Today as the sun rises over Dublin, for another summer’s day, I think of what it must have been like in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945; people on their way to school, on their way to work; carrying out household chores – going about their everyday lives. The country was still at war, but Hiroshima had largely escaped extensive bombing, unlike Tokyo or Tokushima, that is until 08:15am 6 August 1945. At that moment the Enola Gay, B-29 bomber dropped ‘Little Boy’, a 13 kiloton uranium based bomb over the city. The weapon, only perfected in the lab a few weeks previously, fell towards the earth and detonated approximately 600 meters above the ground.
People very close to the hypocentre were incinerated, leaving only eerie shadows behind, those that survived the initial blast, suffered horrific injuries and radiation sickness. The city’s infrastructure was destroyed, so much so that it took several hours for word to even reach Tokyo that the city had been hit. Hiroshima had been laid to waste by the ‘atomic bomb’. Of the city’s 45 hospitals, only three remained functioning, including the Red Cross hospital. Close to 90 per cent of the cities medical staff had been injured in the blast however and these three hospitals, however, had a significant shortage of personnel, equipment, and supplies – no pain medication; no clean dressings; no antibiotics – all desperately needed by survivors.
Three days later, on 9 August 1945 another larger bomb, ‘Fat Man’ with a plutonium core was dropped on Nagasaki with equally devastating effects.
Nuclear weapons cannot distinguish between civilians and military
In the decades since the use of these horrific weapons, there have been numerous tests, re-designs and ‘improvements’ so that nuclear weapons can now be launched from a range of different platforms and the average nuclear weapon has a far larger yield than those dropped on Japan in 1945. It is estimated that between 60 000 and 80 000 people were killed in Hiroshima 69 years ago, with tens of thousands more dying from their injuries and radiation sickness in the weeks, months and even years that followed. Most of these were civilians. In Nagasaki, three days later – civilians also bore the brunt of the horrific consequences of the attack on that city.
Under international humanitarian law it is prohibited to target civilians, yet nuclear weapons, which cannot distinguish between civilians and military and have widespread humanitarian consequences are not the subject of any specific ban. The humanitarian needs that would arise if even a single nuclear weapon were used in a populated area would severely undermine the ability of authorities and the humanitarian community to adequately respond.
War is sadly a daily reality for many
The destruction and suffering in Gaza that fills our TV screens each night is testament to this. In a world where humanitarian organisations are already challenged to meet the needs of the victims, where Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers are being killed while trying to help people; where people across the globe are already saying we must stop the violence, stop the suffering of civilians, do we really want anyone to have access to weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons?
At the Red Cross, we don’t think so. We are calling on States to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again and to create laws to prohibit their use and aim for their elimination. We believe it is time to create a world that is free from the threat of nuclear weapons so that the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never seen again.