Hiroshima and Nagasaki: H-bomb legacy should not be forgotten
July 26, 2001
On the 56th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we need to reflect on the atomic age. And we need to make sure the Bush administration does not push us into another one.
On August 6, 1945, 140,000 men, women and children were turned into powder and ash at Hiroshima. Three days later at Nagasaki, 70,000 died instantly. After five years, another 130,000 inhabitants of the two cities died of radiation poisoning.
Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito said in August 1999, "From this hellish experience, we have gained the conviction that the existence of nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated."
But the Bush administration does not hold Mayor Ito's position.
President Bush wants to bury the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the administration wants to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.
By going in this direction, the Bush administration is turning its back on the advice of an increasing number of generals, world leaders and citizens.
Sixty-two retired generals and admirals published a declaration in 1996 calling for the "complete ... elimination of nuclear weapons."
One of these, Gen. George L. Butler, was the former chief of the Strategic Air Command. He helped shape and enforce nuclear policy but now renounces it.
"Too many of us have failed to properly understand the risks and consequences of nuclear war," he wrote for the journal of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in 1996. "(Its) effects transcend time and place, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants for generation(s)."
Gen. Butler could very well be speaking on current White House plans for sending nuclear power and weapons into space when he wrote that the "likely consequences of nuclear war have no politically, militarily or morally acceptable justification, and therefore the threat to use nuclear weapons is indefensible."
In 1998, 117 world leaders -- including former Russian and U.S. leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Jimmy Carter -- called on the nuclear weapons states to declare nuclear abolition as their goal.
In October 1999, 94 U.S. Catholic Bishops declared that U.S. plans to use nuclear weapons first "must not be allowed," and charged that "deterrence as a national policy must be condemned as morally abhorrent. ..."
Since then, millions of ordinary people as well as religious, military, scientific and political leaders have been working for nuclear disarmament.
As we recall Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that "the Bomb saved lives," and that modern nuclear weapons have a usefulness.
The bomb did not save lives.
"I think it can be proven that the bomb was not only unnecessary but known in advance not to be necessary," historian Gar Alperovitz wrote following 30 years of research on the subject.
President Dwight Eisenhower called the bombings gratuitous saying, "First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
In 1950, Adm. William Leahy, the World War II chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced the atom bomb's so-called usefulness. In what could stand as an epitaph for the nuclear age, Leahy said about Hiroshima, "I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."
George W. Bush would do well to recall those words.
John LaForge is co-director at Nukewatch (www.nukewatch.com), a peace group, based in Luck, Wis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.