Thursday, August 08, 2013

Witnessing Hiroshima

If you live long enough, once in a while your past goes beyond being irrelevant to the present and comes back to life as history. This week’s remembrance of dropping atomic bombs on Japan 68 years ago is one of those times.

Looking back, I see a 21-year-old foot soldier in Germany waiting to be deployed for a bloody Pacific invasion to storm beaches and fight through cities. Suddenly mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and then Nagasaki ended that dread. For the first time in years, he could wake in the morning without feeling there was an IOU out on his life, held by someone unknown and payable on demand.

Weeks later he learned the moral price for his relief--that 140,000 died within days from that explosion in Hiroshima and another 70,000 in Nagasaki and that his country would forever bear the burden of being the first and only so far to use such weapons of mass destruction.

In August 1963, that boy turned magazine editor interviewed John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office. "Since 1945," he said, "we have gone into an entirely new period of nuclear weapons. Most people have no conception of what it all means. A nuclear exchange lasting sixty minutes would mean over 300 million deaths. We have to prevent the end of the human race."

In a new century of short memory spans, that young soldier still lives in the recesses of an old mind along with JFK’s warning. The urge to bear witness remains.

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