JAPAN, IRAQ, BRIDGES: In Quaker meeting the other day, a very vivid image came to me of the Ai-oi Bridge in the center of Hiroshima. That bridge crosses over the confluence of two of the city’s rivers and is therefore distinctively T-shaped. When I was in Hiroshima in 2000, I stood a while on the bridge, watching the busy traffic crossing over it, and listening to the trundling sound made by trams as they lumbered across some of its joints.
In August 1945, since the shape of the bridge was so distinctive, it was used as ‘Ground Zero’ for the American pilot whose job it was to drop the world’s first operational A-bomb in exactly the right place.
Prior to dropping that one, other planes had come in over various parts of Hiroshima to drop sensors. The U.S. military wanted to make sure they knew everything about the effects of the bomb. Detonation was calculated to occur at around 600 metres into the air, for maximum dispersal of the radiation…
The upcoming/threatened attack against Iraq is, like the Hiroshima bombing, designed to have a big “demonstrative” effect, as well as to provide operational testing for some of the military’s latest gee-whiz gadgets. Indeed, as I wrote in a couple of posts last week (Feb. 19 and 21), it is designed according to a concept that is designed to replcate in a non-nuclear way the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings on the Japanese…
200,000 people died in those two cities.
Today, online, I found a book called On a Small Bridge in Iraq, written by a Japanese writer called Natsuki Ikezawa. Ikezawa, who won the Mainichi Prize in 2000, visited Iraq in fall last year because, as he writes, if the country is going to be dstroyed by war and many of its people killed, he wanted to meet some of them and get to tknow them a little bit before it happens.
(At that link I gave, you can download his book for free. It’s only 39 pages, and has some really beautiful photos in, too.)
In it, he writes about having left one Iraq’s many ancient sites, that at Hatra in the north… “On the motorway leaving the ruins, we crossed a small bridge. Hatra was a trading city whose Arab inhabitants were strongly influenced by Hellenism. Situated in the desert, the city flourished thanks to the presence of several small sources of water, one of them a small stream. Although in this season, it was a bone dry river bed spanned by the bridge.
“As we crossed the small bridge, a graphic image of war suddenly came at me. At that very moment in the afternoon of 4 November 2002, in the hangars of an American base in a nearby country or on an aircraft carrier on the sea, a cruise missile was standing by, readied with these coordinates. In the not-too-distant future, it would come flying out of the clear blue sky, straight down toward this bridge, explode and destroy it. I could see it all too vividly. The bridge before my eyes was in flames, reduced to sand and ash.
“Countless other missiles inscribed with the coordinates for the bridges and municipal offices, petroleum refineries and electrical power stations in every city throughout Iraq are all awaiting their turn…
“Moreover, people will die. Some will be killed instantly by bombs and missilies, others will die slowly from lack of food or water or medicine. War makes no exceptions for children or women or the elderly. If war comes, they’ll all get the worst of it.
“Those firing the missiles definitely do not consider the after-effects. They’re soldiers, trained not to picture the horror in their mind’s eye… No longer does anyone actually have to see the enemy; the new technologies make it possible to kill without any feelings of guilt… ”
Read the rest in the book itself.
* * *
IRONIC TIMING? I’ve been doing a lot of intensive work researching the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg recently. I have also been thinking a lot about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it took my recent reading of a book called Civilians at War, edited by Simon Chesterman, for me to put two and two together on these issues.
In his own contribution to the volume, Chesterman writes, “In one of history’s more brutal ironies, the treaty that established the Nuremberg trials–power’s celebrated tribute to reason*– was signed by the Allies on the same day that the United States dropped its second atomic bomb on Japan.”
(*The reference there was to Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson’s famous bon mot that the establishment of the Nuremberg Court was, “one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”)
I think Chesterman may be off by a day. The Nagasaki bomb was dropped, I believe, on Aug. 9, 1945. The Charter for the N’berg Court was signed Aug. 8. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped Aug. 6. So I think the main gist of Chesterman’s observation still stands true…
* * *
THE DRAMA OF POTSDAM: Actually, one of the most illuminating things I’ve ever read about those tumultuous days was Charles L. Mee, Jr.’s Meeting at Potsdam. And it’s really well written, too.
So basically, at that summit meeting, which ran from July 17 through August 1, 1945 in a suburb east of Berlin, you had Truman– who knew that his people were making their last preparations to detonate the world’s first A-bomb within the coming days, and could thereby transform not just the strategic balance in Asia but also the shape of world politics. You had Stalin, who knew much more about the Manhattan Project and the imminence and powers of the planned bomb(s) than Truman knew that he knew. And you had Churchill who was sitting there pretending to represent a big power though the other two kept talking over the top of his head– and anyway, Churchill’s Conservative Party was facing a tough race in Britain’s elections, July 25, and indeed, they ended up losing…
Whooo! What a moment in history that was.
Okay, here’s a question. Is this the same Charles Mee who’s a playwright still writing great plays these days? If so, did he ever write a play about the Meeting at Potsdam? If not, why not?

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