We did it, again. We observed the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A few of us gathered by the river and recalled the 70-year-old tragedy that still casts a pall upon the entire population of our planet. There was a brief but important discussion of several aspects of the bombings, mass premeditated murder and extended suffering of scores of thousands of Japanese civilians, and the thoughtful and determined way survivors have brought their cities back to life, not only as thriving commercial centers but as moral leaders for peace and nuclear disarmament.
That it has been 70 years is frightening. Not so much because so much time has passed for those of us already upon the scene and affected by the war, but because those with the power to pull the plug on this horrible science of death have not pulled the plug, but have run gleefully with doomsday technology spilling in their wake, like children playing with scissors and matches in a paper house.
We’ve built and tested A-bombs, H-bombs, big and bigger, with multiple warheads and billion-dollar delivery systems. Remember the nuclear subs with enough missiles and payload to destroy the entire planet with one attack from an undetected spot in the ocean? Remember the rail-mounted MX missile system proposed for Fairchild Airforce Base, back when there were nukes aplenty, already, for the ancient B-52s we saw over Spokane almost every day?
It’s been about 50 years, now, since Americans began peeling away layers of secrecy and President Truman’s coverup about the decision to use the bomb after the war was virtually over. And still, we beg that we not be told the truth. We don’t want to know that the Japanese had been ready to surrender since April and were being stonewalled by U.S. generals who couldn’t stand for the war to end without deploying our precious weapon, developed by some of the world’s finest scientific minds and thousand of laborers who knew only that they were being well-paid to somehow support the war effort in strange locations like Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Hanford. We don’t want to know that the second bomb, built at Hanford, was dropped on Nagasaki before Japan could comprehend what had happened at Hiroshima, much less accelerate its efforts to surrender. Or that Japan was counting on Russia to get the Japanese plan of surrender to the U.S., even as Stalin prepared to attack Japan and grab a share of spoils, while we were killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese to warn Russia to back off and quit pushing its luck, if a country with 20 million fatalities in the war might be said to have luck.
And so the Cold War was begun before the “Good War” was cold. And the Cold War brought more and larger nuclear weapons, more and larger fears and suspicions, more elaborate secrets, alliances and reasons to lavish the world’s wealth upon the race to nuclear destruction.
45 years ago, it was painfully apparent that the nuclear arms race would kill us all, even without nuclear war, and 190 nations signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Perhaps the NPT has kept us from destroying the world, so far, and it probably saved Britain and France from going bankrupt trying to keep up, but the best language of the treaty is just words on paper. The U.S. and Russia kept up their deadly competition until the Soviet Union unraveled, and Russia decided it could keep us nervous with less extravagant gambles. China kept building, deploying and sharing with scary developing countries like North Korea. India and Pakistan acquired the technology and took their game of chicken to the global level. Israel, without ever admitting it has a nuclear weapons program, developed a competitive arsenal and refuses to tell anyone where its missiles are pointed, while demanding that the U.S. subsidize its military and keep Iran out of the nuclear weapons club, at any cost.
26 years ago, we passed on the Peace Dividend from Russia’s withdrawal of the arms race. The U.S. chose to continue spending its treasure on war and preparations for war, sparing the military-industrial complex the inconvenience of a robust middle class.
Last year, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed suit against the nuclear powers who signed the NPT, the U.S., U.K., China, Russia and France, at the International Court of Justice and U.S. Federal Court. The little island nation of 70,000 people charges these populous and prosperous countries have violated the NPT and international law by failing to pursue an end to the nuclear arms race and ignoring the mandate for general and complete nuclear disarmament.
The Marshall Islands is facing a huge challenge, but its standing has been acknowledged, and who can say it lacks evidence to support its claims. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S., alone, turned much of this territory into a radioactive wasteland with no fewer than 67 above-ground bomb tests. Many atolls were obliterated after populations were evacuated, and the Marshallese still struggle with related health problems. Yes, we have made payments to mitigate the inconvenience, but the Marshallese want us to honor the treaty to prevent another country from such a miserable experience, not to mention the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With corporations having taken control of nuclear weapons, one can only wonder what justice might look like in this case.
This year, Japanese Prime Minister Abe was criticized for a lack of sincerity in his expression of regret for the attack on Pearl Harbor upon the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Finally Emperor Akihito had to bow a bit more deeply and add a few tears to appease U.S. media. That’s supposed to make us Americans feel better about squashing two major cities, as if it had been retaliation for Pearl Harbor. (Uncomfortable fact: the A-bombed cities harbored very few military personnel beyond the U.S. Navy prisoners of war who died in the Hiroshima blast.) And Japan is under continuous pressure to build a globally competitive military.
Next year, we will elect a new president with neither plans nor intentions to acknowledge or address the true costs of our greatest war crime, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Continuing costs include: enemy creation; perpetual limited warfare; thermonuclear weapon stockpiles; corporate-driven proliferation of military weapons; the radioactive aspect of war’s environmental devastation and the pathetic inadequacy of our elaborate schemes for storage and cleanup of nuclear waste; a vast, expanding, and lethal spy network, and; widespread hopelessness about institutional violence.
Once again, it is left to us. We must advocate and educate for peace, seeking and speaking the truth. It is a terrible burden, but it gives us hope and solidarity, and new resources are appearing all the time to help us deal with ignorance, greed and hopelessness. Don’t just oppose war, militarism, and institutional violence. Discuss alternative plans for security in your country, your neighborhood and your home. Share your plans with your friends, your social network, your government leaders. We can’t let this go on for another 70 years. – R