Thursday, 6 August 2015

Destroyer of Worlds - Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki


We commemorate today the dropping of the atomic bomb, code-named Little Boy, by the US Air Force on the Japanese city of Hiroshima seventy years ago. Along with one dropped on Nagasaki a few days later, it killed tens of thousands of people, left many more with severe burns, radiation sickness and later generations with genetic illnesses. It heralded the beginning of a new nuclear age where once the USSR had also acquired these weapons, a balance of terror appropriate termed Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) existed for over four and a half decades between the world's two main superpowers.

It is difficult to judge from this distance in history about the motives and reasons of 1945: Nazi Germany was working hard to create an atomic bomb and so it followed the Allies did the same. At the time, because of its hitherto unimagined power, many thought it would make war obsolete because of the consequences of a nuclear exchange. Even Gandhi initially welcomed it for this perceived reason, but its actual use in 1945 was enough in itself to cause Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb, to question what had been created.

And indeed any thoughts of benefit were soon to be disavowed: the weapons became bigger and ever more powerful to the tens and hundreds of times the power of the Hiroshima bomb, but the wars continued and grew worse. In Korea, in Malaysia, in Vietnam and the Middle East and then all across the southern hemisphere as proxy armies for the USA and USSR battled over the corpses of millions. There was no direct confrontation, but the military in the USA began to develop the ludicrous concept of limited or tactical nuclear war and the line between conventional and nuclear weapons became blurred. Both the UK and USA, for example, used depleted uranium tipped missiles in Serbia in the 1990s and in Iraq in 2003 and subsequently. DU is a by-product of the enrichment process used to make nuclear weapons.

The consequences for the local population have been insidiously devastating - birth defects in Iraq have rocketed since the 2003 invasion with the most obvious reason being the prevalence of DU-related radiation from munitions used in urban zones. The rate of genetic defects and mutations, as well as relared illnesses such as cancer, is considerably worse in parts of Iraq now than the levels of defects measured in post-1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (More information HERE; caution contains extremely graphic and upsetting images)

"Highly stimulating" -  Dr Strangelove satirised the atomic fetish
The fetishistic attachment of some political leaders to nuclear missiles has been satirised many times over, perhaps most powerfully by Peter Sellars in Dr Strangelove, but it is a case where real life has at times been too extreme to be believable.

This last few weeks, we have seen a potential breakthrough in limiting the spread of these awful weapons. Although it is questionable whether Iran has been planning on building its own nuclear bomb, an outline agreement with the international community paves the way to halt any such possibility. The US Congress Republicans have been indicating hostility to the agreement, but as President Obama has observed, rejecting it would leave them with the sole option of fighting yet another war in the Middle East.

Iran, centre, & where nuclear bombs are in the Middle East
There are now more nuclear weapons states than ever - Iran is surrounded by them, with Israel holding the largest arsenal and steadfastly refusing to let anyone from the UN inspect it. India and Pakistan have atomic bombs and Saudi Arabia almost certainly has the capacity to create one. Only South Africa and some of the former Soviet states have ever renounced their nuclear weapons, while the British political establishment is hell-bent on renewing our Trident nuclear system at huge cost - as much as £100 billions even although the global scene is now so changed from when it was originally acquired.

There is enough weaponry on the planet to eradicate all life five or six times over within a few hours. In order to carry on living, we may put this fact to the back of our minds, but the awful truth is that by this time tomorrow, we could be extinct along with every other living thing. Indeed, in 1983, technical accident almost led to an all-out holocaust had it not been for the prompt and courageous thinking of a sole Soviet officer, Stanislav Petrov, who realised just in time what was happening.

So the real remembrance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not simply be to solemnly remember the dead. It must also be to determine now more than ever that the greatest testament to those who perished would be if humanity does indeed work to renounce and remove these planet-killing weapons once and for all.




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