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Lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Asheville Citizen Times, Guest Column, 7/29/18

Lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In early August, seventy three years ago, the United States dropped 2 atomic bombs on Japan, promptly killing approximately 150,000 people and causing more deaths due to leukemia and other radiation caused diseases during subsequent months and years. The massive destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated that these weapons were a game changer for the world. Thus ensued the cold war between the US and the USSR to build the biggest and best nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Both countries developed a reliance on a strategy of deterrence, reflecting that it would be Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) for either side to attack the other.

The cold war is over; the total number of nuclear weapons in the world is approximately the insane number of 17,000 down from the more insane 60,000 that existed 50 years ago. Both the US and Russia each still keep more than 1000 nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched in about 15 minutes. These remaining nuclear weapons pose an intolerable risk to human survival. 

The threats made by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have alarmed some that one of these unstable men might actually order the use of nuclear weapons. These weapons cannot be used. Their use would be a crime against humanity.

The use of even a tiny fraction of these weapons would cause worldwide climate disruption and global famine. As few as 100 Hiroshima sized bombs, small by modern standards, would put at least 5 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere and cause climate disruption across the planet, cutting food production and putting 2 billion people at risk of starvation.

A large scale nuclear war would kill hundreds of millions of people directly and cause unimaginable environmental damage. It would also cause catastrophic climate disruption dropping temperatures across the planet to levels not seen since the last ice age. Under these conditions the vast majority of the human race would starve and it is possible we would become extinct as a species.

Despite assurances that these arsenals exist solely to guarantee they are never used, there have been many occasions when nuclear armed states have prepared to use these weapons, and war has been averted at the last minute. Nuclear weapons do not possess some magical quality that prevents their being used. As former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said, speaking about the Cuban Missile Crisis, “In the end, we lucked out — it was luck that prevented nuclear war.”Our current nuclear policy is essentially the hope that our good luck lasts.

The planned expenditure of more than $1 trillion to enhance our nuclear arsenal will exacerbate these dangers by fueling a global arms race and it will divert crucial resources needed to assure the well-being of the American people. This money could be better spent to shore up our strained healthcare system and infrastructure.

There is an alternative to this march to nuclear war. In July of 2017, 122 nations called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons by adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The United States should embrace this call for nuclear disarmament as the centerpiece of our national security policy. Physicians for Social Responsibility calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

  • renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first
  • ending the sole, unchecked authority of any President to launch a nuclear attack
  • taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
  • cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons at the cost of 1.7 trillion dollars over 30 years
  • actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Terrence Clark, MD
Chairman, Western North Carolina Chapter,
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Mission Statement

PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.