REMEMBER THE PAST – WORK FOR THE FUTURE
“I was eight when the bomb dropped. My older sister was 12. She left early that morning to work…and never came home.”
“I too was affected by the radiation and vomited profusely after the bomb attack.
My hair fell out, my gums bled, and I was too ill to attend school.”
“The war was caused by the selfish misdeeds of adults. Many children fell victim because of it. Alas, this is still the case today.” Emiko Okada, a Hiroshima survivor.*
I remember my fifth grade teacher reading to the class from John Hersey’s book “Hiroshima.”** I can’t honestly say it changed my life or made me into a peace activist. Like most kids, I wasn’t really paying much attention to school and soon forgot everything I was supposed to have learned. But I do remember him reading about the gruesome injuries people suffered. Now, as an adult, I know there was no justification for the horrific war crime we, as a nation, committed. Nor can there be any excuse for the unimaginable suffering we inflicted on the innocent people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
August 6,1945 we dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later we destroyed Nagasaki with a second nuclear weapon. The world changed forever. We came under the shadow of a nuclear mushroom cloud that is still with us 75 years later. We should remember that the United States not only created these weapons of mass destruction but we are the only country in the world to use nuclear weapons against a civilian population. One would think this would inspire some remorse, or perhaps a little humility, or at least a little less celebration of “shock and awe.”
We rarely see, and never consider, the impact of our militaristic actions on innocent people around the world. We just don’t care about the people we callously dismiss as “collateral damage.” Most Americans blindly accept the existence of these weapons of mass destruction and the lame excuses used to justify them.
Nuclear weapons are insane because we all live DOWNWIND from the rest of the world. Literally what “goes around comes around.” As the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrate, we can be affected by what happens on the other side of the world.
The idea that nuclear weapons deter potential enemies is false. They do not work for terrorists, suicide bombers, or “rogue states.” Nuclear retaliation cannot deter terrorists because they do not have a territory to retaliate against. Leaders of a “rogue” or a nuclear country know we cannot actually use nuclear weapons. No one “wins” a nuclear exchange and the conquered territory would be unusable. So mutually assured destruction as a deterrence no longer works.
We would be more secure by eliminating all nuclear weapons which are the only weapons that could actually destroy the United States. NO other nation has the military capability to invade, or conquer, our country. But even a few nuclear weapons reaching our cities could be catastrophic.
But the United States and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons on “alert,” ready to be launched in minutes. Unstable, conflict plagued, countries like Pakistan, India, and Israel have nuclear weapons. The possibility of an accident, a mistaken launch, or a technical malfunction is a serious threat. The mining and production of them is a huge public health and environmental problem. Nuclear weapons, because they exist, are a very real threat to the safety of everyone in the world.
But our national leaders from both parties have an outdated Cold War mindset. They still believe nuclear weapons are necessary for national defense. They have not learned from the mistakes of 75 years of excessively militarized foreign policy. In 1945 we had alternatives to the use of nuclear weapons. In 1946 we could have easily abolished them. Today we still can. We have alternatives to perpetuating the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
On July 7, 2017 an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations (122) passed an agreement to ban nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will become international law once 50 nations have signed and ratified it. As of July 2020, 82 nations have signed the treaty and 40 have officially ratified it.
The treaty is not a panacea. The supporters recognize that without the support of the nuclear nations, especially the United States, it will only be a dream for the future. But it does create a path to reach that future. Like other disarmament treaties, it establishes norms of civilized behavior for all nations to work toward. Nations that sign and ratify the treaty agree to not:
- Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons
- Use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons
- Transfer or receive nuclear weapons from other countries
- Allow installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons in its territory
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN https://www.icanw.org) is leading the effort to adopt the treaty.
The United States refused to participate in creating the treaty and has stated it will not sign it. Once again, rather than leading efforts to build peace, the United States is a major impediment to solving world problems. We have refused to join the international bans on landmines and cluster bombs. We won’t submit to the jurisdiction of the world court to decide cases involving our country. We only accept international law when it is convenient or when it is rigged in our favor.
The world would be a better, safer place if the United States of America was the world leader in mediation rather than military intervention. The world would be more peaceful if the U.S. was the number one arbitrator of disputes instead of the number one arms dealer. We could use the trillions of dollars we waste on war and preparation for war to build bridges rather than walls and weapons.
We could lead the world in abolishing nuclear weapons instead of being, as Martin Luther King said in 1968, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” But it is unlikely that politicians from either party will support signing this treaty unless pushed by considerable public pressure. American citizens must demand action on this treaty if banning the bomb is to become a reality.
*Time Magazine “After the Bomb” stories of the survivors https://time.com/after-the-bomb/
** “Hiroshima” by John Hersey is available from the New Yorker magazine at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1946/08/31/hiroshima