Lessons from the nuclear holocaust

August 06, 2020

The writer is a freelance journalist.This month of the year should prompt us into some sombre reflection, particularly in light of recent events and tragedies. On August 6, 1945, the US stunned the...

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The writer is a freelance journalist.

This month of the year should prompt us into some sombre reflection, particularly in light of recent events and tragedies. On August 6, 1945, the US stunned the world by dropping nuclear weapons on the Japanese city of Hiroshima – incinerating thousands within no time.

The Japanese were still reeling under the first attack when another terrible nuclear onslaught on August 9 sent a shiver down their spine. This time the target was Nagasaki. The two attacks claimed more than 100,000 lives, turning thousands others into living corpses besides annihilating the bustling cities and eliminating the traces of life from the sites of the attacks. The effects of radiation were felt for decades, with some claiming they can still be felt.

According to an article by Pierre Bienaime published in Business Insider in 2014, the US was planning more attacks after the devastation of the two cities but they were meant to target the USSR. The author said, “World War II had ended with grisly evidence of what atomic warfare actually was. But just weeks after its end, the Pentagon was already hypothesizing about what an entire wave of nuclear attacks could achieve. The estimated amount of firepower needed to destroy each target city ranges from one to six atomic bombs, depending on the target's size.

"Sixty-six cities were identified in total, and it was determined that it would take 204 atomic bombs to put them all out of commission. A US Army Air Force study found that the bombs would 'obliterate most of Russia's population and industry – chiefly its capacity to refine oil and produce aircraft and tanks'."

The barbaric attacks on the two Japanese cities triggered a fury among a tiny conscientious minority in the Western world, that demanded an end to the production of these weapons of mass destruction. Albert Einstein was flabbergasted by the destruction caused to the two cities, writing later that he would rather be a cobbler than a scientist had he known that his destruction would bring such great devastation. The old scientist joined Bertrand Russell and other anti-war activists for some time in their movement against the nuclearization of the world.

Russell extensively wrote against the possible horrors of a nuclear holocaust, urging the leaders of the world to stay away from this most lethal invention of the 20th century. Jean Paul Sartre shared the concerns of the veteran English philosopher, throwing his support behind the peace movement led by Russell. Poets, intellectuals, artists and a number of people hailing from different walks of life joined the movement. Novelists wrote chilling accounts of possible nuclear wars. Filmmakers also tried to educate people about the futility of manufacturing such agents of death but in the following decades the specter of a nuclear war did not wane, it appeared more imminent and practically possible in the decade of the 1980s.

Despite the decimation of thousands of people in the two attacks, the US remained unrepentant, threatening the use of these lethal weapons a number of times. The mighty states of America hurled such threats during the Korean War that claimed more than three million lives, the Cuban Missile Crisis that pushed the world towards the verge of a nuclear showdown between the USSR and the US, the Vietnam War that killed around five to seven million people, including over 52000 American soldiers and the Afghan War triggered by the Soviet invasion of the landlocked country. After 9/11, former President George W Bush named around six countries, hurling a veiled threat of nuclear attacks against them.

It is difficult to understand why mankind is still adamant to wage wars and encourage conflicts after witnessing more than 10 million killings in World War I, 70 million in the second mass slaughter of 1939-45 and millions more in over 200 conflicts and skirmishes since the end of the global war in 1945. Such wars did not cost lives only, they also greatly affected the environment besides forcing states to squander their precious resources on this futile belligerence that has deprived more than two billion people of the basic necessities of life.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, it was expected that the world would witness everlasting peace. Many asserted that the end of the totalitarian state would herald an era of peace and prosperity. The pundits of the capitalist world declared the triumph of the free market with the wiping out of the second biggest military power on the earth. But such dreams turned out to be nothing. Nuclear threat still holds sway over humanity. The world is still brimming with these lethal agents of death. Instead of one power, we have at least eight declared nuclear powers in the world, armed to the teeth with these weapons of mass destruction.

The threatening approach of the US is prompting other states to acquire this technology. They believe that the states that are armed with these weapons of annihilation will likely be in a position to counter America's menacing approach in international affairs. The destruction of Iraq, the devastation of Libya and the terrible civil war in Syria have lent credence to the doubts of developing anti-American countries that you can only avoid fragmentation and dismemberment if your defence is strong and if you are armed with weapons that have the potential to exterminate your enemy.

So, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other smaller states seem to be making clandestine efforts to acquire this technology. In the Middle East, Israel is believed to possess these weapons of mass destruction. Some estimates suggest that Israel may be armed with 200 lethal nuclear warheads. Riyadh has already made it clear that if Tehran achieves these arms of extreme lethality then it would not hesitate to get its hands on them as well. This is happening in a region which is known as the most volatile zone in the world – riddled as it is with territorial, ethnic, sectarian and religious conflicts.

Another region facing a possible nuclear showdown is South Asia where India's hegemonic attitude prompted Islamabad to acquire this technology. New Delhi also does not seem to be on good terms with another nuclear power – China. America and Russia still have over 12,000 nuclear arsenals while Moscow, Beijing and Washington have also carried out the experiments of super-sonic missiles in recent times raising the specter of a terrible nuclear conflict.

It is disheartening to see that we are doing all this, despite witnessing the terrible game of death and destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is surprising is the inclusion of Japan in the Pacific alliance. The alliance, with the US, Australia and India as three other members, seeks to challenge China militarily. The alliance’s architect – Washington – has provoked Beijing a number of times in the South China Sea.

What Tokyo should remember is: it will be the first to face the brunt of any conflict given its proximity to China. A possible conflict could escalate into a nuclear showdown that would be devastating for the world in general but Japanese society in particular. Therefore, Tokyo should lobby with the European Union and Russia, which are not part of this possible conflict, for normalization of the situation. It could also use international forums like the UN to seek a peaceful resolution of the bickering and threats that has been going on between Washington and Beijing.

Pacifist forces in India should also prevail upon the war-mongers sitting in the power corridors of New Delhi. It is not a matter of subjugating a tiny minority but that of confronting a giant military force. The biggest lesson from Hiroshima is to avoid conflicts – be they conventional or nuclear.

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