Archived Opinion

Don’t forget Hiroshima Day

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At this moment we are all struggling  with many critical issues. The war in Ukraine, the increasing disasters of climate change, inflation and growing gun violence are constantly on our minds. But lurking far out of the public’s acottention is a danger so vast and inconceivable that most people just block it out.

The threat — accidentally or intentionally — of unleashing the inconceivable destructive force of nuclear weaponry. 

President Putin of Russia has pushed the frightening use of “tactical nuclear weapons” onto the immediate world agenda. Even more are we reminded of that threat as his armed forces suffer well-deserved and devastating losses in Ukraine. 

So as August 6 approaches, a brief review of the nuclear threat is most needed. 

It was 77 years ago on August 6, 1945, that the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later another device was detonated over Nagasaki, historically the most Christian of Japanese cities. It is not my purpose here to discuss the morality or necessity of these events. Between 120,000 and 220,000 people were killed, over half in the first few minutes, and the vast majority were non-combatant civilians. 

The Hiroshima bomb had the explosive equivalent of 15,000 tons (15 kilotons) of TNT, or 30 millions pounds of explosive. Today it is considered a rather small weapon by the nuclear community. 

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At one time the U.S. had 23,317 nuclear weapons and the Soviets had over 40,000. There have been a number of well-documented near misses — false alarms and near catastrophes, which in general the American (and Russian) public was blissfully unaware of.  

The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II signed by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, in spite of great controversy and accusations of cheating by both sides, led to the reduction of nukes down to the present levels of about 1,500 active weapons in arsenals limited to about 6,000 total weapons on each side. Every American city and military establishment is still multi-targeted for compete obliteration, as are those of the “other side’s.”

Enough to end all civilization as we know it. 

Unfortunately, during the Trump administration, the U.S. cancelled the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty with the Russians which through the Carter and Reagan years and up to 2018 kept the nuclear arms race in Europe somewhat under control. That gave a green light for Putin’s nuclear threats. 

The U.S. also walked away from the Iran Nuclear treaty, so we really don’t know to what extent the Iranians have restarted their program, but they apparently have, and aggressively. The former President also had a now-forgotten photogenic love affair with the North Korean dictator, who as of this writing is testing new long range missiles but has not given up one ounce of nuclear material (unlike the 24,000 pounds of enriched uranium given up by Iran under the now-abandoned treaty).  

The 2010 New Start Treaty — the only remaining tool to verify the Russian nuclear arsenal and maintain consistent communication on nuclear issues — was  due to expire in February 2021. Fortunately the Biden administration has agreed to extend this treaty with Russian agreement until 2026. We are hanging on by a thread. 

Current plans are to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a potential cost of $2 trillion over the next decade. Russia and China will take note, as will Turkey, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran. 

If with foolish and shortsighted leadership the U.S. expands its nuclear capabilities, there will be little or no incentive for other countries not to do the same thing. They may do it anyway. 

The authoritative Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has come to the conclusion that both the U.S. and the Russians violated the INF treaty, which did however greatly reduce the danger of a nuclear catastrophe in Europe. The Bulletin calls for the urgent renegotiation and restoration of provisions of this treaty. For an in-depth analysis of the current Nuclear threat see: thebulletin.org/2020/06/the-atomic-titanic-an-excerpt-from-the-button/#

Nuclear war is unimaginable, yet it is not inconceivable. Arrogance, ignorance and impulsiveness could cause the world to stumble into a catastrophe that would, like the spiraling of events that led to World War I, accelerate out of control. This holds especially true in the era when leadership may have less than 30 minutes to decide if the incoming radar picture is a misplaced socket wrench, a flock of geese (both did happen!) or Russian/Chinese/North Korean missiles. 

The memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should give us pause to reflect. Our leaders must bring wisdom, patience and determination to the negotiating table, and educate the public in the complexities of issues that may decide the fate of all of us and our children. 

(Dr. Stephen Wall joined Physicians for Social Responsibility in 1975 and was an active participant in its educational activities in Texas and Michigan before moving to Waynesville. The 23,000-member PSR shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Dr. Wall’s opinion are his own and not necessarily those of PSR. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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2 comments

  • I would be surprised if we didn't have a nuclear war within the next 20 years. Fortunately I won't be around.

    posted by Deni Gottlieb

    Sunday, 07/31/2022

  • By dropping the atomic bombs on Japan during World War 2, it forced Japan to surrender and saved what they estimated would've been a million casualties among American soldiers invading Japan. Not to mention how many millions of Japanese civilians. Stick that in your liberal pipe Mr. Wall.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 07/29/2022

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