Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Des Moines memorial service commemorates bombing of Hiroshima

Organizers drew attention to the mass destruction that atomic weapons caused in Hiroshima in 1945.

By Jon Overton 

DES MOINES, Ia. — To remember those killed in the atomic bombings of two Japanese cities, about 80 people arrived at a memorial service at the Japanese Bell on the Iowa Capitol Grounds last Tuesday. The theme for this year’s service was “Never Again.” 

The United States used atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 near the end of World War II, killing hundreds of thousands of people. 

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Catholic Peace Ministry and several other groups set up the annual event, which has been reoccurring since the 1970s. Iowa Peace Network was one of about 20 sponsors. 

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie discussed his work with Mayors for Peace to decrease nuclear weapons stockpiles. Cownie has spoken at the United Nations in addition to participating in other activities with the international mayoral organization. 

Cownie underlined the importance of preventing nuclear exchanges and encouraged the audience to work to make the world a less violent place. 

“The consequences [of nuclear war] are so devastating that it can’t happen,” he said. “ ... let’s pray for peace. Let’s pray for the end of war. Let’s pray that we can get some sense. Violence in this country and inner cities around the world has to stop and it starts with us, each one of us individually.” 

Gilbert Landolt, President of the Des Moines chapter of Veterans for Peace said members of his organization have attended the memorial service for several years. He added that Veterans for Peace also demonstrates at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to draw attention to nuclear arms. The base is the headquarters for the United States Strategic Command, also called STRATCOM. 

“It’s just bringing light to how horrible nuclear weapons are and we need to bring that to light as often as we can,” he said. 

Ed Fallon, a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives said that without the memorial services, the atomic bombing anniversaries would likely pass without much notice. 

Fallon said that while the world has made progress in reducing nuclear stockpiles, “The threat of nuclear war is still an issue. It’s important that we continue to have this vigil to keep people remembering that we’ve got a ways to go.” 

Mary McCarthy, an assistant professor of political science at Drake University, spoke about some lasting social and political impacts that resulted from the atomic bombings in Japan. 

“There are tangible effects of the bombings in the pacifists and antinuclear movements that they helped to spawn,” she said. “Today, the Global Zero movement calls for eliminating all nuclear weapons arsenals and preventing the acquisition of new nuclear weapons as well as the materials that can produce them.” 

Global Zero is supported by hundreds of prominent figures like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, among others. 

Sean Bremhorst, a high school student with Students Beyond War in Des Moines read part of a speech by Kodama Michiko, the Assistant Secretary General of Nihon Hidankyo, a groups of nuclear bombing survivors. Michiko was in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. 

“On my way home [from school], carried on my father’s back, I witnessed hell on earth. I saw a man with burned and peeled skin dangling from his body. A mother was carrying a baby, which was burned-black and looked like charcoal. She herself was heavily burned all over her body and was trying to flee from the place, almost crawling on the ground. Others lost their sight, their eyeballs popped out, or ran around trying to escape, while holding their protruding intestines in their hands.”

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