The use of nuclear bombs on Japan should be a time of national reflection.
WE Americans like celebrations. We prefer happy holidays, not downers. Even Veterans Day and Memorial Day are opportunities for patriotic reflection and gratitude, not regrets or remorse.
Since many Americans consider the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have been legitimate, it isn’t surprising that Hiroshima Day (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki Day (Aug. 9) haven’t made it onto the national calendar. But they should. We propose Aug. 6 and Aug. 9 should be “Nuclear Awareness Days.”
There is much to be said for reflecting on these events, and not simply for their historical significance. Aug. 6, 1945, was the first time a nuclear weapon was used to kill people deliberately, and Aug. 9, 1945, was the last — so far. On this, everyone agrees. In addition, use of nuclear weapons would constitute a tragedy of immense proportions. Nearly everyone agrees with this, too.
Although there is debate about whether nuclear weapons “keep the peace” via their avowed role as deterrents, informed opinion — including increasing numbers of military and strategic authorities — has been moving toward the position that these weapons are a liability (to everyone, including their possessors) rather than an asset.
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Seventy years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world is still not a peaceful place. There is no evidence that possessing more than 16,000 bombs and warheads have made the nuclear states any more secure than their non-nuclear counterparts.
Nuclear arsenals have not provided any discernible leverage. Imagine a policeman armed with a backpack nuclear weapon, confronting a bank robber. His “deterrent” would simply be too blunt, destructive and lacking in credibility to provide any benefit. Thus, nuclear weapons have not helped Russia in Ukraine, the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan, the United Kingdom in the Falkland Islands, France in Algeria, nor China in Tibet or Taiwan.
Nuclear North Korea is a nightmare, but what good has armament done? India and Pakistan are less safe in their struggles over Kashmir, with nuclear weapons aimed at each other. Israel has a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, but this hasn’t prevented decades of war — and when other states or terrorists get the bomb, only one or two warheads could effectively destroy Israel. Only nuclear abolition and careful verification could ultimately protect anyone.
Taking the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki seriously by establishing Nuclear Awareness Days would give us an opportunity to meditate on the terrible reality of what transpired in 1945 and condemn the world’s worst weapons before they are used again. Chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions are illegal, so why aren’t nuclear weapons? Some 112 countries have signed a petition calling for nuclear weapons to be banned.
The U.S. nuclear arsenal is especially relevant to Puget Sound — Trident submarines are based at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor. A single vessel can carry 24 nuclear missiles (restricted to 20 by treaty), each capable of delivering eight to 12 independently targetable warheads, each roughly 40 times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. To repeat: This is the potential output of just one Trident submarine — eight are currently deployed west of Seattle, and an additional five at Kings Bay, Ga., and one in Portsmouth, Va.
Even if the theory of deterrence has any validity at all, how much extinction is enough? Bangor and other sites in Washington that house nuclear weapons are not just sources of planetary destruction, but also targets.
Maybe the United States will eventually wake up, abandon nuclear arms and embrace fundamental decency and basic planetary hygiene. Toward that end, we fervently recommend Nuclear Awareness Days as an opportunity to reflect not only on what has happened but also what might yet be achieved — and preserved.