During September and October 2016, an MVPR peace mission team traveled from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Washington, DC and Annapolis, Maryland and then on to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Beaverton (Oregon) and Seattle. We met with churches and Christian groups and visited mosques, providing information about MVPR’s peacemaking efforts. Here is a short video produced by videographer Kienan Mamoun who accompanied our team.
Refugee Crisis and European Response
More than 1.3 million refugees had crossed into Europe by March, 2016. They came by land and sea. This influx of refugees sparked a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the millions of arrivals. It created division in the European Union over how to best deal with resettling people. While Sweden, Germany and Austria offered an immediate welcome, some nations gave way to right-wing extremists and racists, refusing to help.
While the vast majority of refugees arrived by sea, many chose to walk to freedom and safety, principally via Turkey to Greece and then Albania and northward! Most hoped to reach Western Europe to join relatives already resettled there.
Adding to the horror of the crisis was the number of deaths occurring at sea. Now, nearly two years into this crisis, refugee ships continue making the crossing, some sinking in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
And just this past week came a battered, blue-decked vessel that flipped over on Wednesday as terrified migrants plunged into the waters of the Mediterranean. The next day, a flimsy craft capsized with hundreds of people on board. And on Friday, still another boat sank into the deceptively placid waters.
Now another week and three sunken ships are again confronting Europe with the horrors of its refugee crisis, as desperate people trying to reach the Continent keep dying at sea. At least 700 people from the three boats are believed to have drowned, the United Nations refugee agency announced on Sunday, in one of the deadliest weeks in the Mediterranean in recent memory.
Most, attempting to escape war, terrorism, poverty and starvation in their homelands, are desperate to reach Europe, Canada and America, where they believe a new and better life awaits them.
Fear and rejection
But what they face in the West, in some cases, is extreme opposition based on misguided fear, anger and racism.
Since April 2015, the European Union has struggled to cope with the crisis, increasing funding for border patrol operations in the Mediterranean, devising plans to fight migrant smuggling, launching Operation Sophia and proposing a new quota system to relocate and resettle asylum seekers among EU states.
Individual countries have at times reintroduced border controls within the Schengen Area, and rifts have emerged between countries willing to accept asylum seekers and others trying to block their arrival.
According to Eurostat, EU member states received over 1.2 million first time asylum applications in 2015, a number more than double that of the previous year. Four states (Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Austria) received around two-thirds of the EU’s asylum applications in 2015, with Hungary, Sweden, and Austria being the top recipients of asylum applications per capita. The main countries of citizenship of asylum seekers, accounting for more than half of the total, were the war-torn nations of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conflict in Syria continues to be by far the biggest driver of refugees. But the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea, as well as abject poverty in Kosovo, are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.
According to the UN, there are more 60 million refugees in today’s world. And some nation’s are not at all friendly to these men, women and children who are seeking safety and a better life.
After Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, came out last year against taking in refugees, the great majority of which are Muslim, Cyprus and other nations have also sought to block refugees from entering their nations.
Hate and religious discrimination
Some have sought to reject refugees simply based on their religious beliefs.
“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians,” Cyprus’ Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos told state radio. “It’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.”
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico also complained about the flow of refugees, setting an arbitrary number of “200 Christians” to be received.
Fico has taken a hard stand from the beginning, echoing far-right Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński, Viktor Orbán and Czech President Miloš Zeman in an openly Islamophobic campaign against both the refugees and the EU’s attempt to redistribute the refugees.
Although the leader of a (nominally) center-left party, Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), Fico has a history of nationalist statements, mostly against Roma (so-called “Gypsies”), which have landed him in trouble with his European allies in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
Despite threats from S&D to censure him and his party, Fico doubled down by making various Islamophobic statements and threatening to take the EU to court over its refugee plan. He even went so far as to say that he wanted to put every Muslim in Slovakia under surveillance!
Slovakia’s most recent elections
These days we expect elections in East Central Europe to be bad news for liberal democracy. In 2014 Hungary re-elected its strongman Viktor Orbán, despite the fact that he had transformed his country into an narrow-minded democracy, and in 2015 Poland brought back Law and Justice (PiS), the party of Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who has been praising Viktor Orbán’s “Budapest Model” since 2011.
Surprisingly, Fico’s courting of right-wing groups did not help him in the Slovak general elections. Based on the results Smer-SD was the big loser of the election, winning just 28.3 percent of the vote, a loss of 16.1 percent compared to 2012!
Clearly this is not because of a lack of support for Fico’s anti-immigration positions within the Slovak population. Even before the refugee crisis hit Europe, Slovaks were among the least positive towards foreign immigration within the EU, and, given the various mass demonstrations during 2015, that situation has not changed for the better.
But the demonstrations did not just bring people together to voice opposition to Muslim refugees, they also gave a platform to a variety of far-right activists and groups. The most visible was Marian Kotleba, former leader of Slovak Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi party that was disbanded by the Supreme Court.
Kotleba has since bounced back, founding the extreme right People’s Party of Slovakia (ĽSNS), and getting elected governor of the Banská Bystrica Region in 2013. Kotleba and ĽSNS were very active and visible in the anti-immigration demonstrations in Slovakia and were rewarded with 8.0 percent of the vote (an increase of 6.4 percent) in the 2016 national elections. Even more shocking, ĽSNS was the biggest party among first-time voters, attracting a staggering 22.7 percent among 18 to 21 year olds!
What then should be our response?
In such crises, it is understandable that citizens are concerned about a mass influx of foreigners—especially when it involves hundreds of thousands of men and women of different faiths and cultures. After all, settling refugees in our communities exhausts our own governments’ resources, making it difficult to meet the needs of our own citizens.
But we people of faith have a higher calling to resist extremist politics when it is in opposition to immediate human need for compassion. We Christians and Muslims must respond as we believe Jesus and Mohammad (PBUT) would respond, encouraging their followers to assist helpless pilgrims and sojourners. There is a very famous Arabic statement in this regard, “The foreigner is blind even if he has eyes,” which indicates the vulnerability of the stranger and suggests that the stranger needs help and guidance.
What is it like when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children flee war? Watch the video below, and learn from the masses of Syrian refugees who are now making their way to Europe under the most difficult of circumstances. Watch and pray! And please give so Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation can make a difference for Muslims around the world by encouraging an end to religious discrimination: www.mvpr.org
MVPR announced in Washington, DC
Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR) made its debut on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, at a luncheon on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. “This was the public announcement of our human rights work,” says Samuel Shropshire, MVPR founder. “I am grateful for the advice and encouragement of all who attended.”
Shropshire was accompanied to Washington by Suhaib Mallisho of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Present at this important meeting were leaders from numerous humanitarian non-government organizations that are already advocating for human rights and world peace in the US capital.
Among attendees of the MVPR-sponsored luncheon, were Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation; Lisa Sams, Middle East Sub-Committee/Global Missions Committee of St. Albans Episcopal Church; Richard Parkins, Friends of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan; Stephanie Kinney, former diplomat with the US Department of State; Thomas Johnson, Companion Diocese of Jerusalem; Nate Hosler, Office of Public Witness, Church of the Brethren; Sayyid Syeed, Islamic Society of North America; Ambassador Warren Clark, Churches for Middle East Peace; and Raed Jarrad, Policy Impact, American Friends Service Committee.
Shropshire and Marina Buhler-Miko, acting MVPR chief operations officer, presided over the meeting.
“Washington, DC, is an important city. MVPR advocacy has found a lot of friends here,” Shropshire said.
Shropshire says, MVPR will do its best to let the American people know that Islam cares about human rights and all peoples facing oppression and injustice. He says, “MVPR will collaborate with Jewish, Christian and other religious and secular groups that seek to relieve the world of human misery.”
“We are Muslim men and women who care about others, regardless of their faith tradition,” he said. “And in that capacity we will seek to ally with others who have the same mission to change the world for the better.”
Shropshire said MVPR is seeking to provide leadership in peacemaking and human rights, especially in the Middle East. He emphasized that political and religious reconciliation is of utmost importance since, today, many faiths have been divided and hijacked by radical elements.
Shropshire has been living in the Mecca Region of Saudi Arabia for the past three years. He believes that the Abrahamic faiths, working in solidarity, hold the key to solving many of the world’s problems.
“One thing is certain,” he says. “No one will gain from a violent war that seeks to pit Muslims, Christians and Jews against each other. Working together we can end the conflicts and find a better way.”
The history of human rights
Shropshire points out that today is an age that is striking in its unprecedented technological sophistication and many advances. “But unfortunately, the prejudices and inequities that have plagued the human race for millennia continue to exist, and are responsible in our day for untold human suffering.”
Throughout history, especially in the Middle East, there have been individuals who have stood up for the rights of others.
Shropshire insisted, “We must ensure that these God-ordained rights are guaranteed to all the world’s citizens? There can be no exceptions.”
Shropshire says there is a firm foundation that has been established for all mankind–beginning in the Middle East with Cyrus the Great’s cylinder and the Prophet Mohammad’s Constitution of Medina, followed by the British Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights as enshrined within the United States Constitution, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the eventual Geneva Convention that laid the groundwork for the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Here is some detail about each of these human rights documents in the order of their appearance:
Cyrus the Great and his Akkadian language cylinder
In 539 BC, the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia, conquered the city of Babylon. But it was his next actions that marked a major advance for all humankind. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with cuneiform script.
Known today as the Cyrus Cylinder, this ancient record has now been recognized as the world’s first charter of human rights. It has been translated into all six official languages of the United Nations, and its provisions parallel the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
From Babylon, the idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome. In Rome the concept of “natural law” arose, in observation of the fact that people tended to follow certain unwritten laws during the course of life, and Roman law was based on rational ideas derived from the nature of things.
Islam, human rights and the Constitution of Medina
To the surprise of many, another early attempt at formally enumerating human rights is the Charter of Medina, also known as the Constitution of Medina. It was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shortly after his arrival at Medina in 622 AD, following the Hijra (immigration of Muslims) from Mecca to Medina.
The charter constituted an agreement between the various native Muslims of Medina (the Ansar), the Muslim immigrants from Mecca (the Muhajarun), Jewish believers, Christian groups in Medina and even pagans, declaring them to constitute ummah wāḥidah (“one nation”). The Constitution formed the basis of a multi-religious Islamic state in Medina.
The Constitution of Medina was created to end the bitter inter-tribal fighting between the rival clans of Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj in Medina, and to maintain peace and cooperation among all Medinan groups for fashioning them into a cohesive society. It ensured freedom of religious beliefs and practices for all citizens. It assured that representatives of all parties, Muslim or non-Muslim, should be present when consultation occurs or in cases of negotiation with foreign states, and that no one should go to war before consulting the Prophet. It also established the security of women, a tax system for supporting the community in times of conflict, and a judicial system for resolving disputes. It declared the role of Medina as a ḥaram (“sacred place”), where “no weapons can be carried and no blood spilled.”
The Constitution of Medina serves as an example of finding resolve in a dispute where peace and pluralism were achieved, not through military successes or ulterior motives, but rather through an agreed upon mutual respect, acceptance, and denunciation of war – aspects that reflect some of the basic tenets of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) own faith and commitment to God. These guiding principles of early Islam brought peace and stability to Medina. Religious pluralism and friendship and mutual respect were the law of the land!
A careful study of this document could help avoid many of the divisions and misunderstandings plaguing the world today. The principles embodied in the Constitution of Medina could easily be used to unite Muslims, Christians, Jews and peoples of other faiths.
The Constitution of Medina not only guaranteed the equal rights and protections of all citizens (Muslims, Christians and Jews), it spelled out the only conditions of what could be considered legal defensive just wars and the proper military conduct during the conduct of defensive war. (Offensive war was considered illegal and un-Islamic.)
Islam’s early contribution to human rights is best appreciated when viewed against the backdrop of world history as well as the realities of modern times.
As in all times, greed, prejudice and hate drive nations to war and conflict. Economic and social disparities have resulted in the oppression of poorer populations; racial prejudices have been the cause of subjugation and enslavement of people with darker skin; women have been weighed down by chauvinistic attitudes, and pervasive attitudes of religious superiority have led to widespread persecution of people with different beliefs.
“However, when considering the question of human rights and Islam,” declares Shropshire, “it is important to distinguish the divinely prescribed rights promoted by Islam from potential misinterpretation and misapplication by imperfect human beings.”
“Just as Western societies still fight against racism and discrimination, many Muslim societies continue to struggle to fully implement human rights as outlined in Islam,” he says.
The English Magna Carter
Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England (r.1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.
Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries.
Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of the Magna Carta’s core principles were written into in the United States constitution in the form of the Bill of Rights and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The United States Constitution
The American democracy and its constitution is a foundation stone for a long tradition of human rights and personal freedoms.
Written during the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, the Constitution of the United States of America is the fundamental law of the US federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world. It is the oldest written national constitution still in use and defines the principal organs of the US government, describing the balance of powers of the legislative government (President, Congress and the Supreme Court), outlining their jurisdictions and the basic rights of American citizens.
The early establishment of American human rights laws was in no way perfect as slavery and discrimination against African Americans, Native Americans and other minorities would persist for decades, but the US Constitution would lay the groundwork for an evolving, more humane nation.
The Bill of Rights were incorporated as an important part of the US Constitution, protecting the basic freedoms of all American citizens.
These human rights came into effect on December 15, 1791, limiting the powers of the federal government of the United States and protecting the rights of all citizens, residents and visitors within American territory.
The Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, outlines the right to keep and bear arms, the freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition the government. It also prohibits unreasonable search and seizure on private premises. “Cruel and unusual punishment” was strictly forbidden, and it outlawed compelled self-incrimination.
The Bill of Rights prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” and prohibits the federal government “from depriving any person of life, liberty or property” without due process of law. In federal criminal cases it requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital offense, or infamous crime, guarantees a speedy public trial with an impartial jury in the district in which the crime occurred and prohibits double jeopardy.
France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man
The inspiration and content of this document emerged largely from the ideals of the American Revolution. The key drafts were prepared by the Marquis de Lafayette, working at times with his close friend Thomas Jefferson. In August 1789, Honoré Mirabeau played a central role in conceptualizing and drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
The last article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on 26 August 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly, towards the end of the French Revolution. It was the first step toward writing a constitution for France. Inspired by the Enlightenment, the original version of the declaration was discussed by the representatives on the basis of a 24 article draft.
The draft was later modified during the debates. A second and lengthier declaration, known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793, was written in 1793 but never formally adopted.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
With the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that international conflict to ever happen again.
World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of all peoples. The document they considered, and which would later become known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was taken up at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946. The Assembly reviewed this draft Declaration on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms and transmitted it to the Economic and Social Council “for reference to the Commission on Human Rights for consideration.
The Commission, at its first session early in 1947, authorized its members to formulate what it termed “a preliminary draft International Bill of Human Rights”. Later the work was taken over by a formal drafting committee, consisting of members of the Commission from eight States, selected with due regard for geographical distribution.
The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds.
Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting committee. With her were René Cassin of France, who composed the first draft of the Declaration, the Committee Rapporteur Charles Malik of Lebanon, Vice Chairman Peng Chung Chang of China, and John Humphrey of Canada, director of the UN’s Human Rights Division and preparer of the declaration’s blueprint. Eleanor Roosevelt was recognized as the driving force behind the declaration’s eventual adoption.
The final draft, presented by Cassin, was handed to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1947, which was being held in Geneva.
The entire text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was composed in less than two years. At a time when the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocks, finding a common ground on several points proved to be a colossal task.
The unfinished work of championing peace and human rights
During the 20th century a number of great individuals have made their mark on human rights. Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton crusaded for women’s suffrage in the United States. Mahatma Gandhi in India was most effective in gaining India’s independence and championing the rights of Indian citizens. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, brought an end to segregation in the United States and Nelson Mandela was greatly used to dismantle apartheid in South Africa,
Many other men and women have stood up at various times, against all odds, to champion world peace and human rights. And, today, 21st century activists are answering the call.
Take a few minutes to learn more. Watch this short United Nations video about the incredible history of human rights:
Sources: United Nations, Encyclopaedia Britannica, wikipedia.org, US Library of Congress, A History of England, Oxford Bibliographies, Notes in History, humanrights.com, Youth for Human Rights
Last updated 3 October 2015, 4:02 AM…
Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombed
On August 6, 1945, 8:15 AM, after 44 months of increasingly brutal fighting in the Pacific, the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber loaded with a devastating new weapon, appeared in the sky over Hiroshima, Japan. Minutes later, that new weapon—a bomb that released its enormous destructive energy by splitting uranium atoms to create a chain reaction—detonated in the sky, killing some 70,000 Japanese civilians instantly and leveling the city.
Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki, with similarly devastating results. The following week, Japan’s emperor addressed his country over the radio to announce the decision to surrender. World War II had finally come to its dramatic conclusion.
My personal interest in the atomic bombings
In 1997 my Project Friendship Russian exchange student Timur Chirikov was a senior at Severn School in Severna Park, Maryland. Timur brought home a homework assignment. He had been asked to write a term paper on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like most Americans, I had never really given much thought to the subject. I agreed to help Timur with this project. We began to pour through all kinds of information we found on the internet or in print at our local library. Timur had to first decide a “pro” or “con” position regarding the US use of atomic weapons to end the war with Japan. After looking through hundreds of pages of information, he decided he would write against the use of the atomic weapons. The clincher in that decision seemed to be the Oppenheimer Target Committee report that had been declassified by the US Department of Defense.
Several Japanese cities had been listed by the Target Committee as potential bomb sites. Perhaps it was the wording of the committee’s suggestion that Kyoto would make a good target. Although Kyoto, an urban industrial city of one million inhabitants, was never bombed, it had been classified by the committee as an “AA Target.” Committee members reasoned, “From the psychological point of view there is the advantage that Kyoto is an intellectual center for Japan and the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget.” (“Gadget” was the code word for the atomic bomb.)
Timur and I read those words in disbelief. What? More educated, intelligent people can better appreciate being incinerated by an atomic bomb? Hiroshima was the last major Japanese city left untouched. It was the political and economic heart of the Chugoku Region and possessed vital military base. The population at the time was in excess of 350,000. Hiroshima would be “number one” on the Target Committee’s report.
The ongoing controversy
The decision to employ atomic weapons against Japan remains a contentious chapter in American history. Even before President Harry S. Truman finalized his decision to use the bombs, members of Truman’s inner circle grappled with the specifics of the decision to drop the new weapon. Their concerns revolved around a cluster of related issues: whether the use of the technology was necessary to defeat an already crippled Japan; whether a similar outcome could be effected without using the bomb against civilian targets; whether the detonation of a second bomb days after the first, before Japan had time to formulate its response, was justified; and what effect the demonstration of the bomb’s devastating power would have on postwar diplomacy, particularly on America’s uneasy wartime alliance with the Soviet Union.
The ongoing struggle to present the history of the atomic bombings in a balanced and accurate manner is an interesting story in its own right, and one that has occasionally generated an enormous amount of public debate. In 1995, anticipating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum planned a display around the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the aircraft that dropped the first bomb, for its museum on the National Mall. That exhibit would place the invention of atomic weapons and the decision to use them against civilian targets in the context of World War II and the Cold War, provoking broader questions about the morality of strategic bombing and nuclear arms in general.
The design for the exhibit quickly triggered an avalanche of controversy. Critics charged that it offered a too-sympathetic portrayal of the Japanese enemy, and that its focus on the children and elderly victims of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki encouraged visitors to question the necessity and morality of the weapons. As originally written, those critics alleged, the exhibit forwarded an anti-American interpretation of events surrounding the atomic weapons’ use.
That such a message was to appear in a national museum amplified the frustrations of critics (especially veterans’ groups), who believed that the exhibit should not lead museum goers to question the decision to drop the bomb or to portray the Pacific war in morally neutral terms.
In place of the original exhibit, veterans’ organizations offered a replacement exhibit with a very different message. Their proposed exhibit portrayed the development of the atomic weapons as a triumph of American technical ingenuity, and the use of both bombs as an act that saved lives—the lives of American soldiers who would otherwise have had to invade the Japanese home islands, and the lives of thousands of Japanese who would, it was assumed, have fought and died with fanatic determination opposing such an invasion.
‘The revised exhibit removed the questioning tone of the original, replacing it with more certainty: the use of the bombs, it argued, was both necessary and justified.
Varying accounts of US history books
Because the use of the atomic weapons evokes such passionate responses from Americans—from those who believe that the use of the bombs was wholly justified to those who believe that their use was criminal, and the many people who fall somewhere in between—it is a particularly difficult topic for textbooks to discuss. In order to avoid a potentially treacherous debate, textbooks have often adopted a set of compromises that describe the end of the war but avoid or omit some of the most difficult parts of the conversation. A 1947 history textbook, produced just two years after the bombings did just this, sidestepping the controversy by presenting the story at a distance and refraining from interpretation or discussion of civilian casualties: “The United States unveiled its newest weapon, demonstrating twice—first at Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki—that a good-sized city could almost be erased from the map in one blinding flash. Confronted by this combination of forces, Japan surrendered August 14.”
“If the war dragged on and Americans had to invade Japan, it might cost a million lives…life for life, the odds were that [the atomic bomb] would cost less.” Later textbooks made other compromises. The 2005 textbook A History of the United States adopts a familiar tone, arguing that President Truman based his decision to drop the bomb mainly on a complex calculus of the cost in human lives if the war were to continue: “Should the United States use the atomic bomb? No one knew how long Japan would hold out.” That uncertainty forced American planners to assume the worst: “If the war dragged on and Americans had to invade Japan, it might cost a million lives.
The atomic bomb, President Truman knew, might kill many thousands of innocent Japanese. But life for life, the odds were that it would cost less.” A 2006 textbook, The Americans, suggests that the decision to drop the bomb occurred largely outside moral concerns: “Should the Allies use the bomb to bring an end to the war? Truman did not hesitate. On July 25, 1945, he ordered the military to make final plans for dropping two atomic bombs on Japan.”
The paragraph on the decision concludes with a compelling quote from the President himself: “Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt it should be used.” Other recent textbooks have labored to present this often-contentious topic in a more nuanced manner. The 2007 textbook American Anthem describes the decision-making process as an involved one, observing “Truman formed a group to advise him about using the bomb. This group debated where the bomb should be used and whether the Japanese should be warned. After carefully considering all the options, Truman decided to drop the bomb on a Japanese city. There would be no warning.”
The carefully written passage does not suggest that the question of whether to use the bomb against civilian targets was part of the debate; it describes the inquiry as focused on where to drop the bomb and whether a warning would precede its use. More recent textbooks often offer viewpoints from other perspectives—including Japanese civilians, who suffered the legacy of atomic fallout for decades after the original explosion—from a morally neutral stance, inviting (or directly asking) readers to make their own judgments.
Besides offering a description of Truman’s decision-making process, the American Anthem textbook includes a passage of equivalent length that describes the destruction on the ground, anchored by a quote from a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb. It also features a “Counterpoints” section that contrasts a quote from Secretary of War Henry Stimson supporting the bomb’s use with one from Leo Szilard, an atomic physicist, characterizing the use of the bombs against Japan as “one of the greatest blunders of history.”
What the documents reveal
Over the years, particularly during the 1990s, much information related the atomic bombing of the two Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been declassified, but still a discussion that focuses primarily on the need to employ the bomb in order to save lives—the lives of Japanese civilians as well as those of American soldiers—is incomplete. In fact, as the documentary record shows, there was a good deal of debate over the use of atomic weapons during the summer of 1945.
Much of the debate, however, focused on other complex issues–not the lives that would be saved or lost by bringing the war to an immediate end. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe and one of the architects of the successful campaign against Germany, was one of the dissenters. After the war, Eisenhower recalled his position in 1945, asserting that “Japan was defeated and… dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
Eisenhower’s objection was, in part, a moral one; as he noted, “I thought our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face.'”
Eisenhower recalled that his objection was not at all well received by Secretary of War Henry Stimson. In Eisenhower’s own words, Stimson was “deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions.” (In a separate document, Stimson himself concurred with Eisenhower’s conclusion that there was little active American attempt to respond to Japan’s peace feelers to prevent the use of the atomic weapons: “No effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the bomb.”)
The year after the Japanese surrender, the U.S. government released its own Strategic Bombing Survey (SBS), an effort to assess the effectiveness of dropping bombs on civilian populations, including the fire bombs used in Europe and the Pacific, and the atomic weapons detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its findings suggested that the bombs had been largely unneeded, and that Japan’s surrender was all but guaranteed even without the threat of invasion. “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts,” the SBS concluded, “and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that . . . Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
Though firm in its assertions, the SBS received widespread criticism from many quarters for drawing conclusions considered “far beyond the available evidence.” But, the Strategic Bombing Survey’s conclusions highlight another important factor in the decision to employ the bombs against Japan: the message such a display would send to Josef Stalin.
Uneasy allies in the war against Germany, Russian forces had joined the war in Japan in August 1945. Contemporary observers noted that the demonstration of the deadly new weapon’s considerable might had the additional effect of warning Stalin that the U.S. would exercise considerable power in the postwar period. Furthermore, dropping two bombs only days apart had the added benefit of convincing the Russians that the U.S. possessed a formidable supply of the new weapons; when in fact, the U.S. nuclear arsenal was entirely depleted after the two attacks on Japan.
A survey of primary sources from the summer of 1945 and the months afterward reveals a variety of opinions, arguments, and justifications regarding the use of atomic weapons. Embracing the variety of opinions while also presenting a narrative that depicts the decision and its effects from multiple perspectives is a near-impossible task. Given how controversial the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has proved to be, the compromises 21st-century textbooks have undergone appear understandable if not entirely necessary.
The death toll
The real mortality of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan will never be known. The destruction and overwhelming chaos that followed made orderly counting impossible. It is likely that the estimates of men, women and children who died in Hiroshima (140,000) and Nagasaki (75,000) are far too conservative. On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 AM, in Hiroshima an estimated 70,000 people were killed instantly. The heat from the bomb was so intense that some people were simply vaporized in the explosion. Some who survived the initial blast threw themselves in the Ota River seeking relief from their burns. There thousands drowned. Within the next four months another 70,000 would die from the effects of radiation and sustained blast injuries. Still, thousands more suffered from the long-term effects of prolonged radiation sickness.
Little remains of the effects of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima except for artifacts in the city’s Peace Memorial Museum and Park and the skeletal remains of the Atomic Bomb Dome. The city has been rebuilt. Nearly 70 years has passed since the atomic bombings and the end of war with Japan. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park now seeks to preserve survivor experiences and has as its major objective the ending of all war and promoting world peace. My hotel was but a block away, so I was able to visit the Peace Museum often during my stay.
One of the exhibits that was very moving was that about three junior high school students whose lives were ended by the blast. More than 8,400 Japanese first and second-year students from the Hiroshima Municpal Junior High School had been assigned to demolishing old buildings as a means of creating firebreaks should the city face saturation bombing from Allied planes.
More than 6,000 of these children died when atomic blast took place in the sky above them. The exhibit showed clothing from three of the students who died. There was the cap belonging to first-year student Eiichi Tsuda. There was the uniform belonging to second-year student Hajime Fukuoka, and there were gaiters (a covering worn over the shoes and lower pants legs) belonging to first-year student Masayuki Ueda.
The museum exhibits powerfully communicate the need for world peace and an end to war.
Outside the museum I found myself surrounded by many smiling Japanese junior high school students. Their ages and faces appeared the same as the young students I had seen featured in the exhibit. Easily recognizing me as an American, they began to encircle me. Not knowing what to say, I asked if they spoke English. They excitedly reached out to shake my hand, saying almost in unison, “Hello, mister. How are you?” I shook their hands and greeted them.
After speaking briefly with these children, I met a very dear lady, Akemi Yagi, a peace volunteer guide who would spend several hours walking with me through the Peace Park. Akemi was born in Hiroshima in 1948, three years after the a-bomb was dropped. Her parents were “A-bomb survivors.” “I don’t have vivid memories, but I can still hear my mother saying that everyone is so poor. She would say often that the people of Hiroshima lost everything: houses, clothes, food.”
Akemi tells me she has dedicated her life to ending war and nuclear proliferation. She was truly inspiring.
I suggested to Akemi that no warning had been given to the people of Hiroshima before the atomic bomb was dropped. Her response was very gracious. “Neither did we Japanese give any warning to the Americans before attacking Pearl Harbor,” she says. “War is evil. We must stop war. We must forgive the past. We must work for a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
Akemi points out that today’s nuclear weapons are thousands of times more powerful than that single atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. “And there are thousands of them,” she says. “That’s why nuclear disarmament is so important. The world must eliminate these weapons.” Akemi is right. A history of nuclear arms race is portrayed in a timeline prepared by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) indicates today’s wide proliferation of these destructive weapons of war could destroy the world a thousand times over within just a few minutes. Even a relatively small regional nuclear war could trigger an international “nuclear winter.” It would cause droughts for more than a decade, researchers say.
Eisenhower right–Akemi too!
I am convinced Akemi has it right, and so did General Eisenhower. What the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor was evil and wrong. But I am also persuaded from my research, that I now fully agree with Eisenhower–that what America did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also wrong.
It was in Eisenhower’s words “unnecessary.” And as he predicted, America had also become known as the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons in time of war.
Eisenhower would later serve two terms as president of the United States. At the end of his eight years as president, three days before he left office, Eisenhower addressed the American people in a televised appeal–a warning that would become known as “Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation.” In that message President Eisenhower cautioned American citizens about the evil of an uncontrolled military industrial complex and the potentially strong influence of their lobbyists in the halls of the US Congress:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
I asked Akemi about the lingering effects of radiation from the a-bomb. I was surprised to learn that just about all of the radiation from the Hiroshima bombing disappeared within a couple of months. She says the Japanese government certified anyone who was within two kilometers of the hypocenter during the two weeks following the bombing as an “A-bomb survivor.”
“The A-bomb exploded not on the ground but in the air,” she explained. Most of the radiation from the explosion had been dispersed and decayed in the mushroom cloud that went far into the atmosphere. Akemi also points out that a very powerful typhoon named Makurazaki hit Hiroshima, just six weeks after the blast, causing major flooding in the city. “It washed just about all of the remaining traces of radiation out to sea.”
Now Akemi tells me something I never knew. In addition to the more than 140,000 Japanese who died immediately or during the following four months, there were at least 12 American POWs who died on that fateful day. We stare into a computer screen in the research library. She points to the names of the 12 Americans that are listed there. I quickly write down the names: Raymond Porter, Ralph Neal, Joseph Dubisnky, Durden Looper, Buford Ellison, Charles Baumgartner,John Hantschel, James Ryan, Hugh Atkinson, Norman Brisette, John Long and Julius Molnar. I learn that the death of these American POWs was not acknowledged by the United States until the late 1970s. The Japanese have now added the names of the twelve soldiers to their official tally of those killed in the bombing, and the photos of these POWs are now mounted in the Peace Memorial Museum photo gallery.
Hiroshima’s A-bomb orphans
Speaking with great conviction, Akemi shares the story of Hiroshima’s “A-bomb orphans.”
“There were thousands of them,” she says. These were children 8 to 11 years old who had been evacuated to the countryside for wartime safety. Though their parents had met a horrific death, they had been spared, but at what cost? Their lives had been horribly changed by the tragedy of war!
Children are always the most innocent victims of war. In the 21st century, millions every year are traumatized by the events of war. “After the war these orphaned children of Hiroshima were sheltered on Ninoshima Island, some were pushed onto the streets for various reasons,” Akemi says. “Anyway, they had to live on their own by shining shoes on the street or taking any other jobs available.” Teary-eyed, Akemi admits, “Some of the orphans starved to death. Others joined street gangs or prostituted themselves to survive.”
Akemi mentions one particular orphan. She explains that a young boy named Shouzou Kawamoto had lost six members of his family. He was working in a field with other evacuated children outside Hiroshima when he saw that flash of light from the bomb and then the mushroom cloud rising high in the sky. Akemi says he found out the next day that both his parents, two of his sisters and a brother were dead. At the age of 11 Shouzou had become an a-bomb orphan. Just a half year later his lone-surviving sister died of radiation-related acute leukemia. It was shortly after the death of this sister that Shouzou found work in a soy sauce factory. Akemi says, “Shouzou tried so hard.” “When he became 23 years old, he fell in love with a girl. He proposed to her, but her parents were against their marriage, because they worried about the effects of radiation.”
“A-bomb survivors faced a lot of discrimination,” Akemi adds, “especially when they tried job hunting or getting married.” Shouzou felt hopeless to escape the difficulties of life in Hiroshima.
Wanting to leave those horrible memories of the war behind, Shouzou resolved to leave the city. Having only 640 yen in his pocket, he took the train as far as he could to nearby Okayama. There, Shouzou, heard his mother’s voice saying to him, “Never give up! Never give up, Shouzou!”
He saw a help-wanted ad on the door of a neighborhood noodle shop. He walked inside and was hired.” Many years later, when Shouzou was 50 years old, he started a very successful business making lunch boxes. Akemi tells me he never married.
Decades had passed with little contact with his former acquaintances in Hiroshima. One day he received an unexpected phone call. He was invited to join other classmates at a school reunion. After years of healing from the traumatic scars of war, Shouzou now felt a great longing to be reunited with his classmates. He found understanding, sympathy and hope from those who had also experienced the atomic bombing. Ten years later, now 70 years old, Shouzou would close his lunch box business in Okayama and return to live Hiroshima.
Today, like Akemi, Shouzou is a peace volunteer guide, sharing his story with the many visitors who come to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park. They are proof that one need not be controlled by the horrid events of the past, but one can use those experiences to help others to build a better future for all mankind. Shouzou says, “No one else should ever suffer as we did.”
Sadako and the paper cranes
While continuing our walk through the Peace Memioral Park I notice brightly colored paper cranes hanging nearby. Akemi begins to tell me the story of a young girl named Sadako Sasaki who made origami cranes.
Sadako was two years old when she was exposed to the radiation of the A-bomb. She had no apparent injuries at the time. She grew into a strong, healthy, beautiful girl. However, nine years later, in the fall of 1954, shortly after entering the sixth grade of Nabori Cho Elementary School, Sadako suddenly developed signs of an illness.
By February of the following year she was diagnosed with leukemia and was admitted to the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. Believing that folding paper cranes would help her recover, Sadako kept folding and folding, but on October 25, 1955, after an eight-month struggle with the disease, she passed away.
Sadako’s death triggered a campaign to build a monument where people could pray for world peace. It also offers the world’s children a peaceful response to remember the children killed by the atomic bomb. The Children’s Peace Monument in the middle of the park was built with funds donated from all over Japan. Later, this Sadako’s story spread around the world, and now, approximately 10 million cranes are presented each year to the Children’s Peace Monument.
Sending paper cranes
Anyone may bring paper cranes to the Children’s Peace Monument near the center of the Peace Memorial Park. However, if you are unable to come to the park, the City of Hiroshima will be happy to present your cranes to the Children’s Peace Monument on your behalf. In addition, the name of your school or your children’s names and messages for peace will be entered into the Paper Crane Database. In this way, your desire for peace will be recorded for posterity. For this purpose, please complete the registration form and return it to the Children’s Peace Memorial along with your paper cranes to:
Peace Promotion Division The City of Hiroshima 1-5 Nakajima-cho Naka-ku, Hiroshima 730-0811 Japan
A video that changed my life
Following our visit to the Children’s Peace Memorial, Akemi takes me into the Ground Zero Museum and Research Library. There we enter a theater. She says what I am about to see is very important. As the documentary film Children of Hiroshima begins to play I am immediately moved to tears as child after child describes life during and after the atom bomb fell.
I now ask you, for the cause of world peace and ending war, for the sake of future generations, please, please watch this short 15-minute film which I have posted below.
Children of Hiroshima is based on the eyewitness accounts of Japanese children who were present when the atomic blast occurred. Share this video with your family and friends, and get involved, like Akemi and Shouzou, in campaigning for world peace.
Robert Oppenheimer in his own words:
Sources: US Strategic Bombing Survey, UPI, Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum, The Nation, US Department of Defense, wikipedia.org, atomicbombmuseum.org, National Geographic Magazine, youtube.com, Children of Hiroshima, teachinghistory.com, A History of the United States, The Americans, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, United States Archives, Stars & Stripes, livescience.com, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.