I turned eight, days after the 18th anniversary of Hiroshima’s devastation. I lived on the Strategic Air Command base in Denver — AF families were housed in the most integrated neighborhoods in the states, I always said. I did NOT like townies — I was *that* AF-brat… a bit too butch for my dresses.
Townies irritated me for their obliviousness. When we had moved to Denver two years earlier, my elementary school had an air-raid drill. We kids were led to the basement like lambs to slaughter. I politely went along, but only because I knew it was a drill.
When we got to the underground space, I hit my limit. I told my teacher I would not play along any further with any ‘duck.and.cover’ bullshit — my Texan vernacular tended to hit the fan when I was peeved. She called the principal over. He was about 6 feet tall, I was under 3.
I stood my ground like the mule-head I am. I told him, if there *were* a real threat of a bomb hitting Denver, I would not be in any goddamned basement, bomb shelter, or man-made structure, aT-all. And if he had any question about my position on the matter, he could call my daddy at work. Sergeant Wernette wouldn’t mind taking a call in his missile silo from a big-man principal, right?
Well… we never had another air-raid drill again, and we were not instructed to get under our student desks ever after — at *any* school I attended. (I’d like to get hold of the transcript of that telephone interaction — bet it’s a hoot and a half.)
* * *
The August I turned eight was beautiful, climate-wise. On the evening of the 6th, everyone was outside. I sat on the grass of the hill between our housing unit and the one below us, revelling in a peace-time mirage. The absolute joy of a sense of safety enveloped the whole world, it seemed.
Snap. A screen door opens and all fiery fury is unleashed.
A young Japanese woman, who’d married a GI, stepped out on to the stage of her government-issued patio. Members of seventeen families were on my hill, but not a soul moved during her tirade. She railed and sobbed and screamed at how we could kill her mother in a rain of skin-searing, hair-singeing hell, and go on laughing in her face.
Finally, her husband stepped out of their back door, and gently pulled her in. He was saying, “_They_ didn’t do it,” over and over, as softly as a stage whisper. We continued to hear her screams, behind the closed door.
It seemed forever, before anyone else moved. No one uttered a sound, as each family slid quietly into their homes. I sat motionless for ages, contemplating the midnight-blue of a big sky, and a joy shattered forever... completely at ease in the knowledge that no one would be calling me in from my sad universe.
That Japanese daughter visited me for years to come. But she wasn't the only ghost who had something to say about atrocities.
If I was ever prone to wave a flag, my mother would remind me of a postcard that an American POW, at hard labor in Japanese mines, had managed to send home to his beloved in Texas. The war prisoner knew she would carefully lift the postage stamp for the neighbor boy, who collected the exotic images made overseas. Underneath the stamp were the words, “They cut my tongue out.”
* * *
A few days after this year's anniversary of an atomic show of strength, I will turn sixty-one — miraculously.
Today, there are now roughly 16,000 unused nuclear weapons in storage, many capable of far more damage than Little Boy or Fat Man. And more are rolling off the assembly lines still. Bigger. Better.
When I hear people say stupid-ass things about how bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only use of nuclear weapons for *warfare* in history, a voice in my head screams: STOP THE DESERT.
Can we? More than 2,000 nuclear *test* explosions have been conducted thus far, while we slowly boil in our own parchments. Is it complacency that allows us to queue up for the march to oblivion? Or is it secrecy?
You can go quietly... but I’m railing.
*Photos of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). Courtesy of Wikimedia.