Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hiroshima Commemoration: Be Careful What You Ask For

Today is the 66th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, which resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people. Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and killed another 70,000.

The bombings signify the first time one nation used an atom bomb against another. Apologists for “the Bomb” justify the action because the Japanese would have fought to the death—and brought along a lot of Americans with them.

Col. Paul Tibbits
Col. Paul Tibbits, pilot of the B-52 bomber Enola Gay that carried “Little Boy,” never expressed regret for the Hiroshima mission nor lost sleep over it. In 2002 the retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General responded to Studs Terkel’s question about whether or not he had any second thoughts.

“Second thoughts? No. Studs, look. Number one, I got into the air corps to defend the United States to the best of my ability. That's what I believe in and that's what I work for.... So, no, I had no problem with it. I knew we did the right thing because when I knew we'd be doing that I thought, yes, we're going to kill a lot of people, but by God we're going to save a lot of lives. We won't have to invade (Japan).

Other people involved in the mission had different reactions, however.

Fr. George Zabelka
On Tinian Island, Father George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Air Force, blessed the crews before their flight and even blessed “the Bomb!” For the next 47 years of his life, he not only had a change of heart about the bombing but about war in general.

In 1985 on the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima, Father Zabelka gave a speech about the bombings, war and the Church’s misguided stance on just war theory. He also talked about how he sought forgiveness from his God and from the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The “father of the atom bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, regretted building his new invention. As he watched the first successful demonstration of “the Bomb,” he reported that a line from the Bhagavad Gita immediately came to mind: “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer
There is no argument that the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war, however, we need to reflect on the effects “the Bomb” has had on the world and on what we have become.

First of all, we must recognize that an American president (Franklin D. Roosevelt) commissioned the Manhattan Project to build “the Bomb” and another one (Harry S. Truman) ordered it to be dropped. Although we tried to beat Hitler in developing “the Bomb,” we must also admit that winning this race allowed us to kill massive numbers of people in the process. Any dictionary would define such action as genocide.

Secondly, the military industrial complex (MIC) has created a culture of fear and a stranglehold on this nation. The military’s needs are pitted against citizens’ needs in a competition for resources and by dangling defense industry jobs in front of people’s votes. The MIC also threatens our democracy by influencing congressional district boundary lines, making deals with private contractors and skewing budgeting priorities in its favor.

Thirdly, after winning World War II the U.S. government decided to build bigger and more lethal bombs. This choice inadvertently unleashed an arms race where other nations followed our lead in playing the same deadly game of “protecting national security.”

The world has become increasingly unsafe with nuclear weapons proliferation. Worse yet, Mohammed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimates that another 20 to 30 countries are now capable—and interested—in building their own Bombs!

The following list the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nuclear Weapon Archive. It shows the number of warheads each country has as well as the year of their first successful weapons test:

United States – 1,950 active with 8,500 total (1945)
Russia – 2,430 active with 11,000 total  (1949)
United Kingdom - 160 active with 225 total (1952)
France - 290 active with 300 total (1960)
China - 180 active with 240 total (1964)
India - active unknown with 80-100 total (1974)
Pakistan – active unknown with 90-110 total (1998)
North Korea -- active unknown with <10 total
Israel -- active unknown with 80 total

In 1974 India began developing “the Bomb” but it wasn’t until 1998 that it successfully tested one. Six months later its archrival, Pakistan, tested its own Bomb in order to counteract India’s.

In 2006, North Korea let the world know it, too, had “the Bomb,” although recent negotiations presumably convinced them to dismantle it.

Many people suspect that Israel has a stash, however, leaders remain tight-lipped about reporting these weapons.

Although the members of the Nuclear Club have been dismantling many of their weapons, the world currently has about 8,000 active nuclear warheads out of a total 22,000.  This total is down from a peak of 65,000 in 1985, according to The Guardian.

The United States alone has a nuclear stockpile worth at least $5 trillion, according to Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of the 1998 book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940.

Nevertheless, despite all its might, the U.S. military is still not satisfied. In 1997 it stepped up its strategic weapons capacity with Vision 2020. This plan aims to exploit and dominate outer space by linking all land, sea and air-based weapons systems. (It is important to note that Vision 2020 would violate the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space.)

“The Clinton administration opened the door to developing space weapons but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further [with a weapon-in-space plan designed in 2004]” said Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center, a Washington-based international peace and security non-profit institution.

Srs. Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platt (L-> R)
Fortunately, there is a growing worldwide movement to eliminate nuclear weapons arsenals because of the danger they pose to all life on earth, especially in the hands of would-be terrorists. However, most Americans are largely unaware of the vastness and lethality of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles, say Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson. The three nuns did time in federal prison for breaking into a Colorado Minuteman III missile site in October 2002 as a protest to nuclear weapons. They also said that the end of the Cold War somehow gave people the impression that the weapons had disappeared.

On this anniversary of our country’s dropping two atom bombs on civilians—especially as we continue to wage an unjustified war in Iraq where one million people have lost their lives—let us face the question of why we need to continue this insane preparation for nuclear holocaust.

Let us admit our faults, ask the world’s forgiveness and show authentic leadership by dismantling ALL our nuclear weapons as an example to all nations.

The U.S. government’s desire to save the world from communism, terrorism or any other abstract or imagined enemy is misguided, misspent and extremely dangerous. We should instead be focused on the REAL threats to our lives such as environmental degradation, climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, world hunger and global capitalism.

1 comment:

  1. I'm struck by the date at which the world nuclear weapons stockpiles peaked and began their precipitous decline.

    1985 marks the year that Gorbachev's big push for Perestroika began. Along with a vision of democratization and a gentle loosening of free markets on Soviet Society, Gorbachev looked to a world devoid of nuclear weapons, in which wealth would be spend on the health and richness of life, and not on amounting the power to destroy.

    In retrospect, his vision might seem idealistic and unrealistic. Yeltsin's neoconservative coup that overthrew Gorbachev, the rise of the global war game against "terror", and the spread of nuclear weapons technology into the darker corners of the globe --- such things rightly disturb the honest observer.

    But I think there are two silver lining we should accept and build off of.

    First, the number of nuclear weapons has been reduced by approximately 66% since its 1985 peak. This is an outstanding sign that human intelligence can grapple with the immensity of the nuclear question. If we maintain this rate of decline, humankind's store will drop below 1000 warheads by 2100. Not the best target but a great trajectory.

    Second. The Cold War era concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is not a justification for the further production of The Bomb. It is, in fact, the primary moving force behind the mutual decision humankind is making to step back from the brink of nuclear destruction. So every Leftist who has cringed at the argument of MAD festooned by the Right should take pause to reconsider.

    The simultaneous spread of nuclear weapons beyond the Velvet Curtain of Western Capitalism and the mutual agreement to disarm form two pillars of potential future peace.

    A nuclear China balanced against a nuclear India balanced against a nuclear Iran balanced against a nuclear Israel is not an ideal vision of world peace. But it may well be a stepping stone. It would certainly give occasion for a new global treaty, as well as reason for deepened global dread strong enough to continue us on the path toward peace.

    It is not so ironic, then, that Gorbachev's vision was also an Internationalist one. Let's keep a hold of this sort of optimism.

    Let's also look soberly into the terrifying depths of sci-fi hell that are, really, only a single step away.

    And then each of us, every day, decide.