening a bomb drop, demonstrating a bomb to the Japanese, extending diplomatic dialogues. The actual motives of the US government may have centred more on demonstrating American power to the rest of the world, in particular the Soviet Union, rather than punishing Japan.
What’s been happening in Wellington?
The Japanese Ambassador shared a moving story about one of his most popular primary school teachers, who was a very caring woman who also happened to be a Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor.) The students respected her greatly, but they were concerned to see that the bomb had made her very unwell; meaning that she tired easily and was frequently admitted to hospital. The teacher died in her 60s. Grant Robertson also started by talking about his teacher; in the 80s one of his teachers allowed students to investigate topics of their own choosing and this gave Grant an opportunity to explore the topical issue of nuclear weapons. The films “The Day After” and “Threads” had a significant emotional impact on him. School students from Hutts College spoke of the important influence of individuals, drawing on legendary figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior. Some positive recent developments mentioned included that: 114 states (excluding New Zealand) have now signed the humanitarian pledge, Wellington was involved in the recent global wave to symbolise the relinquishing of nuclear weapons and a parliamentary motion by Hon. Phil Goff was just passed (30 July) marking the bombings and urging states to follow up their obligations on nuclear disarmament.
Shortly after this commemoration, another event kicked off at the town library. Organised by the Mayor’s Office and Soka Gakki International, the event comprised of a children’s art exhibition on peace, complete with a youth orchestra, speeches by a school student, the Mayor and Tim Wright, and commentary by an enthusiastic young MC. Celia Wade-Brown mentioned that Wellington is officially a nuclear-weapons-free zone. The decision was controversial when it was first adopted in 1982, but it has been accepted over time and in 2012 a ceremony celebrated 30 years of being a peaceful city. There are all sorts of monuments for peace around Wellington, like ones on the top of Mount Victoria or in the Botanical Gardens – you can look up information about the Wellington Peace Walk to find them all. The library event was extremely successful, with hundreds of children getting really engaged in the project and proudly bringing their parents and grandparents along to show off their artworks. The library was humming with conversation.
Finally, there was an event for Red Cross staff on Monday run by Marnie Lloyd, Legal and Policy Manager. The purpose was to keep staff informed about the relationship between international humanitarian law and nuclear disarmament. New Red Cross campaign materials for the 70th anniversary of the bombings were released. You can fold a paper crane in a gesture of peace and take a photo of yourself holding the crane to upload to social media, use #hiroshima70. The new posters look very sleek and there are also booklets with instructions on how to fold the cranes (useful for people like me!) Have a look at these materials on the Red Cross website here.
As you can see, there has been lots happening on the peace scene this week in Wellington. There are also lots of opinion articles to read on the web, but I’ve run out of space to mention them here. Hopefully these events and articles have inspired positive discussion. I’m going to finish with a few more images from the Sunday events at the Peace Flame and in the Public Library.