OPINION – The president’s visit to Hiroshima last week was, of course, fodder for the political spinmeisters, one side claiming it was an ignoble apology unbefitting a certain legacy they believe was insulted by his visit. The other dealt with the reality, that the visit was anything but an apology and, instead, a formal embrace between two formerly bitter foes.
History is truly not clear on whether the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to end the carnage of World War II although there are convincing arguments from both sides.
What is clear is that the horror that was unleashed those two days in August 1945 when the Enola Gay and Bockscar dropped their deadly payloads on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the beginning of an era that saw us creep to the threshold of Armageddon during the Cold War.
We continued, as is our wont, to develop bigger, nastier, deadlier nuclear devices until we arrived at a place where the United States alone could destroy the planet several times over. Eight other nations now sit on nuclear stockpiles and several others are in the developmental stages.
During the Cold War the United States had a stockpile of approximately 70,000 nuclear warheads.
Thank God we have not used them.
Although the U.S. is the only nation to have ever used them in anger, it doesn’t mean that the only victims of the nuclear age were those who succumbed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There have been others, many others.
In great numbers.
At great emotional cost.
At great financial cost.
And, Southern Utah is where most of them came from.
When it was decided that, indeed, we needed to find bigger, better, and more efficient ways in which to kill large numbers of people the U.S. started blowing things up in the Nevada desert just a hop, skip and radioactive cloud dump away from St. George.
The government would test these demonic devices and the fallout would drift.
It came down on all 48 contiguous states, spread over the border into Canada and Mexico, and drifted across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.
And, the people were told it was all harmless, that the particles falling from the sky would do no harm, even though scientists and government officials knew better.
So the innocents who lived in this region would take the kids out to the west desert in Iron and Washington counties to watch the sky light up whenever there was a nuclear test.
They would gather on the mountain ridges or the rises in Snow Canyon to watch the drift overhead. The road to Snow Canyon was usually manned by government scientists clad in heavy hazmat suits who would run Geiger counters over the vehicles of the families who went out to take in the show.
Women were told it was safe to hang their laundry outside, that all they had to do was beat the dust out of them.
The people were told it was OK to eat the fruits and vegetables from their gardens. All you had to do was give them a good rinse first.
But, the effects were more widespread.
Radiation went up into the skies, collected and came down on the farmlands of the Midwest. It landed in the fields were milk cows would graze. It landed on the fields where our food was grown. It landed in the lakes and rivers we would fish or use to irrigate our fields.
It spread north into parts of Canada.
It spread south into parts of Mexico.
Traces made it across the Atlantic Ocean and were found in Europe.
All in the name of national security and military muscle that, thankfully, has not been flexed since the death and destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Like everything else in this vicious election cycle the president’s visit to Japan has been politicized, particularly from the hard right which claims it constituted an apology.
However, it was anything but.
The visit was an emotional, somber event, an outreach for reconciliation, hopefully a message of hope that this never occurs again.
It wasn’t an apology by any stretch of the imagination.
But, to be honest, an apology is in order.
If anything, the president needs to come to the Nevada Test Site and visit the barren desert where the same dirty, deadly radiation was unleashed on the people of the United States, only in greater amounts.
Apologies must be made to the families of those who lost mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and other loved ones who were taken far too soon, just so we could drop a heavier chip on the world’s negotiation tables.
Over the years some reparations have been paid through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990. More than $2 billion has already been paid in compensation to those who contracted certain cancers as a result of living downwind of the blasts.
It barely scratches the surface, though. Even Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sponsored the bill, admitted as such in a conversation we had once, explaining that the government could not afford to compensate everybody who was affected by the testing. He does, however, support further research to broaden the compensation program, even if it is, for the most part, probably too late because disease is thinning the numbers of those affected.
The best apology, of course, would be for the United States, which was the first to unleash this terror, to become the first to permanently sheath its weapons.
We created this monster, we need to kill it.
Let’s leave it to the political hotheads to debate whether the United States should or should not apologize for dropping the bombs on Japan or if they should or should not have even been deployed, while we do what we can to take care of the remaining victims who endured the suffering imposed upon them by the explosions detonated in their own backyard.
And, let’s honor them, not by some grand ceremony or false pretense of understanding by a government that lied to them, that killed them, but by ensuring nobody, anywhere, ever has to suffer a similar fate.
During his speech at Hiroshima, the president said that the bombing of Hiroshima demonstrated that “mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”
But, does it have the sense of humanity to ensure that it never does?
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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