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Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless

A recent news article outlined how Hawaii’s health care system is not able to handle the casualties from a nuclear attack. The scenario discussed was one in which a 150 kiloton (equivalent to 150,000 tons of TNT) blast over Waikiki causes 142,000 fatalities and 167,700 injuries.

The scenario considered how our hospitals can increase capacity by moving noncritical patients into long-term care, leverage personnel from other facilities, etc. Such plans fail to consider how a such a blast would render Honolulu hospitals to rubble and the people working there into heaps of ash.

I was born in Hiroshima, years after the atom bomb. In my grandfather’s yard, I dug up shards of scorched roof tile.

 

I recall that one day, as my grandfather and I walked through Hiroshima stopping to view shadows of people etched in stone, he told me that Japanese people are for peace, for they know full well the senselessness of war.

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a 15 kiloton device. We have much more powerful thermonuclear weapons now.

In 1982 Hoʻoipo DeCambra and members of the Hawaii chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Drs. Willis Butler, Sandra Penn, Tom Hall, Fred Reppun and Clifford Straehley, appeared in a film called Puhipau.

 

It describes the effects of a 20 megaton (equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT) blast over Pearl Harbor. Their intent was to make viewers imagine the inconceivable death and destruction.

With the Jan. 13 false warning about a ballistic missile threat inbound, residents of Hawaii had the opportunity to think about the unthinkable. The PSR doctors wanted to convey how preparations to respond medically are futile. The only rational response is prevention.

We must make nuclear war unthinkable again.

Our government’s new Nuclear Posture Review, released in February, declares that we are once again in an era of Great Power competition in world affairs. By planning for new “low-yield” (meaning Hiroshima-sized) warheads and by declaring that the U.S. may use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, the bar for nuclear war is lowered.

That is, it makes nuclear war thinkable. The start of hostilities risks escalation to an all-out nuclear exchange.

Preparing to treat casualties of a nuclear war is analogous to moving deck chairs around on the Titanic. Rather, we must make nuclear war unthinkable again. I finally joined PSR (psr.org ) after the false missile warning. You don’t have to be a health care worker to join.

Let us work together to abolish nuclear weapons. For the sake of our species and our planet, let us beat swords into plowshares.

This column originally ran on Civil Beat (Honolulu).

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Seiji Yamada, a native of Hiroshima, is a family physician practicing and teaching in Hawaii.

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