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POLITICS: Activists Recall Hiroshima as Nuclear Worries Grow

Kim Paull

NEW YORK, Aug 7 2006 (IPS) - As the war between Israel and Lebanon approaches the one-month mark and the U.S. continues to pursue expansion of its nuclear arsenal, people around the world will stop to remember Aug. 7, 1945.

On that day, 61 years ago, more than 240,000 people were killed or injured when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and three days later on Nagasaki, to force a Japanese surrender during World War II.

While an end to the war immediately followed the bombings, many have debated whether it was necessary, given that preparations for surrender were already underway in Tokyo, and the staggering long-term effects on civilians of radiation poisoning in the destroyed city.

Today, some experts warn that the nuclear clock is ticking again, this time in the Middle East. “This is one of the most serious threats of nuclear war we’ve had in a long time,” said Eric Laursen of the New York-based War Resister’s League. Combined with the potential threat from Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, he said, “We have a region that is getting ‘nuked up’.”

Laursen sees the U.S. development of new nuclear warheads since December 2003 as one catalyst behind the current situation in the Mideast. “Worldwide build-up is a direct result of the fact that a government like the U.S. has decided to cultivate weapons despite nuclear test ban treaties,” he said.

Under the George W. Bush administration, the United States has pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and refused to support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, as of January 2006, the U.S. stockpile contained almost 10,000 nuclear warheads.

The administration is also pursuing the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) programme, which the Los Angeles Times reported in April includes the potential for new bomb design and construction within the next four years.

William Hartung, director of the New York-based Arms Trade Resource Centre and who spoke at a recent event hosted by the Great Neck Sane/Peace Action & the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, says that the planned build-up conflicts with U.S. calls for disarmament around the globe.

“We are moving in the wrong direction in all sorts of ways,” he said. “It’s an outrage that at this late date we are expanding our nuclear arsenal.”

Hartung says that the U.S. government has settled on a new doctrine delineating when, and against whom, to use nuclear weapons. Iran and North Korea are high on the list, while U.S. allies in “difficult circumstances” will be offered protection by Washington’s nuclear arsenal.

Over the weekend, the 1945 bombings were commemorated in candlelight vigils, marches and peace rallies across the globe, including a Hiroshima/Nagasaki exhibit at New York City’s Tompkins Square Park and an interfaith peace gathering at the New York Buddhist Church.

Riverside Church in Harlem also hosted a music and dance show, where over 20 performers recalled the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, four Japanese musicians, and a blast survivor.

This year’s peace gatherings were especially potent in light of the intensifying war between Israel and Lebanon, in which more than 600 Lebanese and nearly 100 Israelis have been killed.

“A huge number of people are protesting as a result of the situation in Lebanon and Israel,” said Laursen. “The concerns we bring to the day of remembrance are closely linked to all these other concerns in the Middle East.”

Many believe Hiroshima itself was chosen as a target because the bombs had the most potential for destruction.

A large city of 300,000 people living in mostly wood-frame houses, free of U.S. prisoner-of-war camps, and surrounded by mountains that could focus the effects of the blast, Hiroshima was a perfect target.

Jackie Cabasso, a steering committee member of the U.S. group United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), said, “As we commemorate one of the most horrific acts of U.S. military policy – the atomic bombings of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – our movement for peace and justice recommits itself to the immediate task of ending the war and occupation in Iraq and bringing all of our troops home now.”

“The Aug. 5-9 actions around the country will also bring attention to some of the most pressing issues of the day: the urgent need for a comprehensive ceasefire in the Lebanon/Israel/Gaza crisis; our demand for the global abolition of all nuclear weapons, starting with those in the U.S. arsenal; and stopping the outrageous war profiteering of giant corporations like Bechtel (a leading nuclear weapons contractor),” she said.

Nonviolent protests were planned in more than 60 cities in 24 states across the country to demand an end to nuclear weapons and war. Other commemorations took place in dozens of countries, including Germany, Japan, Canada, India and Bangladesh.

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