Sixty-four years ago on Aug. 6, the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, the U.S. unleashed another, more sophisticated, atomic weapon on the city of Nagasaki.
I will refrain from diving into the revisionist morass of arguments that the atomic bombs ended World War II sooner and saved lives as some will claim, versus what has become the consensus among historians: Diplomacy could have ended the war. Instead, I think it is more important to concentrate on the effects of the only nuclear weapons used in warfare, the unimaginable effects if a current nuclear weapon were used, and how we can prevent another city from annihilation by an atomic explosion.
Many more than 220,000 people—the vast majority of them civilians—died in the two Japanese cities from two relatively small atomic bombs invented by Americans. Tens of thousands more suffered from physical and mental injuries; it is still unknown how many cancers and defects were caused by radioactive fallout. Even today, survivors of the bombings, known as Hibakusha, will burst into tears when describing their experiences.
The Japanese were not the only victims of the nuclear age. Being near nuclear tests, American ‘downwinders’ in Utah and elsewhere died or still suffer from cancer and other illnesses. Many uranium miners, lab workers, and communities around contaminated areas suffer from sickness, cancers, and death. This pattern has repeated itself at nuclear testing, mining, and production sites around the world.
A dozen years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, the organization I work with formed as the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy by Coretta Scott King, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and others in response to the U.S. nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union and the Eisenhower administration’s policies on the production and testing of nuclear weapons.
As the Cold War heated up, and the U.S. and Russia were building tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that are 10 to 30 times more destructive than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a grassroots movement formed called the Freeze campaign, after Randall Forsberg’s call to “freeze and reverse the nuclear arms race.”
SANE merged with the Freeze to become SANE/FREEZE and now we are known as Peace Action. The combination of famous intellectuals, political leaders, and celebrities with powerful grassroots activism across the country helped us achieve many milestones including the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the Soviet Union and the U.S., freeze referendums passed in many states and the House of Representatives, stopping the MX missile and B-1 bomber, electing hundreds of peace candidates, and most importantly, we were very influential in pressuring President Reagan to meet with Gorbachev and finally end the Cold War.
One would think that once our Soviet nemesis collapsed and we signed several disarmament agreements, we wouldn’t need tens of thousands of nuclear warheads targeted at Russia and ready to launch within minutes, but that’s exactly what the U.S. has. Currently, nine countries possess 23,000 nuclear warheads, 95 percent of which is in Russia and the U.S.
For more than 50 years, Peace Action and hundreds of other organizations have voiced the moral and financial reasons why the world must be rid of nuclear weapons. During the last few years, a bipartisan group of military leaders, former secretaries of state and secretaries of defense have kept saying that the prospect of violent extremists getting a nuclear weapon is the greatest security threat to Americans. To make Americans safer, they recommend securing nuclear weapons as well as the materials to make them, and reductions in stockpiles, to move toward a world with no nuclear weapons.
President Obama gave a historic speech in Prague earlier this year that echoed his campaign promises and articulated a plan toward a “world without nuclear weapons.” His concrete steps in the right direction include ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, continued negotiations with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles, and securing nuclear weapons. Peace Action continues to push for the start of international negotiations to rid the world of nuclear weapons, which would not only make Americans safer, but also save us money in the long term.
Congress and the administration need pressure from the public to ensure that another city doesn’t suffer the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Urge Senators Feinstein and Boxer (who are usually good on nuclear weapons issues) to take more action.
Though the reform of health care and repair of the economy are sucking much of the nation’s political oxygen, hundreds of commemoration events are happening around the country, such as the one at 6 p.m., Aug. 6 at Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo.
Some of the events will include an international petition to President Obama asking that he announce at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference initiation of good faith multilateral negotiations on an international agreement for a world without nuclear weapons. More than 150 of these events and the petition can be found at peace-action.org. ∆
Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action’s political director, works with 100,000 paid members and 100 chapters to abolish nuclear weapons, promote government spending for human needs, and encourage international cooperation. Contact him via the editor at econnolly