by Terry Messman
On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., an entire city was shattered and the world was changed forever when an atomic bomb was dropped on the unsuspecting residents of Hiroshima by a U.S. B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay.
The bomb fell silently from the sky for 43 seconds, then a cataclysmic explosion turned the city of Hiroshima into a raging inferno, blasting buildings into nothingness, and incinerating tens of thousands of children, women and men.
An estimated 80,000 human beings were destroyed instantly in the first heartstopping moments of the Unforgettable Fire, while countless others died slowly in the months and years to come from terrible burns, injuries and exposure to lethal radioactivity. By the end of 1945, an estimated 140,000 people had died in Hiroshima and at least another 90.000 had died in Nagasaki from the second atomic bomb attack on August 9, 1945.
Countless people were literally vaporized, leaving only shadows on the walls and sidewalks of Hiroshima — ghostly reminders of the lives that had been reduced to atoms by the atomic blast.
This year, on August 6, 2015, more than 300 people gathered at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory on the 70th anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima to protest the nuclear weapons designed at the facility that some activists have called a “holocaust laboratory.”
Hiroshima’s Haunting Shadows
Following the rally, protesters marched to the gates of Livermore and blocked the entrance to the weapons laboratory, staging a die-in on the roadway while chalk outlines were drawn around their bodies.
After more than 50 people were arrested and taken away by police for this act of civil disobedience, only the chalk outlines remained, a haunting memorial to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were blasted into shadows on the walls of the two Japanese cities turned into rubble by U.S. nuclear weapons.
Chizu Hamada, the organizer of No Nukes Action Committee, formed after the Fukushima meltdown to protest Japanese and U.S. government nuclear policies, described the enormous loss of life and the unparalleled human suffering caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
She urged the gathering to carry on their protests in honor of the spirits of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In an extraordinarily moving appeal, Hamada asked protesters to keep working for nuclear abolition because the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance.
“We must keep on protesting,” Chizu Hamada said. “We must never give up because the spirits of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims are here now, and are wishing the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
The organizers and speakers at the Hiroshima Day action at Livermore are a living testimony to the lasting dedication that has kept alive the anti-nuclear movement for decades. Daniel Ellsberg and Country Joe McDonald, two of the most prominent voices of the antiwar movement, came to Livermore this year, demonstrating their longstanding faithfulness to the cause of preventing war and abolishing nuclear weapons.
Ellsberg has been a dedicated and insightful voice for peace and disarmament for more than 40 years. Since releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, Ellsberg has spoken out tirelessly against nuclear weapons, and has been arrested more than 100 times for acts of civil disobedience.
Country Joe McDonald wrote and performed one of the greatest of all antiwar anthems, “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” and composed several other politically outspoken songs, including “Superbird” and “An Untitled Protest.”
McDonald went on to record a classic album, “Thinking of Woody Guthrie,” featuring his beautiful versions of Guthrie’s radical populist anthems. McDonald is one of the very few musicians who has remained personally involved in antiwar activism, veterans rights, and environmental causes for the past 50 years.
Jackie Cabasso, executive director of Western States Legal Foundation, and Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, have been two of the leading Bay Area organizers for nuclear disarmament for the past three decades.
Cabasso cofounded Western States in 1982 and Kelley launched Tri-Valley CAREs in 1983. Both organizations began at the height of the anti-nuclear movement in California in the early 1980s, but while many other peace groups folded, Cabasso and Kelley have remained constantly dedicated and are now recognized as leading voices in the movement for nuclear disarmament.
Voices of the Hibakusha
Perhaps the most moving expression of devotion to the cause of peace and disarmament has been demonstrated by the hibakusha, Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who often have suffered lifelong injuries and diseases caused by atomic radiation.
Of all the powerful voices that spoke out for disarmament on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the most poignant moment came when Takashi Tanemori, a survivor of the first atomic blast, appeared at the gates of Livermore Laboratory. He seemed to speak as the voice of conscience for all those who were forever silenced by the atomic attacks that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Takashi Tanemori was only 8 years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. The brilliant white flash of the atomic blast was the last thing he ever saw, for on that day, Takashi lost both parents, his two siblings — and his eyesight.
He described that devastating moment in his book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness. “Without warning! Blinding, burning, shocking white light! I covered my closed eyes. I saw pure white light through my covered eyes….
“In an instant my school and all Hiroshima had evaporated. When I regained consciousness, I awoke in Hell. The three-story wooden frame school had collapsed into a heap of matchsticks. My first floor classroom lay shattered and flattened on the ground. Beneath the heap, I lay buried on my back, unable to move. I couldn’t see anything.”
Takashi Tanemori would never see anything again for the rest of his life. He spoke out at Livermore this year as a living reminder that the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sentenced to suffer for the rest of their lives from the terrible after-effects of the U.S. bombing.
Chizu Hamada said, “Even now, 70 years later, aftereffects remain, such as leukemia, A-bomb cataracts, cancers, birth defects, mental retardation. And the fear of birth defects in children will last many generations.”
Hiroshima Was ‘Mass Murder’
Daniel Ellsberg said, “The killing at Hiroshima was mass murder — terrorism.”
“The killing of civilian noncombatants for political purposes is terrorism and mass murder — nothing else. It should not have happened. It did not need to happen. It should never happen again.”
Ellsberg was only 14 in 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, yet he said he felt “very great dismay” and realized even then that a “very ominous thing had happened.”
In the 1960s, Ellsberg was a military analyst for the Rand Corporation and a consultant to the Departments of Defense and State, specializing in the command and control of nuclear weapons, and helping carry out a top-secret study of U.S. military operations in the Vietnam War.
After becoming convinced that the United States was pursuing the wrong course, Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the New York Times and began speaking out against the war.
Nearly everyone remembers Ellsberg as the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers, but not as many realize his enormous dedication to the anti-nuclear movement. Ellsberg was instrumental in the protests at the Rocky Flats plutonium trigger plant in Colorado, and was arrested in the 1970s in acts of civil disobedience there.
He went on to be arrested many times in nonviolent protests at Livermore Laboratory, the Concord Naval Weapons Station, the Vandenberg AFB missile test site and the Nevada Test Site.
Ellsberg was arrested at the first major protest held by the Livermore Action Group in February 1982, and was arrested at Livermore again in June 1983 on the International Day of Nuclear Disarmament. Many activists still remember the impassioned seminars on nuclear weapons that Ellsberg gave in jail to several hundred of his fellow prisoners after the June 1983 civil disobedience.
Ellsberg’s arrest at Livermore this year came more than 30 years after his first arrests at Livermore Laboratory.
The kind of peace that was bought with the continuous building and modernizing and deploying of nuclear weapons, Ellsberg told the gathering, has “made the possibility of mass murder ever present — and I mean from minute to minute.”
The threat of using nuclear weapons is a policy of “outrageous folly and criminality” that could lead to a nuclear war. “And yet these threats go on — and they are threats of ending nearly all life.”
Vital Importance of the Anti-Nuclear Movement
Ellsberg said that the protests of the anti-nuclear movement were of vital importance in stopping the threat of nuclear war. “All over the world today,” he said, “there are groups like this. And if it hadn’t been for groups like this, we would have had a nuclear war earlier.”
He vividly described the moment when the atom bomb was dropped and then asked demonstrators to imagine being one of the unsuspecting residents of Hiroshima during the few seconds after the bomb was released — but before it exploded in a mushroom cloud that obliterated the city.
“The bomb is usually described as having exploded at 8:15 a.m.,” Ellsberg said. “When I was in Hiroshima, I noticed something odd. In all of the museums and the illustrations and artifacts of the bomb, there were watches that stopped when the bomb exploded, all at the same time. But they were not stopping at 8:15. They were stopping at 8:16.”
Ellsberg learned that the bomb was dropped at 8:15 a.m. on the morning of August 6, 1945, but it took 43 seconds to fall from the plane flying at 31,060 feet. It was released on a parachute to give the plane time to get away. So even as the bomb fell on the unsuspecting city below, people went about their daily business for nearly one more minute.
One more minute of life…
Ellsberg asked people to close their eyes and imagine themselves to be Japanese residents of Hiroshima that morning, still in bed, or at the breakfast table with their family, or walking to work or attending school, just as survivors have described doing in that last minute.
“At 8:15, all of these people were doomed,” Ellsberg said. “But they had 43 seconds in which to live on earth with other people. Try that. Be there. The bomb has dropped. Close your eyes and imagine yourselves living in Hiroshima.”
At the gates of Livermore, hundreds of people were silent for 43 seconds — the entire span of life left for tens of thousands of defenseless civilians in Hiroshima as the bomb silently fell.
At the end of 43 seconds, Ellsberg said, “Time for a baby to be conceived or even born. Time to look at flowers. Time to say goodbye to your child as he leaves for school. An amazing amount of time.
“Every minute of that is precious. That’s what we’re threatening and we shouldn’t be. Every minute of that, let alone several years, is precious.”
Ellsberg then invited people to join him in committing civil disobedience by blocking the gates at Livermore. “It’s never really a good day to die,” he said. “But this is a good day to get arrested.”
‘Don’t drop the H-Bomb on me’
Country Joe McDonald animated the gathering by performing a mini-concert of antiwar anthems and anti-Bomb ballads, delivered in his unique blend of countercultural radicalism and the satiric surrealism that provided a soundtrack for the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Back in 1967, Country Joe and the Fish recorded a plaintive song, “Thought Dream,” that unexpectedly mutated into a refrain that could have been a sardonic slogan of the anti-nuclear movement: “Please don’t drop that H-Bomb on me!”
At the gates of Livermore Laboratory, Country Joe kept alive that classic combination of sarcastic wit and antiwar outrage by performing a black-humor ballad about World War III called “Camouflage.”
“I’ve got a camouflage house
and a camouflage car
a camouflage pool in my backyard.
And I ain’t afraid of World War III
cuz if they drop the Bomb
I’ll just melt into the scenery.”
The song lampoons the paranoia of the nuclear age by depicting a survivalist who is ready to hide from the holocaust in his camouflage gear. It includes a truly chilling double entendre: “If they drop the Bomb, I’ll just melt into the scenery.”
That disquieting image calls to mind the residents of Hiroshima who literally melted into the scenery — melted and vaporized into shadows on the wall.
Next, McDonald sang one of the most effective anti-war anthems of all, a great derisive blast against the masters of war who would march people lockstep into battlegrounds and graveyards.
“And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates.
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We’re all gonna die.”
McDonald’s timeless song of dissent exposes the duplicity of military leaders who indoctrinate the brainwashed masses to fight and die and never wonder why.
Both these songs are hilarious send-ups of the absurdity of war, but there is another, very different dimension of McDonald’s political songwriting. He wrote “An Untitled Protest,” a quietly powerful lament that depicts the full tragedy of war for its youngest victims.
“An Untitled Protest” is a haunting elegy for the countless children who have fallen victim to U.S. bombing raids on their homeland — raids by “silver birds” that blindly drop anti-personnel weapons on “shores they’ve never seen.”
“Red and swollen tears tumble from her eyes,
While cold silver birds who came to cruise the skies
Send death down to bend and twist her tiny hands
And then proceed to Target B in keeping with their plans.”
In a voice both mournful and quietly outraged, McDonald portrays the destruction unleashed by “the death machine” and piloted by khaki soldiers who “ride a stone leviathan across a sea of blood.”
One Billion Dollars Annually on Nukes
Marylia Kelley, director of Tri-Valley CAREs, was one of the lead organizers of the Livermore protest on the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima, but then she has been a leading organizer for countless Livermore protests over the years.
When the Livermore Action Group disbanded in 1986, only the most highly committed activists remained to keep the anti-nuclear work alive, first and foremost Marylia Kelley, Jackie Cabasso and Carolyn Scarr of the Ecumenical Peace Institute.
Tri-Valley CAREs has extensively researched the laboratory’s funding, priorities and nuclear weapons projects. Kelley reported that Livermore Laboratory is currently involved in modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and designing new long-range nuclear warheads.
Many people would like to believe that the arms race is winding down, and Livermore Lab’s public relations department often claims that lab technicians are now focused on projects such as energy efficiency and nuclear energy research. Yet, Tri-Valley CAREs reports that the overwhelming majority of the lab’s budget is spent on nuclear weapons.
More than 85 percent of Livermore’s funding is designated for nuclear weapons — adding up to expenditures of one billion dollars on nuclear weapons activities in fiscal year 2016.
In a nation that already has 16,000 nuclear weapons, Kelley explained how Livermore Lab technicians are still spending one billion dollars this year alone to design new nuclear weapons technology.
“A new Long-Range Stand Off nuclear warhead design and the start of plutonium shots in the lab’s National Ignition Facility reveal two facets of this new arms race,” Kelley said. “In contrast to the Cold War, which was largely about sheer numbers, the new arms race and its dangers stem from novel military capabilities now being placed into nuclear weapons.”
“No More Hiroshimas! No More Nagasakis!”
Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, offered a stirring call to action for people committing civil disobedience at the gates of Livermore Laboratory.
Cabasso quoted the profound warning given to the UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1982 by then-Mayor of Hiroshima, Takeshi Araki.
Hiroshima’s mayor told the United Nations: “Hiroshima is not merely a witness of history. Hiroshima is an endless warning to the future of humankind. If Hiroshima is ever forgotten, it is evident that the mistake will be repeated and bring human history to an end.”
In actuality, the mistake of Hiroshima was repeated, and only three days later, at Nagasaki, obliterated on August 9, 1945.
Cabasso quoted the passionate outcry of Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima: “Nagasaki has to be forever the last city in the world bombed by nuclear weapons.”
“That is why we’re here,” Cabasso said — to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.
After people march to the west gate of Livermore Lab, Cabasso explained, sirens will sound in remembrance of the second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. “The sirens will signal a die-in,” she said.
“The chalk outlines that we’ll leave behind today are solemn reminders of the shadows of human beings vaporized by atomic bombs 70 years ago that still haunt the walls and sidewalks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Cabasso called on the U.S. government to “lead a process with a timetable to achieve the universal elimination of nuclear weapons.”
As demonstrators applauded her call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, Cabasso said, “Let us demand: No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis! No more Fukushimas! No more wars!”