The dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago marked a decisive abandonment of respect for innocence and for the innocent. The two bombs were dropped on a population of innocent people. The two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were not military targets. Guilt thus became irrelevant for punishment. At that moment, the most important issue linking human action with human civilisation was lost.

The greatest protest against this “nastiness” came from survivor victims, called hibakusha in Japan. They represented the pure and the innocent; they protested despite there being no expectation that the protest would bring them any benefit. It is this generosity of the hibakusha, whose protest has been to create a better world for others, which represents the noblest aspects of humanity of our times.

Technology, for all its claims of achievement, does not represent the noblest aspects of the human spirit. The pursuit of technological perfection has made it possible to destroy everything, in an instant, and this, ironically, is the ultimate boast of the technological civilisation. There is a definite conflict between technology and what used to be called the human spirit. Technology may even deny that such a thing as a human spirit exists. However, victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and victims of all sorts from around the world, are continuously demonstrating that such a thing as a human spirit does exist.

hiroshima bombing
The atomic bombing of Japan. Photo: Wikicommons.

Kanzaburo Oe, now 80 years old, who was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature for his novels, has spoken about the basic innocence of human beings. He has talked about this in terms of his experience with his son, who was born mentally handicapped, and his experiences with victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All his life, he has been a part of protest movements in Japan, which include, among other things, expression of strong opposition to every attempt in Japan to return to a militaristic past. This opposition has included opposing the present attempts of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to abolish Japan’s commitment to peace, enshrined in its post- World War II Constitution.

Ever since the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was made by the then US President Harry S. Truman, and its successful execution, a radical breach has existed between what humanity has promised to itself through the continuous work of previous generations. That unwritten promise was not to delink human actions from morality. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the most definitive act, when morality was completely delinked from deciding on not only the death of hundred thousands of people at that moment but also many more in future generations. Thus, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were not an act that ended 70 years ago. They are an act that has a profound effect on modern life in all its aspects.

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Written messages at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Photo: Donna Sarte, via Facebook.

The pursuit of technological perfection will thus finally come to the point of completely ignoring moral considerations. At the heart of economic, political, social, and cultural problems of humanity in modern times lies the problem of the pursuit of technological perfection at the cost of denying all considerations relating to morality. This is at the heart of the psychological crisis of modern times.

Technology has come to the point of delinking human beings from each other – see how a pilot can push a button knowing that in an instant hundreds of thousands of people will perish as a result of this action. Can there be a worse experience for humanity than the experience of human beings being delinked from each other, as the factor that linked them, i.e. morality, has been made into an irrelevant consideration in the pursuit of technology? Is it a surprise then that large numbers of young people are reported to be living in a state of depression?

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The Atomic bomb dome (Genbaku Dome) in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo: Wikicommons.

The human spirit and the upholding of the moral principles mean one and the same thing. The pursuit of technology and the pursuit of science, however, do not mean the same thing. Science can be pursued only through the cultivation of critical investigation. It is committed to the pursuit of truth and not mere pursuit of power. It is rooted in reason and in the cultivation of rational spirit. The search for meaning is at the heart of rational activity. Consequences that follow in the choice of actions are always the preoccupation of anyone committed to reason. Consequences may be for ones self, or others, or even to other things. Concerns of humanity can never be delinked from a rational search for meaning.

War created greater interest in technology. Marvellous inventions of technology generated the neglect of critical thought and ceaseless soul searching. Thus, the background to the dropping of bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was created. That itself became the admired ideal of power in the new age.

No one will think or argue that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally right or morally neutral acts. However, the world has not yet admitted openly that it was a morally wrong thing to do. And this does not politically or otherwise seem like the right thing. And, herein lies the moral ambiguity, which modern man is not shy about inhabiting. In this way, man has become capable of putting up with evil, however grave.

Basil Fernando is a Sri Lanka born jurist, author, poet, & a leading human rights activist in Asia. He currently works as Director of Policy and Programmes at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission. He has played a pivotal role in linking ordinary citizens striving for human rights principles at the grassroots to institutions working for structural reform at the policy level. Basil Fernando is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as “The Alternative Nobel Prize”. He received the Award in 2014 “for his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia.”