“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
– Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was one of the wisest and most far-seeing men who has walked the Earth. He looked further into the mysteries of the universe than any scientist of his time or any time. Tragically, it was the vision of this humane man that opened the door to atomic weapons. Even more tragically, it was Einstein, concerned about the possibility of a German atomic weapon, who encouraged President Roosevelt to establish the US atomic bomb project, leading to the creation of nuclear weapons and their use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Decision to Bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki
From the outset of the Nuclear Age, the United States has been the world’s leading nuclear weapons power, a role it has strived diligently to maintain. The US created the world’s first nuclear weapons during World War II in its top-secret Manhattan Project, ostensibly for the purpose of deterring a German atomic bomb should the Germans have succeeded in developing one. In late 1944, when he understood that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic weapon, Joseph Rotblat, a Polish émigré working on the Manhattan Project, resigned out of deep concern for the implications of the project. In 1995, he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his continuing efforts for nuclear disarmament.
At the time that the atomic bomb was first tested on July 16, 1945 , the war in Europe had already ended with the surrender of Germany in May of that year, so there was no longer a need to deter the Germans. The war in the Pacific continued, however, and the US chose to use its new weapons within a matter of weeks on the Japan ese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki . It chose these two cities, which had been largely spared until that point the US carpet bombing of other Japan ese cities, to test the destructive power of first an enriched uranium bomb, Little Boy , and then a plutonium bomb, Fat Man.
In using nuclear weapons, the US ignored the heroic efforts of Leo Szilard, a Hungarian émigré and atomic scientist who had earlier played a key role in the development of the first atomic weapons. It was Szilard who actually first conceptualized the possibility of a controlled fission reaction that could lead to the creation of a nuclear weapon. In 1939, worried about the possibility of the Germans developing an atomic weapon, Szilard went to Einstein and convinced him to send a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, urging that the US develop a nuclear weapons program to deter a possible German bomb. Szilard then worked in the Manhattan Project with Enrico Fermi on the first experimental test of a controlled fission reaction, proving the bomb was possible.
When it became clear in spring 1945 that the US would succeed in making an atomic weapon and that the Germans would not, Szilard applied his abundant energy to trying to stop the US from using the bombs on Japan ese cities. Szilard believed that using the bombs on Japan would lead to a nuclear arms race that could result in a terrible destructive force being unleashed on civilization. Through Eleanor Roosevelt he arranged to meet with President Roosevelt, but Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 , just prior to their scheduled meeting. Szilard then sought to arrange a meeting with President Truman, but was sent to see Jimmy Byrnes, a Truman mentor in the Senate who would soon be appointed Secretary of State. Byrnes essentially dismissed Szilard as a foreigner. Finally, Szilard organized a petition among Manhattan Project scientists, urging that the bomb be demonstrated to the Japan ese rather than used on cities. The petition, signed by some 70 scientists, was stalled by General Leslie Groves, the military head of the Manhattan Project, and did not reach Truman before the bomb was used, although it is unlikely that it would have made a difference to Truman had it reached him.
Byrnes, who accompanied Truman to Potsdam , is believed to have encouraged the use of the bomb for partisan political reasons. He is said to have advised Truman that if Americans discovered how much had been spent on creating the first atomic bombs and was thus diverted from the war effort (approximately $2 billion), they would vote against the Democrats if the bomb were not used as soon as it was ready. Others have argued that the bomb was used on Japan to send a warning to the Soviet Union .
The official justification for the use of the atomic bombs on Japan was to end the war quickly and save American lives that would otherwise be lost in an invasion of Japan planned for November 1945. Since Japan was already largely defeated and elements of the Japan ese cabinet were seeking favorable terms of surrender, there is now considerable debate among historians about whether the use of the bombs was actually necessary to end the war. The picture is certainly much more complex than the prevalent American mythology, which suggests that the US dropped the bombs and as a result won the war. This mythology paints nuclear weapons as war-winning weapons and therefore useful and positive.
Perspectives on the Bombings
It is instructive to look at how the bombing of Hiroshima , the first use of a nuclear weapon on a city, was viewed in its immediate aftermath. Here are the views of four prominent individuals on August 8 and 9, 1945:
French writer Albert Camus: “Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests. Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging. This is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments — a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.”
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt: “The only safe counter weapon to this new power is the firm decision of mankind that it shall be used for constructive purposes only. This discovery must spell the end of war. We have been paying an ever-increasing price for indulging ourselves in this uncivilized way of settling our difficulties. We can no longer indulge in the slaughter of our young men. The price will be too high and will be paid not just by young men, but by whole populations. In the past we have given lip service to the desire for peace. Now we must meet the test of really working to achieve something basically new in the world.”
Former President Herbert Hoover: “The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.”
A day later, on August 9 th , President Truman invoked God with regard to the use of the bomb: “We must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force – to prevent its misuse, and to turn it into the channels of service to mankind. It is an awful responsibility which has come to us. We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.” (Since the two bombs used on Japan ese cities caused the immediate deaths of some 135,000 people by blast, fire and incineration, and the deaths of over 200,000 people by the end of 1945, God must at the very least have been rather surprised by Mr. Truman’s prayer to use nuclear weapons “in His ways for His purposes.”)
Reflecting a few years later on the use of the atomic weapons by the US , the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi said, “What has happened to the soul of the destroying nation is yet too early to see. Forces of nature act in a mysterious manner.” Gandhi’s insight is unusually profound. What effect has the bomb had on the soul of America ? Perhaps we are learning about this as we watch the great dream of America becoming increasingly stuck in the tar of militarism and warfare on distant shores.
US Nuclear Policy
Following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , the US began an arms race with itself, testing and developing its nuclear arsenal. From 1949, when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon, until 1990, when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, the US had a partner in the nuclear arms race and a justification to continue to develop its nuclear arsenal.
The US has always sought to maintain a devastating nuclear deterrent force, a force that would provide it with political advantage. In order to make its deterrent force credible, the US has sought to demonstrate its willingness to use its nuclear arsenal should it be attacked. Certainly its use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki has contributed to a general belief that the US would not be inhibited by the costs in human lives from a retaliatory nuclear response.
The US has also been willing to share nuclear technology with its close allies. This applies particularly to the UK, but also to other NATO allies on whose territories the US has maintained nuclear weapons, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and, until recently, Greece. The US has also extended its nuclear “umbrella” to its allies in Europe , Asia and the Pacific.
With some notable exceptions, such as Israel , the US has always sought to prevent the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, but has felt free to engage in vertical proliferation by increasing the size and improving the quality of its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems for the arsenal. In doing so, the US has consistently demonstrated a double standard in asking other countries to abstain from doing what it was not willing to abstain from itself.
In its policies toward arms control and disarmament, the US has always sought measures that benefited its security, while not reducing US nuclear superiority. In recent years, however, under the Bush administration, the US has shown far less regard than in the past for nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union partnered on occasion in an attempt to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries. This resulted in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This Treaty divided the countries of the world into nuclear weapons states (US, UK , USSR , France and China ) and non-nuclear weapons states (all the rest). The non-nuclear weapons states agreed not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons states agreed in Article IV of the Treaty to provide technical assistance to the non-nuclear weapons states in the peaceful uses of the atom, going so far as to call the peaceful uses of atomic energy “an inalienable right.” The nuclear weapons states also promised, in Article VI of the Treaty, to end the nuclear arms race at an early date and to hold good faith negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. When the Treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995, the nuclear weapons states agreed to “determined pursuit.of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goals of eliminating those weapons..” In 1996, the International Court of Justice interpreted Article VI of the NPT to mean: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
At the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the parties to the treaty agreed to 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament, including an “unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI.”
The Greatest Danger Confronting Humanity
Let us fast forward to today. Countering terrorism is high on the agendas of the world’s most industrialized countries, especially the US . But in the eyes of most of the world, the nuclear weapons states are employing the greatest of terrorist threats, which are embedded in the concept of nuclear deterrence. If terrorism is the threat to injure or kill innocent people for political ends, then the reliance on nuclear deterrence is itself a terrorist act.
I would argue, in the company of Einstein, Rotblat and Szilard, that there is no greater danger confronting humanity than that of nuclear weapons. These weapons place all cities in jeopardy of annihilation. They place civilization in danger of massive destruction. And they place humanity and most of life on the endangered species list. For nearly sixty years humankind has lived with the destructive potential of nuclear weapons and has grown far too comfortable with these instruments of annihilation.
The US remains the most powerful country in the world, militarily and economically. It is the country that holds the key to nuclear disarmament. Without the active leadership of the US , nuclear disarmament will not be possible, and the world will continue to drift toward the use of these weapons once again. No other country has the capacity to bring the other nuclear weapons states to the table to negotiate the elimination of nuclear arms.
Nuclear dangers have not disappeared. Should terrorist groups, in the more traditional sense of the term, obtain nuclear weapons, they cannot be effectively deterred from using them. Protecting populations from nuclear attack will require a high level of international cooperation and US leadership. Current US leadership, however, is alienating the international community and its double standards are viewed as nuclear hypocrisy. Without a radical change of course in US nuclear policy, the likelihood of terrorist groups obtaining and using nuclear weapons is an increasingly likely possibility.
The US Nuclear Posture Review
Current US nuclear weapons policy is set forth in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), submitted to Congress on December 31, 2001 . This document calls for a “New Triad.” During the Cold War, the US referred to a triad of strategic delivery vehicles for its nuclear forces: inter-continental ballistic missiles; submarine launched ballistic missiles and strategic bombers. The New Triad is composed of offensive strike systems, nuclear and non-nuclear (including the three delivery systems of the old triad); defenses, active and passive (including missile defense systems); and a revitalized defense infrastructure to meet emerging threats. One interesting aspect of the New Triad is that it will supplement nuclear strike forces with conventional strike forces delivered anywhere in the world in 30 minutes by intercontinental missiles.
Despite calling for powerful non-nuclear forces to be added to the US arsenal, the Nuclear Posture Review boldly announces, in what may be considered a taunt to the rest of the world in terms of US obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that nuclear weapons provide the US with “credible military options”: “Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and large-scale conventional force. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important to achieve strategic and political objectives.” In other words, the Nuclear Posture Review informs the world that nuclear weapons are useful to the United States both strategically and politically. Nearly 60 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some 15 years after the breakup of the former Soviet Union , the US still finds that nuclear weapons serve strategic and political goals. To further these goals, the US has been developing earth penetrating nuclear weapons (“bunker busters”) and low-yield nuclear weapons (mini-nukes”), one-third the yield of the Hiroshima bomb. While announcing to the world its intent to continue to rely upon its nuclear arsenal, the US has been unabashed in demanding that other countries – including Iraq , Iran , North Korea , Libya and Syria – refrain from following its example.
The Nuclear Posture Review recognizes the lack of an effective earth penetrating nuclear device as a shortcoming of the current US nuclear arsenal, citing the fact that “more than 70 countries use underground Facilities (UGFs) for military purposes.” The report states, “New capabilities must be developed to defeat emerging threats such as hard and deeply buried targets..” The Bush administration is seeking $28 million in 2005 and $485 million over five years to design this new weapon.
The Nuclear Posture Review also states, “The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will: .be able, if directed, to design, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground nuclear testing if required.” It further states that options exist “that might provide important advantages for enhancing the nation’s deterrence posture.” The NPR calls for creating “advanced warhead concepts teams” that “will provide unique opportunities to train our next generation of weapon designers and engineers.” Overall, the Bush administration is seeking $6.6 billion for nuclear weapons activities in 2005, fifty percent more than the average annual expenditure for these activities during the Cold War.
Such goals and plans demonstrate little promise of US leadership for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The US cannot have it both ways, depending on nuclear weapons for security and planning to build more, on the one hand; and, on the other, providing leadership to the rest of the world for the elimination of these weapons.
The overall sense of the Bush administration’s Nuclear Posture Review is that it is a long-term commitment to nuclear weapons at a time when the US is seeking to prevent these weapons from proliferating to other countries and terrorist organizations. Such a double standard cannot hold.
Presidential Directive 17 and the National Security Strategy of the US
In September 2002, one year after the traumatic events of September 11, 2001, President Bush signed Presidential Directive 17, a classified document, which states: “The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force – including potentially nuclear weapons-to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies.”
Also in September 2002, the White House issued a document entitled “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America .” In a letter accompanying this document, President Bush wrote, “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination.. And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.” This is a commitment to preventive war, the kind that the US would subsequently wage, under false pretenses, against Iraq in March 2003. The National Security Strategy document states, “While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country..” When combined with Presidential Directive 17, this raises the possibility of preemptive or preventive nuclear war.
The National Security Strategy document reaffirms “the essential role of American military strength” by calling for building and maintaining “our defenses beyond challenge.” Expressing the understanding that “deterrence can fail,” the document stresses the need for US military dominance: “The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy – whether a state or non-state actor – to impose its will on the United States , or allies, or our friends.” The latter category of US friends has unfortunately become a diminishing species in response to the bellicose words and actions of the Bush administration.
Finally, the National Security Strategy document supports a special status in the world for American leaders by freeing them from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, a court supported by nearly all US allies. The document states: “We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.” In other words, the US will not allow the same standards of international law to be applied to US leaders as were applied to the defeated Axis powers at Nuremberg and as are accepted by our allies today.
Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
In March 2004, the Secretaries of State, Defense and Energy issued a joint report, entitled “An Assessment of the Impact of Repeal of the Prohibition on Low Yield Warhead Development on the Ability of the United States to Achieve Its Nonproliferation Objectives.” After reviewing Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the article that calls for nuclear disarmament and an end to the nuclear arms race, the report found, “Nothing in the NPT, including Article VI, or any other Treaty, however, prohibits the United States from carrying out nuclear weapons exploratory research or, for that matter, from developing and fielding new or modified nuclear warheads. That said, we should, of course, expect that several countries, in particular, those from the non-aligned movement, perhaps citing inaccurate or misleading press reports, will call attention to certain U.S. nuclear weapons R&D efforts.in questioning the U.S. nuclear policies and will be disappointed that more progress has not been achieved toward nuclear disarmament.”
The report then continues with a flourish of rhetoric about the US commitment to its Article VI nuclear disarmament commitments, leaving the impression that its “strong record of actions and policies.demonstrate unambiguously U.S. compliance with Article VI..” Unfortunately, most analysts not in the pay of the US government reject this rosy, some would say hypocritical, view of US commitment to its NPT Article VI obligations. They point to the failure of the US to comply with nearly all of the obligations set forth in the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. The US , for example, has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; and has made no provisions for the irreversibility of reductions in the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) that it pressed upon Russia .
When Undersecretary of State for International Security John Bolton spoke to the delegates of the 2004 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, he described the “central bargain” of the NPT as the renunciation of nuclear weapons in exchange for assistance in developing civilian nuclear power. He left out of the equation the expectation of the non-nuclear weapons states that the nuclear weapons states would fulfill their Article VI obligations for nuclear disarmament. While pointing a finger at Iran and North Korea , he dismissed the possibility of US Article VI obligations, stating, “We cannot divert attention from the violations we face by focusing on Article VI issues that do not exist.”
Positions of Bush and Kerry
Under the Bush administration, the US has projected its reliance on nuclear weapons far into the future, and there has been virtually no willingness on the part of the US to comply with obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or other major international arms control and disarmament treaties. Would a Kerry presidency be substantially different? In a major policy speech on nuclear terrorism on June1, 2004, Kerry pledged to make the fight against nuclear terrorism his top security priority. While Bush has also taken steps to prevent nuclear proliferation and keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, Kerry distinguished his position from Bush’s by pledging to end the double standard of calling on others not to develop nuclear weapons while the US moves forward with research on new nuclear weapons, such as “bunker busters” and “mini-nukes.” Kerry also pledged to gain control of the nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union at a far more rapid rate than that contemplated by the Bush Administration, and Kerry promised to appoint a Nuclear Terrorism Coordinator to work with him in the White House in overseeing this effort. Finally, Kerry called for taking prompt action on a verifiable ban on the creation of new fissile materials for nuclear weapons, a step long supported by the international community and nearly all US allies, but not acted upon by the US .
Both Bush and Kerry have called for strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but only in relation to preventing nuclear materials from civilian nuclear reactors from being converted to nuclear weapons. Neither of them has set forth a plan to fulfill US obligations for nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the Treaty. Thus, both of them are prepared to commit to the Treaty to prevent others from obtaining nuclear weapons, but not to fulfilling the long-standing obligations of the US for nuclear disarmament. While Kerry’s positions on nuclear policy issues are certainly preferable to those of Bush, if only for Kerry’s support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and of international law in general, they are neither bold nor innovative; they simply are not as damaging as those of the Bush administration.
We cannot count on US nuclear policies to change significantly on the basis of US political leadership. The only real hope to bring about needed changes in US nuclear policy is by pressure applied by US citizens and foreign governments. I will briefly discuss three efforts to influence US nuclear policy.
Nuclear Disarmament Campaigns
Turn the Tide. At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we are initiating a campaign to chart a new course in US nuclear policy that we call Turn the Tide. It is an Internet-based campaign that seeks to awaken US citizens to the need to change US nuclear policy and spur them to communicate with their Congressional representatives and candidates, as well as the president and presidential candidates, and to cast their ballots based on positions on nuclear disarmament issues. The campaign is based on the following call to action:
- Stop all efforts to create dangerous new nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
- Maintain the current moratorium on nuclear testing and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
- Cancel plans to build new nuclear weapons production plants, and close and clean up the toxic contamination at existing plants.
- Establish and enforce a legally binding US commitment to No Use of nuclear weapons against any nation or group that does not have nuclear weapons.
- Establish and enforce a legally binding US commitment to No First Use of nuclear weapons against other nations possessing nuclear weapons.
- Cancel funding for and plans to deploy offensive missile “defense” systems which would ignite a dangerous arms race and offer no security against terrorist weapons of mass destruction.
- In order to significantly decrease the threat of accidental launch, together with Russia , take nuclear weapons off high-alert status and do away with the strategy of launch-on-warning.
- Together with Russia , implement permanent and verifiable dismantlement of nuclear weapons taken off deployed status through the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).
- Demonstrate to other countries US commitment to reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons by removing all US nuclear weapons from foreign soil.
- To prevent future proliferation or theft, create and maintain a global inventory of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons materials and place these weapons and materials under strict international safeguards.
- Initiate international negotiations to fulfill existing treaty obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for the phased and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.
- Redirect funding from nuclear weapons programs to dismantling nuclear weapons, safeguarding nuclear materials, cleaning up the toxic legacy of the Nuclear Age and meeting more pressing social needs such as education, health care and social services.
Middle Powers Initiative . The Middle Powers Initiative is a coalition of eight international civil society organizations working in the area of nuclear disarmament that supports and encourages middle power governments, such as those middle power states calling for a New Agenda that have worked together in the United Nations for nuclear disarmament (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden). The New Agenda Coalition governments took a leadership role in achieving agreement of the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. With support from the Middle Powers Initiative, the New Agenda states have continued to press the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their Article VI obligations.
Mayors for Peace Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons . This is an important new initiative that calls for beginning negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons by the year 2005, completing negotiations by the year 2010, and completing the process of eliminating nuclear weapons by the year 2020. Mayors for Peace is a global organization composed of some 600 mayors from cities throughout the world. The organization is led by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , who played an active role in the 2004 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2005 NPT Review Conference. They are planning to have more than 100 mayors from around the world at the 2005 NPT Review Conference.
There is much that needs to be done, and many good people are engaged in these efforts. However, still more is needed, and considerably more effort must be put forward by the American people. It is not clear whether this can be achieved. Americans for the most part seem too complacent, too comfortable with the power of their government, and too deferent to their government. They have not acted to curb its abuses, either with respect to nuclear weapons or to illegal wars of aggression such as the Iraq War.
Silence in the Face of Evil
Gandhi mused about what would happen to the soul of the destroying power after the use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima . His inquiry remains relevant. What has happened to the soul of America , a country that once held such great hope for the world? Its leaders have followed the path of illegal and aggressive warfare, killing far more civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq than died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 . Its young soldiers have become torturers, and their photographs with the prisoners at Abu Ghraib reflect no sense of shame or even self-consciousness about the degradation and torture of the prisoners whom they were to guard and interrogate. And US citizens have been remarkably silent in the face of leaders who have led by fear and instigated aggressive foreign wars.
The American people have been docile and reticent to react to atrocities committed in their names. Their greatest sin may be silence in the face of the misuse and misdirection of US military might, and this may be a sin that has taken hold of the soul of America .
The survivors of the atomic bombings are called hibakusha in Japan ese. They were nearly all innocent civilians. Many have lived sad and painful lives following the bombings. Their cry has been “Never again! We will not repeat the evil.” They have summoned the courage to speak out and convey their experiences in the hope that they can prevent future nuclear attacks and future hibakusha . I will conclude with a poem I wrote about hibakusha and silence. It is called Hibakusha Do Not Just Happen.
Hibakusha Do Not Just Happen
For every hibakusha
there is a pilot
for every hibakusha
there is a planner
for every hibakusha
there is a bombardier
for every hibakusha
there is a bomb designer
for every hibakusha
there is a missile maker
for every hibakusha
there is a missileer
for every hibakusha
there is a targeter
for every hibakusha
there is a commander
for every hibakusha
there is a button pusher
for every hibakusha
many must contribute
for every hibakusha
many must obey
for every hibakusha
many must be silent
The use of nuclear weapons on civilian populations has been described appropriately by the former president of the International Court of Justice, Mohammed Bedjaoui, as “the ultimate evil.” General George Lee Butler, a former commander of the US Strategic Command, described nuclear weapons as “the enemy of humanity.” “Indeed,” he said, “they’re not weapons at all. They’re some species of biological time bombs whose effects transcend time and space, poisoning the earth and its inhabitants for generations to come.”
It is silence in the face of evil that allows evil to flourish. I fear this is the case in America today. There is no widespread uprising in the US for nuclear sanity and the elimination of these weapons. As a result, the nuclear threat will likely continue and the result may well be the creation of more hibakusha. This time Americans may learn the deeply painful lesson of being under, rather than above, the bomb. It is my hope that Americans will use both their imaginations and their consciences, and awaken to the serious danger that nuclear weapons pose for all humanity, including themselves, before it is too late, and will lead the world in prevailing in the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity, that of ridding the world of this ultimate evil. It is a far more difficult task than putting a man on the moon, and the first and most important step is breaking the silence that has allowed this evil to go unchallenged. This is surely necessary not only for the future of humanity, but also for the soul of America.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org ). He is the co-author of Nuclear Weapons and the World Court and many other studies of peace in the Nuclear Age.