The first atom bomb was tested successfully in the desert at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on 16 July 1945. So horrifying and powerful was the explosion that Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, the chief scientist involved in developing the bomb, was moved to quote two lines from the Bhagavad Gita:
"I am become death, the shatterer of worlds. "
Less than a month later, the worlds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were shattered indeed. At 8.15 a.m. on 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb called "Little Boy" was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima from a US B-29 bomber, called the "Enola Gay". Three days later, 9 August, a second atomic bomb, called "Fat Man", was dropped on Nagasaki.

These two atomic bombings killed 210,000 people - 140,000 in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki. Nearly all the victims were civilians and over two-thirds were women, children and the elderly.

The brightness of the bombs was likened to that of a "thousand suns". People caught within 300 yards of the bomb's epicentre were vaporised, leaving nothing but their shadows etched on the streets. Further away, the radiation, blast and heat were so intense that skin was stripped off bodies, burns seared into flesh, eye-balls were sucked out, stomachs burst, and the radiation even entered bone marrow.

A further 120,000 people have died in the years following the bombings from illnesses linked to radiation.

Today, there are 350,000 survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who are known as Hibakusha. Manv suffer from malignant tumours, anaemia and leukaemia - illnesses ascribed to the bombings. They also suffer socially and psychologically and are discriminated against in employment and marriage. The Hibakusha have figured prominently in the Japanese Peace Movement and in various campaigns for nuclear disarmament.

(Irish CND was honoured to welcome three such survivors in 2001 who prayed at the Cherry Tree, Merrion Square, originally planted by Irish CND to commemorate all those killed and wounded in the atomic bomb attacks. The cherry tree was the first plant to sprout its leaves after the devastating attack on the city of Hiroshima. The cherry tree thus became the symbol of hope and life for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

The reason given by the US President, Harry Truman, for dropping the bombs was that it would hasten the ending of World War II and save up to half-a-million American soldiers' lives. In fact, the Japanese Emperor surrendered on l5 August. However, it is now known that the Japanese were on the verge of surrendering before the bombings and had already tried to sue for peace in the previous months. The bombings were intended mainly to impress and frighten the Soviet Union, already emerging as America's superpower rival. President Truman wanted the war in the Pacific ended before the Soviet army could move into the region.

These atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were one thousand times more powerful than any bomb previously dropped and ushered in the nuclear age which has plagued the world for the past fifty years. Four years later, in 1949, the first hydrogen bomb was exploded. This opened the way to bombs one thousand times more powerful than that used in Hiroshima. In a few short years, the destructive power of weapons had increased a million-fold. For the first time in history, human beings had the power to destroy the world.

Despite the existence of this awesome power, a nuclear arms race began between the United States and the Soviet Union (who developed their own atomic bomb in 1949). Britain, China and France joined the arms race with their own nuclear bombs, making the world even more precarious. In the 1960s, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev signed Treaties restricting tests to underground sites and limiting their explosive power to 150 kilotons. But the proliferation of nuclear weapons still continued.

Ireland played a role, in the mid-1960s, in promoting the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to stop the "horizontal" proliferation to other countries and to get the nuclear-weapon states to work towards disarmament. But in spite of this, the number of states with nuclear weapon capability has increased steadily.

By the mid-1980s, the explosive power of the world's nuclear arsenals equalled over one million Hiroshimas.

Yet the two nuclear powers in the European Union - Britain and France - are still updating their nuclear arsenals and have refused to include their weapons in disarmament negotiations. Ireland has pledged to form an EU common security and defence policy with these nuclear states, though both have stated they have every intention of retaining their nuclear weapons indefinitely and of basing their defence policy on them.

In June 1996 the World Court in The Hague found that that using, or threatening to use, nuclear weapons was totally contrary to international law in almost all circumstances. Despite fierce opposition, principally from the US and Britain, Ireland played a courageous part in this landmark ruling.

On Hiroshima Day 1996 Irish CND participated in the world wide "Abolition 2000" petition calling on governments to initiate a UN conference on nuclear disarmament. The Lord Mayor of Dublin was the first to sign quickly followed by many prominent politicians.

Recalling that the United Nations Charter is dedicated to saving" succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and that Resolution Number One adopted by the first General Assembly of the UN called for the "elimination of atomic weapons", the Hibakusha have asked the UN to conclude a treaty to eliminate completely and ban all nuclear weapons.

The Hibakusha have also appealed to the nuclear weapons states: "Never take your eyes off Hiroshima and Nagasaki: listen to what the Hibakusha are saying; let your people know the realities of the damage caused by nuclear weapons".


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