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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Remember the Victims of War on Hiroshima Day

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Rafe Saltman, a founding member of the Vancouver Island-based Freedom From War Coalition, reflects on the terrible human costs of capitalism, imperialism, war, militarism and nuclear weapons as Hiroshima Day approaches on August 6.

For the Freedom From War Coalition

By Rafe Saltman

The world mourns the day the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, and three days later, Nagasaki. Of all the bombs ever dropped on civilians, these two were in a class of their own in destructive force and cruelty. The discovery of nuclear fission, ten million times more energetic than chemical reactions, was put to its worst possible use at the close of the Pacific War.

The result was an atrocity. In Hiroshima, the blast killed over 70 000 people at once and wounded an equal number, many of whom soon succumbed to their burns. In Nagasaki, the immediate toll was uncertain. 60–80 000 had perished by the end of 1945, joining the 90–140 000 dead in Hiroshima.

In both cities, thousands were fatally irradiated. They suffered and died of acute radiation syndrome, over 13 000 within a month. Occupying US General MacArthur suppressed reports of this syndrome. After two years, cases of leukemia emerged, and after five years, solid cancers, almost 2000 more than normal. One child, Sadako Sasaki, popularized the origami crane as a symbol of peace by folding over a thousand paper cranes before she died of leukemia.

With the atomic bomb, the United States proved they could level whole cities at a stroke. In this, and the firebombing raids which had devastated Tokyo and other cities that spring, their aims were to destroy Japan’s centres of military industry and to displace and kill civilians.

By design, and giving the lie to President Truman’s claim that the US did not choose civilian targets, most of the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians. Up to 10 000 were Koreans in forced labour.

Defenders of America’s conduct in the Pacific War argue that a demonstrative killing in Japanese cities was the only way to break Japan’s resolve and secure their surrender from afar. This is in debate.

By the time the bombs dropped, Japan was beat back in the Pacific and much of Asia, and was already probing for an exit.

On the day America bombed Nagasaki, August 9, the Soviet Union joined the war against Japan with an invasion of Manchukuo. The Americans knew the Soviets had promised to join by this date, completing Japan’s encirclement. This dashed Japan’s hope of a brokered peace with the Soviets as a neutral facilitator.

Emperor Hirohito surrendered six days later. In his speech to citizens, he cited the bomb. But in his speech to military men, he cited the Soviet invasion.

Using the ultimate weapon on a largely contained foe doesn’t seem to be totally necessary to neutralize the foe, if that is the only goal. It might be better understood as an act of US foreign policy which anticipated a post-war rivalry. The Truman administration sought to make a show of America’s leap in military might, one whose meaning would not be lost on any nation on Earth.

But the irresistible power of the fission bomb, far from bringing an end to conflict, would soon be the object of an arms race unmatched in its perversity. Fission bombs, followed by fusion bombs, and the ballistic missiles to launch them from the other side of the globe, became a must-have for superpowers. At incredible expense and to no one’s benefit, so many nuclear weapons were readied that they could eradicate the human race if only a fraction of them were launched by each side.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded by physicists who had helped design the first bombs and were not burdened by naivety, has insisted since 1947 that the existence of ready nukes is a present and total threat to humanity, regardless of anyone’s intention to wield them as no more than a deterrent. Catastrophe only requires one possessor of nukes to launch them for any reason. Others will reply in kind, obliged to launch their arsenals to fulfill the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction”. The Bulletin depicts our nearness to this fate as a Doomsday Clock ticking toward midnight.

Who is this all for?

We cannot eat weapons of war. They don’t clothe, house, or connect us to our fellow human. They seem a drag on society, the more so if used, and pervert the liberating potential of technology. Working people around the world would be better off if we dismantled all armaments and never built them again.

Connected to the whole world by our toil, we have nothing to gain by conquest or war readiness. That is the business of exploiters.

And here we come to the heart of the issue. Militarism is proof that we still live in the predatory phase of human development, in which an exploiting class divides us. It would appear that to overcome this predatory phase, workers must see through the ruling propaganda and unite against war.

Under the twin systems of capitalism and imperialism, war is waged for capital accumulation. Periodic crisis flows from overproduction to an intentional waste of commodities and the absorption of one mass of capital by another, often by force of arms, suppressing organized labour and throwing nations into bloody conflict until the rate of profit is restored.

That is why US Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler said war is a racket. As a tool of US business in China and Latin America, he witnessed it time after time.

We remember the bombing of Japan as a horrible tragedy in which working masses suffered and paid with their lives for a war launched by the ruling class -- just as in every war in class society. The method was unique in its power to extinguish masses of lives in the blink of an eye, yet inflicted years of pain and grief on those around them.

This Hiroshima Day, fold a paper crane in memory of Sadako and all victims of war.

Rafe Saltman is a student and worker in Nanaimo, BC. At first educated in bourgeois economics, Rafe had it beaten out of em by over a decade in food service, experiencing the disconnect between who does the work and who it is for. Finding expression of this fact in the theory of class struggle, Rafe joined the Communist Party of Canada in 2019. Rafe is a founding member of the Vancouver Island–based Freedom From War Coalition, formed this year to build resistance to militarism in Canada.

About the FFWC:

The Freedom From War Coalition are people of peace aiming to build popular opposition to militarism and the war economy in Canada. We live on Vancouver Island on the traditional and unceded territory of Coast Salish peoples.

2023 Hiroshima Day update:

Our Freedom from War Coalition will be holding an information picket event at Charles Hoey Park in downtown Duncan, BC starting at 11 am on Sunday August 6th to mark the day the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

It is vital we never allow this act of brutality to go unacknowledged.

1 comment

1 Comment

Duncan Brown
Duncan Brown
Aug 03, 2022

Great article Rafe

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