Friday, August 6, 2010

The Unforgettable Fire

Walking to work today, I passed through most of central Ottawa, and I was disappointed not to see one chalk human silhouette on the pavement.

Today is Hiroshima Day, the 65th anniversary of one of the most brutal military attacks on civilians ever perpetrated. Whatever your feelings about whether it made a quick end to World War II, the fact remains that it was a sad day for our species when one group of people decided to literally nuke 140,000 (or more) other human lives out of existence.

Back in the '80s, we could never not notice the passing of another August 6th. Or, for that matter, could we ever forget about the threat of nuclear annihilation. As the United States and the Soviet Union played their high-stakes version of "chicken" during the endgame of the Cold War, those of us who were young and impressionable were hammered with reminders of our doom, like The Day After and When the Wind Blows.

No "duck and cover" for Generation X kids. More like "put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye".

So for us, I guess Hiroshima and Nagasaki seemed like more than historical events. They were a very possible future. It was a reality that people around the world hammered home, on August 6, by drawing chalk outlines of themselves on pavement as a reflection of the "human shadows" burnt into the Japanese streets from the heat of the blasts.

Hopefully someone chalked up a memorial somewhere in the capital. I wish I had. But however we choose to note the date, there is one message we need to share:

Never again.


  1. Not to minimize Hiroshima, but the allies had already perfected the grim art of wiping out cities using incendiaries. The Tokyo firebombing likely killed more people than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and the pictures are just as disturbing:

    Earlier in Europe, the Americans tended to focus on using high explosives to attack industry and transportation, but the British (and Canadians) did mainly terror bombings with incendiaries targeting civilians, often killing tens of thousands of people in a single raid.

  2. In Yamashita v. Styer, 327 U.S. 1 (1946) Frank Murphy, in his dissenting opinion, wrote:

    "... War breeds atrocities. From the earliest conflicts of recorded history to the global struggles of modern times inhumanities, lust and pillage have been the inevitable by-products of man's resort to force and arms. Unfortunately, such despicable acts have a dangerous tendency to call forth primitive impulses of vengeance and retaliation among the victimized peoples. The satisfaction of such impulses in turn breeds resentment and fresh tension. Thus does the spiral of cruelty and hatred grow...."

    He was not writing about Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but I think his writing can explain why the bombs were dropped, and why they should not have been dropped: primitive impulses of vengeance and retaliation, ... the spiral of cruelty and hatred.