Today marks the 61st anniversary of the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. A few days later- we repeated the action and dropped the second atomic bomb ever used in warfare on Nagasaki. The United States of America is the ONLY entity that has used the bomb in the 61 years since the development of the bomb. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) have since become part of our lexicon.
I fervently believe that nuclear proliferation is a bad thing and the more countries that have nuclear capabilities the more vulnerable we are. When those powers (both national and terrorist) are in areas of the world that are already highly volatile- then it becomes crucial to ensure that nuclear war technologies are not made available. For 40 years the game of mutual capabilities of annihilation between the USA and the USSR oddly enough kept the world relatively safe. But with the end of the Cold War came new threats. Simultaneously the technologies for “simpler and smaller” nuclear bombs came about making the world incredibly unsafe.
But we must not forget that it was the United States that used this technology in warfare- no other power has ever used this weapon. Is the United States’ vigilance about nuclear proliferation due to our own sense of horror and guilt about our use of this technology? It should be, but it probably isn’t. It comes from arrogance that we, and only we and our allies, know better than the rest of the world when to best use this technology. The issues about using the atomic bomb to end World War II are complex to be sure. Would President Truman have dropped these bombs if he had known the enormous decades-long ramifications? Our rationale is that less Japanese died as a result of the bomb than would have died during an all out assault on Japan. Maybe mathematic modeling justifies this, maybe not- I do not know.
I do know that many of the scientists who built the bomb became ardent critics of its use. Hans Bethe, a physicist at my alma mater Cornell, among them. A group of men and women from the Los Almos group were life long pacifists. They learned the lesson, they understood the power and they had the respect for the science to feel awe and fear in its presence.
But has this country learned the lesson that the scientists of Los Almos learned? Namely- that the use of this technology in warfare should NEVER be used? The answer I fear is no. Remember when the Iraq campaign began and the Bush administration bandied about the term “tactical nuclear strikes”? It seems that there is some memory loss here. Look at the images from 61 years ago. We pride ourselves on precision bombs that avoid civilian casualties. Not even a “tactical” nuclear strike could possibly avoid huge civilian casualties. Where is our moral high ground when we have the temerity to even consider such a strategy let alone publicly consider it. Have we learned nothing from history?
The nuclear age is now in its old age- a senior citizen of the world. Let’s hope that it doesn’t develop Alzheimer’s disease and forgets the horrible legacy that is ours- the United States’ use of the atomic bomb 61 years ago.