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2010-08-06

US Attending Hiroshima Memorial "Enormously Important," Says Robert Jay Lifton

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Sixty-five years ago today, the United States dropped a bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. An estimated 140,000 people died immediately or succumbed to burns and radiation sickness soon after the blast. This year, Japan marked this somber anniversary with a representative of the US government in attendance for the very first time. We speak with leading American psychiatrist, author and longtime opponent of nuclear weapons, Robert Jay Lifton. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sixty-five years ago today, the United States dropped a bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb released a mix of shockwaves, heat rays and radiation, killing thousands instantly. An estimated 140,000 people died immediately or succumbed to burns and radiation sickness soon after the blast. And another 74,000 people were killed as a result of a second atomic bomb dropped on the port of Nagasaki three days later.

Well, this year, Japan marked this somber anniversary with a representative of the US government in attendance for the very first time. US Ambassador John Roos said in a statement, quote, "For the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington Thursday that President Obama believed it was, quote, "appropriate to recognize this anniversary."

    SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: This president, President Obama, is very committed to working toward a world without nuclear weapons. He has said many times that he recognizes this is a long-term goal. It is something that will take years of effort by leaders and citizens who recognize the importance of denuclearizing our planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the United States and Russia still have more than 22,000 nuclear warheads between them, while France, Britain, China, India, Pakistan and Israel have a combined total of about a thousand weapons, according to the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. The global nuclear weapons stockpile is estimated to amount to about 150,000 Hiroshima bombs.

For more, we’re joined now on the phone by leading American psychiatrist, author, longtime opponent of nuclear weapons, Robert Jay Lifton. His books include Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, which won a National Book Award, and Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial. He wrote it with Greg Mitchell.

Dr. Lifton, welcome to Democracy Now!

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Your book, A Half Century of Denial, Hiroshima in America — it’s sixty-five years later now. What do you think of this day, yet another anniversary, yet the first time a US official representing the government went to Hiroshima to be a part of those observances?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Having an American official at that commemoration is enormously important, because it signifies our joining in honoring the dead – that’s what that occasion is about, honoring the dead — and finding meaning in their deaths. And the overall meaning at that ceremony is warning the world about the dangers of nuclear weapons.

Now, the traditional American response to August 6th has been to justify the use of the weapon on many of the media, saying that this cruelest weapon ever devised saved lives rather than took lives. This is a reversal of that position. It’s joining in the commemoration of a tragedy and the embrace of an anti-nuclear position. So I take it to be extremely important.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But it’s still a long way from recognizing responsibility for the use of the worst weapon of mass destruction on civilian populations, isn’t it? There’s still a ways to go in this country to recognize the — and acknowledge the horror of what our nation did back then.

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Absolutely. In our book, Hiroshima in America, Greg Mitchell and I talk about the American raw nerve toward Hiroshima. There is a tendency to suppress, distance ourselves from Hiroshima, because it’s an awareness of a terrible thing we did that we have difficulty acknowledging. And, of course, no American president has ever apologized or admitted the tragedy of America’s use of an initial nuclear weapon. This is at least a step toward allying ourselves with an anti-nuclear position and part of President Obama’s commitment to abolition of nuclear weapons. But it’s only a first step, and we need much more assertive commitment to abolition of nuclear weapons. And that means involvement in each danger of nuclear proliferation and carrying through our obligation to prevent nuclear proliferation, which is moving toward our own part in abolition of nuclear weapons. That’s part of the treaty, and it’s part of the requirement of the nuclear weapons-possessing countries. It’s a first step and highly significant one, but only a first step.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in what ways has President Obama distinguished himself from previous presidents on this issue?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Well, simply the commitment to abolition of nuclear weapons makes Obama the first president who has embraced that position. All previous presidents have had a kind of ambivalent position. Each one would say, “Oh, the weapons are too terrible to use,” but they would also say, “The weapons are part of our stockpile, and we don’t want to use them, but we might have to.” Obama is at least taking a stand, saying that the weapons have to be abolished and we have to remove them from the planet. His actions haven’t always been strong enough in backing that stand, but the commitment is one of great importance. And in that way, the assembling of a group of world leaders to examine nuclear weapons problems, which he’s done, is also a significant act. But all this is a beginning reversal, or at least modification, of the position of American presidents, and it should be recognized. And, of course, it should be embraced, and he should be pressed to take more active stands in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Lifton, we just fifteen seconds, but to those who say the dropping of the atomic bomb saved American lives, what is your response?

ROBERT JAY LIFTON: It didn’t save American lives. There was to be no invasion once we had the weapon. Historians reject that position. And we have to look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the only tragic evidence we have of what that bomb does to human beings. And that’s the importance of this ceremony and of our acknowledging and taking part in August 6.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Jay Lifton, we want to thank you very much for being with us, leading American psychiatrist, longtime opponent of nuclear weapons, author of a number of books on Hiroshima, including Death in Life, which won the National Book Award, and Hiroshima in America.

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