“Today is a day to remember the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also to fight for the living – for a world free of nuclear weapons, and an economy that serves the interests of people and planet, not the warmongers or the arms industry bosses.”
Sam Browse, Labour Outlook, writes on the importance of remembering the grim consequence of using nuclear weapons, and the continued importance of opposing them.
Today marks the 78th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. As the doomsday clock ticks closer to midnight and Hollywood films depict the creation of the bomb – and some of the reservations of the scientists who designed it – it is a good time to reflect on the damage caused by nuclear weapons, the need to oppose them, and to say clearly ‘no more Hiroshimas; no more Nagasakis’.
The bomb dropped on Hiroshima centre, named ‘Little Boy’ for its size and shape, destroyed 13km of the city in an explosion that at its core reached millions of degrees centigrade. 75,000 died in the first hours from the bomb being dropped, either vaporised by the explosion itself, burnt by the heat and blast waves, or crushed in the collapse of buildings caused by the explosion or the hurricane-force winds it created.
Those who were not immediately killed suffered fatal burns or from the radiation generated by the bomb. By the end of 1950, the total death toll came to around 200,000 people. Three days later, the Americans dropped a second, more powerful bomb on the city of Nagasaki. By the end of 1950, that bomb had killed a further 140,000 people.
Curtis LeMay, the Air Force General responsible for overseeing the bombing campaigns in the Pacific, said of the operations in Japan that ‘if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals’. Undoubtedly, the targeting of civilians makes the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a war crime – as would any subsequent use of nuclear weapons today.
Today’s warheads are many times more powerful than their mid-century counterparts and would lead to far more destruction and suffering. Yet the government has recently, and controversially, committed to increasing the British stockpile by 40%, breaking the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as it does so.
The cost of that legal violation are astronomical. Estimates put it at a staggering £205 billion. As the cost of living soars and wages stagnate – all while Ministers insist ‘there is no money left’ – it is absurd that such significant resource is channelled into the creation and upkeep of weapons that, if used, would cause destruction on a magnitude far greater than those deployed on 6th and 9th August 1945. And yet the consensus in Westminster is to support that exact absurdity.
The international Covid crisis has shown that one of the greatest threats to our security are the pandemics of tomorrow. Indeed, this estimation had featured in the government’s own security assessments prior to the public health emergency, and yet nuclear weapons – not the National Health Service or the care system – remained the government’s spending priority.
Similarly, the climate crisis is causing havoc not only globally, with floods in Pakistan, fires in Canada, droughts in Africa, and scorching temperatures in Europe, but domestically, too. Last year’s 40 degree heatwave led to 1000 excess deaths, and floods wreak destruction across the country. But the Government is failing to address this clear and pressing security concern – the Climate Change Committee report that it is going backwards on climate and net zero targets.
Instead of investing such significant resource in a “security” measure that does nothing to address these issues – and in fact makes the prospect of human and environmental catastrophe more likely – it could far more productively be employed in the race to decarbonise our economy, improve and expand crumbling public services, like the NHS, and create hundreds of thousands of good green jobs (rather than the 11,520 currently attached to the £205 billion nuclear weapons industry).
Today is a day to remember the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also to fight for the living – for a world free of nuclear weapons, and an economy that serves the interests of people and planet, not the warmongers or the arms industry bosses.