After Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On August 6 each year, the world commemorates the dawn of the atomic age by remembering the obliteration of Hiroshima. In May, President Obama laid a wreath in the Peace Park that marks ground zero there.

This is also the time each year when politicians, historians, veterans, and peace activists revisit the decision to use this new weapon for the first time, then for the second three days later at Nagasaki. The rationales are familiar: nukes would shorten the war, save American lives, and demonstrate the country’s overwhelming military and technological superiority. It did not last long. Stalin mobilized Soviet resources to break the American monopoly soon after receiving intelligence reports on the successful Trinity test in New Mexico. The arms race began to sprint before the nuclear dust settled in Japan.

After laying a wreath in Hiroshima, President Obama said, “among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe.”

Why, then, is he planning to develop a new cruise missile and to rebuild our nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years at a cost estimated at $1,000,000,000,000? Yes, one trillion!

No nation monopolizes “new and improved” weapons forever, no matter what lead it might have at any given time. Where is the consistency in the president proposing a world free of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and improvements on existing ones in Washington? Former Secretary of Defense William Perry says new cruise missiles reflect outdated, Cold War thinking and would be “a grave mistake.”

Since cities are the obvious target for nuclear weapons, urban dwellers are at added risk. Mayors for Peace, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) whose home is the same Peace Park that President Obama visited, understands this as well as military planners. It promotes solidarity among cities to abolish nuclear weapons completely. Steve Lepper, its former head, says: “mayors are ahead of national politicians. No municipality wants war in any form. This always comes from central governments. Cities are left to pay the price.” Mayors for Peace is now composed of more than 7,000 cities—more than 200 in the United States—from 161 countries. Reducing stockpiles of nuclear weapons would be progress, but abolishing them is safer still: terrorists cannot steal what does not exist.

The U.S. entered World War II after Japan’s surprise attack on military targets at Pearl Harbor; it ended after surprise attacks destroyed two Japanese cities full of women and children. Of the nearly 100,000 humans who perished at Nagasaki, only 250 were military personnel. The ancient distinction between combatants and civilians—one a legitimate military target, the other not—had long since disappeared during what some call “The Good War.”

This remains the case today as mass violence is just as likely to be directed against civilians as soldiers even when rules of engagement pay lip service to excluding civilians.

Following a request from the United Nations General Assembly, the International Court of Justice offered an opinion about nuclear weapons in 1996: it advised that the mere threat of using them is illegal, let alone actually doing so. In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, do stockpiles make any of us feel safer? I can conceive of no sane reason to waste billions modernizing weapons that should never again be used.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
January 24, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
A Letter From Iowa
Jim Kavanagh
Aftermath: The Iran War After the Soleimani Assassination
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Camp by the Lake
Chuck Churchill
The Long History of Elite Rule: What Will It Take To End It?
Robert Hunziker
A Climate Time Bomb With Trump’s Name Inscribed
Andrew Levine
Trump: The King
Jess Franklin
Globalizing the War on Indigenous People: Bolsonaro and Modi
James Graham
From Paris, With Tear Gas…
Rob Urie
Why the Primaries Matter
Dan Bacher
Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?
Ramzy Baroud
In the Name of “Israel’s Security”: Retreating US Gives Israel Billions More in Military Funding
Vijay Prashad
What the Right Wing in Latin America Means by Democracy Is Violence
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Biden’s Shameful Foreign Policy Record Extends Well Beyond Iraq
Louis Proyect
Isabel dos Santos and Africa’s Lumpen-Bourgeoisie
Nick Pemberton
AK-46: The Case Against Amy Klobuchar
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Promtheus’ Fire: Climate Change in the Time of Willful Ignorance
Linn Washington Jr.
Waiting for Justice in New Jersey
Ralph Nader
Pelosi’s Choice: Enough for Trump’s Impeachment but not going All Out for Removal
Mike Garrity – Jason Christensen
Don’t Kill 72 Grizzly Bears So Cattle Can Graze on Public Lands
Joseph Natoli
Who’s Speaking?
Kavaljit Singh
The US-China Trade Deal is Mostly Symbolic
Cesar Chelala
The Coronavirus Serious Public Health Threat in China
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Must Remain Vigilant and on Guard Against US Hybrid Warfare
Robert Fantina
Impeachment as a Distraction
Courtney Bourgoin
What We Lose When We Lose Wildlife
Mark Ashwill
Why Constructive Criticism of the US is Not Anti-American
Daniel Warner
Charlie Chaplin and Truly Modern Times
Manuel Perez-Rocha
How NAFTA 2.0 Boosts Fossil Fuel Polluters, Particularly in Mexico
Dean Baker
What the Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace With Productivity
Mel Gurtov
India’s Failed Democracy
Thomas Knapp
US v. Sineneng-Smith: Does Immigration Law Trump Free Speech?
Winslow Myers
Turning Point: The new documentary “Coup 53”
Jeff Mackler
U.S. vs. Iran: Which Side are You On?
Sam Pizzigati
Braggadocio in the White House, Carcinogens in Our Neighborhoods
Christopher Brauchli
The Company Trump Keeps
Julian Vigo
Why Student Debt is a Human Rights Issue
Ramzy Baroud
These Chains Will Be Broken
Chris Wright
A Modest Proposal for Socialist Revolution
Thomas Barker
The Slow Death of European Social Democracy: How Corbynism Bucked the Trend
Nicky Reid
It’s Time to Bring the War Home Again
Michelle Valadez
Amy Klobuchar isn’t Green
David Swanson
CNN Poll: Sanders Is The Most Electable
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Dire Need for “Creative Extremists”—MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Jill Richardson
‘Little Women’ and the American Attitude Toward Poverty
David Yearsley
Watching Star Wars in Berlin