Looking Back at War – Ahead at Peace

by HEDY EPSTEIN, August 6, 1995

Below is the draft copy of a speech Hedy gave in St. Louis Missouri at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima. The event marked the first time the horror of a nuclear bomb was unleashed on Earth. A few of the technical details of the government’s proposal to deploy nuclear weapons in space were inaccurate but the point of the speech, that nuclear weapons anywhere, including space, were a danger to humanity, cannot be disputed.

Locked up inside of me is a German, Jewish child, who started to face the enormity of the Nazi Holocaust when just 8 years old.

My childhood was lived under the shadow of the Nazi regime in Germany. Gradually I faced the effect of discrimination against Jews, fear, insecurity, separation from my parents and family. Vaguely, at first, I grasped the meaning of the Nazi Holocaust, that millions of people had been exterminated, among them 6 million Jews, and, among them, my parents and other family members. They were killed because, like me, they were Jewish. The Holocaust marked my identity.

I vividly recall May 8, 1945, the end of the European war and how I wondered how long before the war with Japan would be over. Even more vividly I recall the horror that overwhelmed me when I learned of the effects of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 on Hiroshima, followed just 3 days later by the dropping of the second bomb on August 9, 1945 on Nagasaki.

I recall news reports describing these two events. There was a great explosion, a great cloud in the sky, a flash of light, the two cities were on fire. People were dying, crying, screaming, men, women, children in the street, some dead, others severely burned.

Fifty years ago today something terrible happened. Tens of thousands of people were killed instantly by the shock and heat of the explosion. Many thousands more died in the fires that wiped out entire neighborhoods. Many who escaped death then, suffered and died later from massive radiation exposure.

The decision to drop these two bombs was political as well as military. After spending $2 billion+ on the secret Manhattan project to develop atomic weapons, President Harry Truman felt hard pressed not to use these bombs. Furthermore, the U.S. wanted to acquire a geopolitical edge over the Soviet Union. The Cold War had already started. The decision to drop these bombs also was racist. Historian Barton Berns said: “It may have been easier to conduct the new warfare outside Europe and against Japan, because its people, the Japanese people, seemed like ‘yellow subhumans’ to many Americans and American leaders.”

1995 is the anniversary of so many historic events. The liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the end of WWII, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the 25th anniversary of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, the end of the Vietnam War twenty years ago, and the 80th anniversary of the inception of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. But we should not only think about what the last 50 years have meant. We should also think about what the next 10, 20, 50 years will mean. We should think about what we as individuals, as concerned, caring people can do to put the abolition of nuclear weapons on the national and international political agenda. We must let President Clinton and our legislative representatives know that we condemn the administration’s efforts to extend the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty unconditionally and indefinitely because this legitimizes the nuclear arsenals and the war preparations of the nuclear powers. We need to let President Clinton and our legislative representatives know we no longer want to continue to live under the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Nuclear weapons simply should be abolished.

We have nuclear weapons on land, in the air and sea and we are continuing to prepare for the nuclearization of space. When Star Wars was first announced by President Reagan in 1983, it was said it was non-nuclear. It was not. In 1997 the U.S. plans to send 72 pounds of plutonium into space on the Cassini spacecraft. The ultimate goal of all this madness is to have nuclear powered battle stations in outer space. We would need full all-out war to test these reactors. The English scientist, Sir Isaac Newton said long ago: “What goes up, comes down.” Even a 1% failure rate of a nuclear reactor would be catastrophic to the entire world as radiation comes raining down. It would be like Chernobyl falling out of the sky. That is insanity. And that is not all. The trend is that this kind of madness is growing and worsening. That is why we need to speak out, speak out now, and voice our strong opposition not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and future generations. We have to send a strong signal to President Clinton, to Congress, to NASA that we want an end, an end now to nuclearization and weaponization of space. Instead let us explore and experience the rewards of our efforts to better the lives of everyone on Earth, in our cities, right here in St. Louis.

I want to close by reciting the ending of a poem, entitled “Never Again the Atom Bomb” by Ishiji Asad:

All that people have created with their hands
and their minds for the glory of the world in which we live
Now it can be smashed in a moment, destroyed.
Deadly harvest of two atom bombs.
People of the world, watch and take care
that the third atom bomb never comes.