What does “Enola Gay” symbolize?
There was a brilliant white-hot flash.
Smoke swirled all around,
Wires dangled everywhere,
And a writhing mass of humanity fled for safety”
This passage from a poem by Hiroshima A-bomb victim, Sadako Kurihara, graphically depicts the horror experienced not only by A-bomb victims, but by all who have suffered air raid attacks. There is little warning of such attacks beyond the sudden appearance of monstrous bombers overhead, emitting ferocious noises, or the sharp, ear-piercing sound of on-coming missiles.
The reality of such attacks is all too often a litter of bodies blown to pieces by the blast. Yet, the attackers, hundreds of meters in the air above, have little sense of the horror down below. For the bombardiers and pilots the people on the ground are simply “abstract” targets. By contrast, the experience of their victims is “concrete” reality, reeking of death. This sharp juxtaposition of abstract and concrete within a distance of a few hundred meters is a phenomenon unique to aerial bombing.
The frequent use of aerial bombing in modern warfare surely owes something to the attackers’ complete inability to imagine the terrifying experiences of their victims.
The origin of aerial bombing can be traced to the application of hot-air balloons in warfare in the late 18th century. Initially air balloons were used simply to locate the size and position of enemy forces, but militarists soon realized their potential for dropping grenades and other harmful objects on enemy troops. However, the use of airplanes in the early 20th century led to a drastic change in war strategy. One result was the wide expansion of war zones; another was indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
The indiscriminate bombing of civilians was first conducted by German planes against Parisians in August 1914 – 11 years after the Wright brothers successfully flew the first aircraft in 1903. By the end of 1914, the Allies were also making serial air raids into German territories. Thus, by the time World War I ended in 1918, both sides had engaged in indiscriminate bombing, killing or injuring several thousand civilians.
Shortly after World War I, planes from the British Royal Air Force (RAF) were sent to the Middle East to engage in a new type of operation ? the bombing of what an RAF document refers to as “rebels of uncivilized tribes” who refused to submit to British rule. Over several years from 1920 onward, the RAF attacked rebel groups in Iraq – for which Britain was the trustee nation at the time – by dropping bombs, including incendiary bombs, on remote villages and tent encampments. The same technique of indiscriminate bombing was also used in other territories of the British Empire such as India and South Africa. Yet, the British administrators recommended this use of airpower as “outstandingly effective, extremely economical and undoubtedly humane in the long run.”
In the European theater of World War II, indiscriminate bombing ? now termed “strategic bombing” ? was increasingly used to terrorize civilians as the war intensified. Civilians in major cities were victimized as both the Axis and Allied sides engaged in such bombing, with mass slaughter as the result.
The Germans suffered particularly heavy casualties. By the end of the war, 131 German towns and cities had been bombed, and approximately 600,000 German civilians killed by indiscriminate bombing conducted by British and US forces.
In the Asia Pacific region, the Japanese Imperial Navy first engaged in indiscriminate bombing with a January 1932 attack on civilians in Shanghai during the so-called Shanghai Incident. Thereafter, civilians in cities such as Nanjing, Wuhan, and Chongqing were targeted. In 1940, after repeated Japanese aerial attacks on Chongqing, the U.S. Government condemned Japan for these inhumane acts of terror.
Yet, a few years later, when Japan was losing the war in the Pacific, cities on the Japanese mainland became the targets of U.S. air raids. The U.S. engaged in “saturation bombing” in a literal sense until the very end of the war in August 1945, repeatedly attacking cities from Hokkaido to Okinawa, including Tokyo, Kawasaki, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka and Naha. In total 64 major cities were destroyed, causing over one million casualties, including half a million deaths, the majority of whom were civilians.
Indiscriminate bombing reached its peak, however, when mass-killing atomic weapons were used to annihilate two Japanese cities in August 1945. The A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people in one second, and it is estimated that a total of 140,000 died by the end of 1945.
In Nagasaki, 70,000 people are believed to have died by the end of the same year. The total death toll up to the present due to irradiation caused by the bombing of Hiroshima is estimated at approximately 450,000. However, in his announcement of the bombing, Truman said, “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” On the contrary, following Japan’s surrender, the
U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stated: “The air attack on Japan was directed against the nation as a whole, not only against specific military targets, because of the contribution in numerous ways of the civilian population to the fighting strength of the enemy, and to speed the securing of unconditional surrender.” The political and military leaders of the U.S. probably did not use A-bombs against Japan with the deliberate intention of genocide. Yet, as a result of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it became clear that the use of nuclear arms thereafter would be undoubtedly genocidal.
Since then, indiscriminate bombing has been repeatedly used in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and more recent wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the Korean War, U.S. forces bombed and destroyed two large irrigation dams, causing enormous flood damage in North Korea. As a result, North Korea’s agricultural economy was ruined. In the Vietnam War, in addition to a new type of napalm bomb, cluster bombs (with a high failure rate), daisy-cutter bombs (so-called earthquake bombs), and agent orange (a type of chemical defoliant) were widely used. This new bombing strategy with its new types of bombs resulted in long-term damage to the environment and the people, bringing suffering and death to countless civilians well after the actual bombing.
In recent aerial attacks conducted by the U.S. and British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, many civilians were again killed or injured as a result of the bombing of “wrongly identified targets” by “incorrectly programmed smart bombs,” or as “collateral damage.” No matter what military jargon is used to justify attacking civilians, it is clearly indiscriminate bombing in the eyes of the victims. Such bombing also creates huge numbers of refugees, as seen in Afghanistan where thousands of people fled their homes shortly before the onset of U.S. bombing. Eventually about 1 million Afghan people ended up in refugee camps. Clearly, such aerial bombing, which inflicts enormous hardship on vast numbers of civilians, is nothing short of state terrorism.
The U.S. and the British Forces started using munitions, bombs and missiles which contain depleted uranium in the Gulf. DU (Depleted Uranium) munitions and bombs are mainly used as penetrators on tanks. DU missiles are fired to destroy large buildings and bunkers deep under the ground. When exploded, exposed depleted uranium disperses as dust-like particles in a burning cloud of vapor. Settled dust is chemically poisonous and also radioactive. By the end of the war, 290,000 kg of DU was dispersed in southern Iraq. Since then many American and British soldiers have developed a strange illness known as the Gulf War Syndrome and some of their children born after the war are also suffering from physical deformities. In southern Iraq, deaths due to cancer and leukemia have suddenly increased, particularly among children, in the past several years. Many more Iraqi children are now suffering from leukemia, various types of cancer as well as physical deformities. The link between such phenomena and the use of DU is strongly suspected. High dosages of radiation have been detected in some places in Afghanistan, indicating that the U.S. and the British Forces used DU weapons there, too. It is said that estimated between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of DU was used in the recent Iraq War, which poses a grave concern to the health of Iraqi people.
Due to the widespread use of DU weapons since the Gulf War and the increasing possibility that tactical nuclear arms may be used, as well as the availability of super-large bombs like daisy-cutter bombs and mother bombs, the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons is rapidly disappearing. The number of countries seeking to equip themselves with weapons of mass destruction is increasing as nuclear powers like the U.S and Britain attempt to subjugate so-called “rogue nations” by the use of military might.
“The September 11 Attack” was unquestionably an act of terrorism as it killed thousands of civilians indiscriminately. This act, perpetrated by an al-Qaeda group can be seen as a variation on indiscriminate bombing where civilian planes are used instead of bombers to complete the suicidal mission. One can be certain that al-Qaeda would have used bombers if that had been an option. Whether indiscriminate bombing is carried out by an armed group or by the military forces of a particular nation, it is clearly an act of terrorism from the viewpoint of the civilians who become its
As we have seen, therefore, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki typifies two kinds of crimes against humanity ? indiscriminate bombing and mass killing ? both of which are common phenomena in modern and contemporary warfare as well as in terrorist acts such as the September 11 Attack. Thus, Enola Gay, the plane that carried the atomic bombs dropped on civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, clearly symbolizes the long history of indiscriminate bombing, a system of mass killing equivalent to the holocaust. The exhibition of Enola Gay without any explanation of this historical background will therefore justify these crimes against humanity that we as mankind have been committing for more than a century in various parts of the world. It will also endorse any future indiscriminate attack and mass killing, whether it be one committed by military forces or by any other violent organization. Instead, Enola Gay should be viewed as a reminder of our commitment to strive for universal peace and joy of life.
Written by Yuki Tanaka on behalf of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA)
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