BoomAugust 8, 2009
A letter in the paper today seems to put forth the view that the fact that nation states hold nuclear weapons may be good for world stability. The writer advocates that a “nuclear balance-of-terror may deter big wars”. Of course, this letter has been prompted by the recent passing of yet another anniversary of the catastrophic August 6th 1945 dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The letter writer then goes on to remind readers that the Japanese committed horrific war crimes during World War II and that his father was a victim of these crimes, having been held in a POW camp himself for three and half years. There is no denying this of course. It is well documented that the Japanese Imperial Forces committed disgusting and horrific crimes against humanity during World War II, particularly the rape of Nanjing, which the Chinese people will be hard pressed to forgive or forget for, one would think, thousands of years. These atrocities must be remembered and learned from, just like the myriad of other lessons that history teaches us. Furthermore, certain sections of Japanese society need to deal with them and learn from them as well as acknowledge that they happened and that they were atrocious and morally reprehensible in every way. Certain other sections of Japanese society have indeed already acknowledged all this.
However, separate from his first point, there seems a more base level claim and justification for dropping a nuclear bomb on an industrialised, densely populated city that the letter writer espouses. The only problem is he fails to link it to the first point he attempts to make in the letter – that nuclear weapon ownership among nations is a stabilising factor in the international arena of world powers. Abandoning the pretence that a “nuclear balance-of-terror may deter big wars”, the letter writer then wraps up his ‘point’ by mentioning karma and stating that “what goes around, comes around”.
Now, is it just me or is has this letter writer not learned his lessons from history? I intend to make a few points in response to these claims below. Firstly, I’ll deal with the claim that nuclear weapons are a stabilising factor in the international arena. Then I’ll say a few things on the never ending debate about whether the nuclear bombs should have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the moral judgements that are bandied about constantly in relation to the decision to drop them. I will then say a few things about my own experience of Hiroshima and make the point that those who think that there can be ‘good’ reasons for the existence of these abominable weapons in the world are misguided, to say the least.
To say that nuclear weapons are a stabilising factor in the international arena is completely ridiculous. It’s akin to saying you can arm a substantial part of the population of a country with guns and the fact that they all own guns will stop them from shooting each other. We have hard evidence that this is not the case. Furthermore, it creates suspicion and paranoia. Extrapolate this to the international arena. The fact that the United States developed the bomb first and used it set the Soviet Union off on a rapid nuclearisation path that plunged both these nations into the Cold War. This face-off led to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis which perched the world on the brink of nuclear war. This period was anything but stable and the so-called détente which followed it was stable only in relative terms to the period which immediately preceded it. As the Cold War wound on, nations on both sides of the divide fought proxy wars and took steps that aided in the nuclearisation of their perceived allies. Furthermore, other nations less drawn into the overarching conflict of the Cold War have also been successful in their pursuit of possessing nuclear weapons.
This proliferation has eventuated in the following countries possessing these catastrophic devices in addition to the United States and Russia: Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. While Israel officially says it doesn’t possess any nuclear weapons, it is nonetheless the opinion of many international observers that Israel could be in possession of up to 100 such weapons. That’s an official total of eight countries with the real total probably being nine. On top of this, Iran, Syria and Myanmar are all suspected to be actively pursuing nuclear weapons to varying degrees right now.
The destabilisation and suspicion that this has caused has been so great that the United Nations, no matter how hard it tries, cannot reel it in or devise any workable solutions in regard to stopping the proliferation of these weapons. Probably the most poignant example at the moment of nuclear weapons having a huge destabilising effect does not come from North Korea (as alarming and destabilising as the North Korean regime having them is) but from Pakistan. Pakistan is thought to possess around 200 nuclear weapons and is steadily increasing this arsenal. The destabilising factor, as many have pointed out, does not come from the Pakistani state as it stands at the moment (except from India’s point of view, but that’s a whole other geo-political issue). The nightmare scenario is if the Taliban and their friends are able to mount an effective enough campaign to oust the weakened Pakistani government and arm themselves with the nuclear weapons that Pakistan has attained over the last two decades.
A nuclear armed state in the international arena has proven throughout the 20th century to be a constant threat of war and destruction on a catastrophic scale. A nuclear armed bunch of stateless fanatics who routinely practice beheadings, amputations, appalling sexism and many other lovely little cleansings of the soul in the name of their warped world view is a new threat that will cause untold destabilisation and irreversible damage to the region with ramifications worldwide. There have been recent renewed efforts from Pakistan to deal with this threat, but the political will to do so is fickle and their enemy is a resourceful, powerful and enduring one.
Not only has nuclear proliferation been a major destabilising factor for the world throughout the 20th century, but as the world grows more complex and new types of war are being fought with unconventional forces who renew their tactics constantly and are utterly unpredictable, these weapons have the potential to completely destroy the world as we know it. The idea that nuclear terror will “deter big wars” is absurd. Nuclear weapons are, after all, weapons. They are designed for a purpose and just like in the case of every other weapon, that purpose is waiting to be executed by those who are willing to push the button – and to say that such people don’t exist is naive and silly. Nuclear weapons a stabilising factor? What planet are you on?
A few things about the Hiroshima/Nagasaki debate. Should nuclear weapons have been used on these cities at the conclusion of World War II? Of course not. The war was a war between belligerent armies and Japan was steadily collapsing and being worn down by the overwhelming superiority of the American forces. Of course, some will point out that the Japanese High Command were simply not willing to surrender. This may be so, but it does not justify the dropping of a nuclear weapon on a city which caused somewhere in the vicinity of 70,000 deaths instantly, 50,000 in the following days, thousands more in the following years and a long term mutation effect on many among the local population. The war was between soldiers – and yes, Japan did not respect this and in fact carried out some of the worst atrocities against civilians of the 20th century. However, this does not mean that the Allies should have done the same. It’s like saying that terrorists blow up our cafes and nightclubs with suicide bombers, so we should go to their local communities and do the same. A “what goes around, comes around” attitude is a sadistic retributive justice stance that does not rectify a situation and has the effect of robbing people of their lives and their dignity. Punishing a people collectively for the crimes of their compatriots is ludicrous. America needed to fight in World War II, America needed to be in Europe and the Pacific and do many of the things it did. America DID NOT need to drop those bombs to win that war and doing so has been one of the monumental mistakes of modern history.
Anyone who’s been to Hiroshima will get a sense of why it was the wrong decision to drop those bombs. The Japanese in this city know all too well the devastation that nuclear weapons cause. The museum and peace park underneath where the epicentre of the explosion was are testaments to this. They offer an emotional education of why these weapons are a scourge on our humanity. The museum takes care to mention Japanese atrocities during the war and acknowledges the Japanese military regime’s role in bringing about the war in the Pacific. It also gives an informative overview of nuclear weapons around the world. The last part of the museum takes you through the devastation of the city on August 6th 1945 as well as the following days and months. It’s an emotional walk through that museum. It’s a powerful and sombre reminder and that whatever gripes humans may have with each other over whatever issue, there is no guarantee of a good outcome if nuclear weapons are used – particularly if both parties possess them.
Anyone who says that nuclear weapons can have some sort of positive effect on the world needs to re-evaluate their thinking and do some serious research before making such an absurd assertion in the future.