Defusing the bomb

On Aug. 6 and 9, 63 years ago, the nuclear bombs Little Boy and Fat Man were detonated on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantly killing tens of thousands of the people living there, and severely wounding those who remained.

The explosion created a huge ball of fire that burned everything in sight, destroyed buildings that caused people to get trapped and suffocate beneath the debris, and worst of all, exposed the victims to radiation that resulted in a variety of long-term afflictions.

To commemorate the lives lost in this deadly act of war on its 63rd anniversary, various organizations within Pittsburgh have cooperated to arrange different events all over the city that educate and remind people about the tragedy that was caused by using nuclear weapons and the imminent threat that their continued existence poses to the future. The entire movement, aptly titled “Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace,” aims to bring the question of war to the forefront, and encourages people to strengthen their dreams for peace in our world.

The Mission

Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace is a united effort by a large number of organizations from all over Pittsburgh. It is being led by a coordinating committee composed of representatives from the following organizations, as well as several individuals: the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the American Friends Service Committee, PA Program, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Artists Upstairs (ArtUp).

Robin Alexander, Director of International Affairs for the UE, commented about the need for this movement in an e-mail.

“The devastation and horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not simply a thing of the past.... More countries today have nuclear weapons and there have been recent threats, including [those] by U.S. political leaders, that they may be used,” she wrote. She went on to describe the huge numbers of weapons and countries armed with such weapons around the world.

“However, we didn’t want to leave people without hope because we believe that we can, both as individuals and collectively, make a difference. And imagining peace is the first step in working to make it a reality. That message of hope for the future is reflected in the banner under which we came together: Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace.”

This united effort, consisting of a series of interrelated activities, began in August and runs through September. The activities use various media to spread the message: film, art, activism, education, and lectures, and hope to “increase awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to stimulate participants to take action to prevent nuclear war, abolish nuclear weapons, and work for peace,” according to the movement’s website www.rememberinghiroshima.org.

Events until now

The series of events began on Aug. 5, with the Pittsburgh City Council issuing a proclamation that “commend[s] and recognize[s] the important work of Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace.”

On Aug. 6, 40 people wearing black and carrying umbrellas, came together for Hiroshima Day and marched to the North Side to draw chalk shadows on the ground to remember the lives lost at Hiroshima.

Aug. 9 Nagasaki Day also had a similar gathering, with people listening to speeches and music.

The poster exhibit

To spread the word against war, Artists Upstairs curated the Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace Poster and Political Cartoon Exhibit. The exhibit consists of a collection of posters from the Hiroshima peace museum, art by Japanese children and local artists, as well as cartoons by various political cartoonists.

The posters from the museum, although more informative than artistic, provide the exhibit with an element of stark reality. According to political cartoonist, Gary Huck, a member of ArtUp and the person primarily involved in organizing the exhibit, “[The posters] create … an undeniable emotional impact as you go around the room.” These posters display pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before the explosion (“Before the A-Bomb”), as well as terrifying snapshots of the aftermath (“The Vanished Cities”). Heart-rending photos of burnt victims scattered near the hypocenter, survivors and their children struggling because of the exposure to radiation, and the devastation of the entire landscape by the intense heat rays are also exhibited. The posters also outline the damage inflicted on human bodies by nuclear bombs, both acute disorders like burns, contusions, lacerations, broken bones, hemorrhaging, fatigue, and nausea, as well as after effects such as keloids (an overgrowth of tissue over the site of a burn or an injury), leukemia, cataracts, cancer, and in utero effects. All this information successfully achieves its purpose of striking home the fact that nuclear bombs are the worst weapons of war.

The most touching part of the exhibit, however, is the display of artwork created by children who had survived the bombing. All the drawings are of horrific scenes the children had witnessed during the calamity, and are projected successively onto a wall.

“We chose to project them the way the heat of the bombs projected shadows on the walls in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We mean these to be fleeting images that repeat themselves.... I find these to be the most moving and the hardest to look at,” Huck said. When the atomic bombs exploded, they created a huge ball of fire that emitted heat rays with such a high level of intensity that it bleached stone white. As a result of this, if the victims were standing against walls or sitting on stone steps when the heat rays struck them, their outlines remained dark on the stone, giving the impression that their shadows had been left behind. It is this idea of projecting shadows that Huck referred to and the projection of the pictures tries to mimic.

The images that the children have recorded range from memories of the bomb itself, like the flash of the bomb, the sea of fire, or the billowing mushroom cloud, to more shocking memories of people burnt black and frozen in their positions: a mother burned and swollen while shielding her child, a burned infant whose intestines were popping out, and the people screaming for help.

The art by local artists includes “Black Crane Cloud,” a mobile of hanging black cranes created by Emily Laychak. This piece complements the morbid theme of the exhibit and gives the usual representation of the peaceful crane an eerie twist. Also by the same artist is a sculpture called “Survivors,” which consists of a globe covered with crawling cockroaches. It uses the fact that cockroaches were the only living organisms found on the site after the explosion, and signifies that the entire world will be covered only in cockroaches if we don’t end this battle.

“I wanted people to leave here thinking about the impact of the bombs. The idea of peace is a nice idea, but... we’ve never actually had peace, [and] I think we should concentrate on why that is, as opposed to the fluffy feeling of peace,” Huck said.

Artist and executive director of ArtUp Tavia La Follette created a piece from a fallout shelter sign, titled “11:59.” The piece depicts a clock on the sign, whose face reads 11:59, along with a tiny constructed stage with black curtains. The message La Follette is trying to send is that the fallout shelters, duck-and-cover videos, and other tools used by the government to prepare the people for nuclear attacks, were all a performance on the part of the government to encourage a false notion in the people that they could actually survive such an attack.

The last, and most interesting, part of the exhibit is the display of political cartoons on the issue of nuclear bombs and disarmament. This section makes use of humor to bring to light the growing threat posed by nuclear weapons, and the increasing number of countries arming themselves with atomic bombs. One of the cartoons that truly captures the conundrum our world is in now, is “Tic Tac…” by Huck. It displays a tic-tac-toe grid using the world as Os and nuclear bombs as Xs, and is complete except for one square. This blank square, if filled by either the earth or the nuclear bombs, would give either three in a row, but the question is: Who will win the game?

The other cartoons are also on similar lines. Some of them are from the ’80s, and depict the terror the people were feeling during that time because of the threat of nuclear war looming over them. There are also cartoons that mock the United States’ attempts to ask other countries like Iran and North Korea to disarm, when they themselves are sitting on a huge pile of nuclear bombs.

What is remarkable about this exhibit is that it easily unifies all these different expressions of art, giving the observer a multifaceted view of the issue of nuclear bombs. Even though it is situated in a small room, the powerful message the exhibit is trying to send is not diminished in any way, but rather gets more powerful as the viewer quickly moves through overlapping emotions of dread, fear, sympathy, pain, and humor, cementing the ideas the pictures, sculptures, and cartoons are trying to portray.