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Sixty-Two Years After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings

by David Krieger, August 4, 2007

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August 6 and 9, 2007 will mark respectively the 62nd anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by a single atomic weapon with a core of enriched uranium.  The blast, heat, fire and radiation killed 90,000 people almost immediately and 145,000 by the end of 1945.

On August 9, 1945, Nagasaki was destroyed by a second atomic weapon, this one with a core of plutonium 239.  Because cloud cover kept the bombardier from finding his target in the center of the city, those killed immediately numbered some 40,000 and those dying by the end of 1945 numbered some 70,000. 

These bombs awakened humanity to the Nuclear Age, an age in which our human ingenuity places us face-to-face with our own demise.  From the onset of the Nuclear Age we have been challenged to do something never before accomplished in human history: to ban and totally eliminate an advanced form of weaponry.    

Kaz Sueishi, who was 19 years old at the time of the Hiroshima atomic bombing and survived, said: “One second before it was heaven.  One second after it was hell.”  While she may have overstated the situation before the bombing, she was undoubtedly correct that the situation after the bombing was a hell composed of death, devastation and suffering throughout the city.  It is at the precipice of repeating this unmitigated horror on an even larger scale that civilization and the human future continue to teeter precariously. 

During the Cold War, the US and USSR engaged in a form of nuclear rivalry known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  While the Cold War was ended by the early 1990s, nuclear weapons continue to threaten our common future.  There are still 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world.  Twelve thousand of these are deployed, and 3,500 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired in moments. 

We live today not only with Mutually Assured Destruction, but also Mutually Assured Delusions (also MAD) – delusions that we can possess these weapons indefinitely and not have them be used by accident or design or fall into the hands of extremist groups.  A key element of this delusional behavior is found in the belief that we can develop missile defenses that will protect against nuclear weapons.  Another aspect of the delusional behavior is the belief that we can allow nuclear power plants to be spread throughout the world without triggering nuclear proliferation. 

In addition to the constant threat to destroy cities, countries and civilization, three aspects of nuclear weapons that I most deplore are: first, they kill indiscriminately – men, women and children, the aged and the newly born, civilians and combatants – and are thus illegal under international law; second, because they are long-distance killing machines that target innocent people, they make cowards of their possessors; and third, they undermine democracy by placing such enormous power to destroy in the hands of a single individual or small cabal.

There are currently nine nuclear weapons states: the US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.  More than 95 percent of the weapons are in the arsenals of the US and Russia, countries that continue to integrate these weapons into their military strategies.  The US unfortunately promotes nuclear double standards – one set of rules for friends and allies such as Israel and India, and another set of rules for potential enemies such as North Korea and Iran.  Such double standards cannot hold, and it is delusional to think that they can. 

Sixty-two years after the onset of the Nuclear Age humanity still lives with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.  The main targets of nuclear weapons are major cities.  Why do we tolerate this?  Why do we elect and reelect leaders that live in a world of Mutually Assured Delusions? 

We can do better than this.  To start with, all nuclear weapons states are required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.  The International Court of Justice has defined this obligation as “to pursue negotiations in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

For the United States to show its leadership in this area that is so critical to the security of its people, it should urgently convene the “good faith” negotiations for nuclear disarmament required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  In addition, the US should withdraw its nuclear weapons from European soil; give legally binding assurances of no first use of nuclear weapons; ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; negotiate with Russia to take all nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; and commence multilateral negotiations for a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. 

The anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are reminders of the continued peril that humanity faces.  This peril is far too serious to be left only in the hands of government leaders.  Citizens must demand more of their governments – their very lives and those of their children could depend upon ending the delusions that nuclear weapons protect us and that nuclear double standards will hold indefinitely.

David Krieger is the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org)