Remembering Hiroshima

by Dr Sue Wareham

Humanitys most destructive creation entered history just 58 years ago. On August 6 1945 the worlds first atomic weapon to be used in warfare, Little Boy, was detonated over the centre of Hiroshima, creating an air temperature of several million degrees Celsius. On August 9, Fat Man was dropped over Nagasaki. By the end of 1945, over 200,00 people, mostly civilians, had died from multiple injuries, burns and radiation sickness.

Inscribed on the Memorial Cenotaph in the Hiroshima Peace Park are the words, Let all souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.

Yet, despite all their talk of the evil of nuclear weapons, our leaders are not proving very effective at seeking out and destroying these devices. They are in fact looking in all the wrong places. Iraq, enough said. North Korea - sure, there might be one or two there. That leaves around 30,000 more.

Intelligence about the whereabouts of these weapons is not hard to get hold of. Mr Howard might for example find the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists informative, for it regularly sets out the global stockpiles, country by country.

Top of the list, Mr Howard will find, are the Cold War warriors, Russia and the US, with close to 30,000 nuclear weapons between them. (This figure includes those not actively deployed, but a nuke is a nuke after all). The rest, a thousand or so, are in China, France, the UK, Israel, India and Pakistan. Very bottom of the list, North Korea.

The danger is not just in numbers of course, although the concept of tens of thousands of genocidal devices is terrifying enough. The danger also lies in nuclear weapons policies, and here our allys message is clear.

In March 2002 the US Nuclear Posture Review was leaked. In essence it reasserted the centrality of nuclear weapons to the nations defence policy. Modifications of existing weapons would continue. The Department of Energy would reduce the time needed to resume nuclear weapons tests (currently subject to a moratorium). Commitment to the development and deployment of a missile defence system widely recognised as likely to lead to renewed nuclear arms races was affirmed. And the review stated that the US would be prepared to use its nuclear weapons against countries such as Iraq and North Korea.

(It should be noted that North Korea has had US nuclear weapons pointing at it for most of the last half century. As late as 1998, the US Airforce carried out simulated long-range nuclear strikes against the communist state.)

Of further grave concern was the US Senate agreement in May this year to the lifting of a ban on the development of mini-nukes these weapons being mini in the sense that they are likely to kill only tens of thousands of people, not hundreds of thousands. As Democrat Senator Jack Reed said just a small apocalypse.

Prime Minister Howard has demonstrated his grave concern over the existence of nuclear weapons by greeting these developments with silence, or, even worse, understanding. That is, encouragement.
More glad tidings came in May with a study by the Rand think tank in the US claiming that the risk of an accidental nuclear war between the US and Russia has actually increased. Both nations still retain thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, able to be launched within minutes. In addition, command and control over Russias nuclear forces is perilously degraded.

The problem with our allys nuclear weapons policy is that it is oozing with arrogant absurdity. (Ditto the other nuclear weapons states, although they tend to do less preaching.) The worlds supreme military power insists that nuclear weapons are essential to its own security and there to be used, but wickedly dangerous in the hands of rogues. Small wonder that rogues are unimpressed.

The role of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in ending World War 11 is disputed. General (later President) Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the war, stated The Japanese were ready to surrender and it was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Some agree, some disagree.

And yet the lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki does not hang on this question. Indeed if August 6 and 9, 1945, teach us simply that nuclear weapons are a legitimate weapon against an aggressor state, then perhaps all nations should keep a few, just in case.

The lesson is far more fundamental than that. It is that, even in war, there are moral limits. Nuclear weapons exceed the limits.

The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons reported in 1996 The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used - accidentally or by decision - defies credibility. They must all be eliminated, the Commission stated.

Its time Australia once again worked to ensure that the evil of Hiroshima is never repeated.

Dr Sue Wareham
President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
August 2003

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