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HUMBOLDT REMEMBERS HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI
Dozens of residents of Humboldt County, California turned out Saturday, Aug. 9, in solidarity with worldwide commemorations of the 58th anniversary of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Story and Photos by
BRIAN OHKUBO COVERT
& KAZUMI OHKUBO COVERT
Arcata, Humboldt County, CA -- Handmade paper lanterns, paper cranes and a peace ceremony were how residents here Saturday commemorated the US government’s dropping of the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 58 years ago this week.
Peace events began in the monrning on the Plaza, Arcata’s main gathering place, amid the usual Saturday crowd of hundreds who turn out for the weekly “Farmer’s Market” ritual of selling and buying local produce and goods.
Members of the city of Arcata’s “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Commission” set up tables for making Japanese-style paper lanterns that would be floated in a local lake later that evening. There was table space as well as for making paper cranes and displaying printed materials related to anti-war issues and the two atomic bombings of 1945. Some of the free printed materials on display at the Arcata Plaza included pamphlets, brochures and a book that were recently donated, especially for this occasion, to the citizens of Humboldt County by the city of Hiroshima.
The U.S. government tested its new atomic weapon in the desert of New Mexico on July 16, 1945, and nine days later on July 25, officially decided the Japanese cities on which such a weapon would be dropped.
Three weeks later, at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, US military planes dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the industrial port city of Hiroshima in western Japan. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” weighed about four tons, had a destructive power equal to about 15,000 tons of TNT -- and contained the radioactive element Uranium 235.
Three days later, at 11:02 a.m., on Aug. 9, 1945, US military planes dropped the world’s second atomic bomb on the industrial port city of Nagasaki in southwestern Japan. The bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man,” weighed about 4.5 tons, had a destructive power of about 21,000 tons of TNT -- and contained the radioactive element Plutonium 239.
Both cities were instantly incinerated and covered by deadly mushroom clouds of radioactivity that brought on intense heat rays, strong winds and a radioactive fallout of “black rain.” Many survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima have often referred to the bombs’ effects, as they experienced them, as “hell on Earth.”
About 150,000 people were killed in Hiroshima on Aug. 6; tens of thousands more were wounded. About 75,000 people were killed in Nagasaki on Aug. 9, with about as many also wounded. Millions of citizens around the world have protested the two atomic bombings ever since then, commemorating the Japanese victims of the bombs that arguably ended World War II yet ushered in the seemingly uncontrollable global arms race that continues today.
The severe health problems, too, of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue on to this day.
On Aug. 6 this year, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, in a Peace Declaration, slammed the US for its current nuclear policy that “appears to worship nuclear weapons as God.”
“We must somehow convey to them [world leaders] that nuclear weapons are utterly evil, inhumane and illegal under international law,” Akiba said.
On Aug. 9 this year, Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Itoh reminded the world: “We have ceaselessly called for the eradication of nuclear weapons and the establishment of world peace, so that such a tragedy is never repeated.”
And on Aug. 9 this year in Humboldt County, California, Arcata City Councilmember David Meserve too expressed such sentiments during an evening “peace ceremony” held at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. As the sun set and the moon rose over the clear summer skies of northern Humboldt, the paper lanterns made at the Plaza earlier Saturday, with their messages for peace, were lit and set adrift on a small lake adjacent to Arcata Bay.
Just like people do in Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- where lighted paper lanterns with messages are placed on rivers and floated out to the Pacific Ocean about this time every year, remembering the dead and praying for a peaceful future for the living.
The peace event Saturday on the Arcata Plaza started off with a table (left) for people to make paper lanterns, and another table (right) for displaying Hiroshima-related materials and for folding paper cranes.
Mark Dubrow of the Arcata “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Commission” (center, wearing hat), an organizer of Saturday’s peace event at the Plaza, and others make paper lanterns to be floated at the Arcata Marsh later that evening.
A young boy draws his own design for a paper lantern.
An elaborate lantern design takes shape as this participant puts scissors to paper.
Meanwhile, over at the other peace table, four pairs of hands are fast at work making “origami” paper cranes. Under Japanese custom, the making of one thousand paper cranes is said to help a person to recover from sickness.
It’s all hugs, curiosity and serious paper crane-making at the Plaza, as the Farmer’s Market crowd strolls around in the background.
And voila! A few finished paper cranes and completed paper lanterns, alongside copies of the Hiroshima mayor’s official Peace Declarations of 2002 and 2003.
Some of the other Hiroshima-related materials at the peace table Saturday included these English-language pamphlets and brochures, as well as a bilingual documentary book, sent recently to Humboldt County citizens from the Hiroshima city government.
Early evening at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary’s Klopp Lake, where a couple dozen or so people gather for the second part of Saturday’s “Hiroshima/Nagasaki Day” activities.
Young and old alike gather at the peace ceremony at the Marsh, where about 30 lanterns created earlier in the day on the Plaza are ready for floating. “We Want a World Full of Peace” and “Nukes Cause Cancer” were among the many messages inscribed on the paper lanterns.
Arcata City Councilmember David Meserve (right) addresses the crowd gathered at the Marsh. Meserve reminded the group about the destruction wrought by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the importance of working for a world without such weapons.
As the moon rises over the mountains from the east, Arcata resident Laurel G., age 13, gives a solo performance she calls “Looking the Tiger in the Eye.” Part of her performance included playing Sadako, a Japanese girl of around the same age who died of leukemia in Hiroshima following the dropping of the atomic bomb. (Sadako died before she could finish folding the thousand paper cranes she hoped would help heal her.) The large work of art to the left of Laurel is one she created herself; it also won first prize in a book-cover design contest organized by the Arcata “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Commission.”
As night falls, candles within the paper lanterns are lit and the lanterns are set adrift one by one in Klopp Lake.
A near-full moon casts its glow over the lanterns as they gracefully glide on the lake.
One of the lanterns that floated at the Arcata Marsh that evening, with a special message for the spirits of those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those fateful days in August 1945.