To remember the first atomic bombings

IssueJune - July 2016
News by Marc Morgan

The international Hiroshima-Nagasaki fast has been held for over 30 years now, as an act of sorrow and commemoration and as a form of protest against nuclear weapons. It continues to grow in support, numbers of participants, and international range from year to year. This year will be the fourth time that it is held in the UK, with a four-day fast from 6–9 August in Whitehall, central London.

Last year, about 150 people fasted in six different countries. In France, the fast is organised by the Sortir du Nucléaire network and by the Maison de Vigilance. Members and supporters fasted in Paris, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, and outside various weapons research institutes in different parts of the country. In France, the emphasis is on breaking the veil of silence which surrounds government policy, with the complicity of a largely subservient press. There is also a focus on the links between France’s nuclear weapons arsenal and the nuclear energy lobby.

In Germany, the fast has long taken place at Büchel, the last remaining nuclear weapons base in Germany (20 US bombs are held there under a ‘dual-key’ arrangement). Büchel is the scene of particularly enterprising and visible protest actions, calling on the German government to honour the wishes of an overwhelming majority of the German population for the removal of all nuclear weapons from German soil.

The German fast is organised by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, whose members have pledged to fast one additional day each year until all nuclear weapons are removed from the country. This year’s fast will start on 30 July, and will last until Nagasaki Day, 9 August. It will be preceded by protests and representations to the embassies of nuclear-armed countries in Berlin. An international work camp for young people will embrace the two sets of events.

In the USA, the fast was held at nuclear weapons research institutes in California, New Mexico and Missouri, and was accompanied by direct action protests leading to dozens of arrests. In Japan, one person fasted, starting in Hiroshima on 6 August, and ending in Nagasaki on 9 August.

London calling

Last year’s fast in Britain focused both on Trident and on global disarmament. The fast has always been actively supported by Trident Ploughshares, and is now officially supported by CND, Christian CND, and some Quaker groups. Held outside Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment in 2013 and 2014, it took place in central London for the first time last year (two people also fasted in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow).

The London fast was a great success. The police and the Westminster local authorities who visited and ‘chaperoned’ us were a bit surprised to see our cheerful banners decking out 30 yards of railing right outside the MoD, but they let us make our protest, hold commemorative vigils on Hiroshima and Nagasaki days, hand out our leaflets, and adorn the footpaths of the gardens outside the MoD, where we camped, with arresting, witty and pointed quotations from different sources.

The high point of our protest actions was a series of die-ins outside the MoD, parliament and Downing Street. Thousands of sympathetic passers-by and tourists captured the event on their smartphones and offered words of support. The police decided on an active intervention once, during our half-hour blockade of Downing Street – apparently with some reluctance in the case of one or two officers directly supervising the gate. However, by the time the ‘public order’ brigade had been summoned, we were resurrecting from our die-in according to plan, and in the end no arrests were made.

We would welcome activists to take part in the 2016 London fast, or to visit.

Topics: Nuclear weapons