This article was originally published by the Federation of American Scientists.
I was 9 years old in 1945 when the first atomic bomb was detonated above a city. I remember the radio news broadcasts about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how my parents reacted with amazement. I didn’t know what to think.
I was 11 years old in 1947 when I watched a double feature in a darkened movie theater— a Roy Rogers western with Andy Devine, followed by what I thought was another adventure film, a docudrama on the Manhattan Project called “The Beginning or the End.” The Saturday afternoon audience, filled mainly by school kids, was unusually subdued. This wasn’t fantasy, this was real. I didn’t say anything, but I was troubled.
I was 26 years old in 1962 when the U.S. and the Soviet Union walked right to the brink of thermonuclear war. I remember when the Soviet ships turned around and everyone took a collective deep breath. I felt like we really dodged a bullet that time.
I was 50 years old in 1986 when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, and fumbled the greatest opportunity the world has ever had to rid nuclear weapons. Commentators assessed the summit as an ill-planned failure. I felt a deep sense of loss.
I was 53 years old in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. I remember how people thought that the threat of nuclear war was over at last. No doubt about it – I felt euphoric!
I was 65 years old in 2001 when terrorists flew two airplanes into the Twin Towers. Everyone said that the world had changed. I remember thinking, “What if it had been a nuclear bomb instead of just those planes?”
I was 71 years old in 2007 when George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn published their celebrated Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” I was surprised by how few people I knew were even aware of it. I thought that this could be a game changer, and I finally started to do something.
During all those many years, I was well aware of all the effort to control the nuclear genie— the warnings by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, the spearheading of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) by Norman Cousins, the “Ban the Bomb” marches, the Nuclear Freeze movement.
But I didn’t see how I could make a difference. And I was well aware of how quickly the progress toward nuclear disarmament faded with the end of the Cold War. The 1999 failure of the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty exemplified a decade of ever-worsening developments. Now North Korea has the bomb and the Middle East threatens to become awash with nuclear weapons.
For the past five years, I have worked locally to promote nuclear disarmament. I know that I am only one person. At age 76, I am keenly aware that fewer and fewer people I meet have actual memories of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t know how long it will be before the last nuclear bomb is dismantled. But I will always remember the people who encouraged me to do my part to make a difference – to work to reduce the threat that these weapons still pose to my children, my grandchildren, and future generations everywhere around the world.