Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why Not Use Nuclear Weapons?

I was rather aghast to hear that Donald Trump had asked why we couldn't use nuclear weapons--after all, we have them, so why not use them?

I realize that I've spent more time thinking about nuclear weapons than the average person, but can he really not understand?  Or is this more bluster?

He should read John Hersey's Hiroshima, which began life as a nonfiction piece in The New Yorker. In the summer of 1985, I read obsessively about nuclear weapons, both their genesis and their current status, and Hiroshima was one of the books I read. Best book of that summer? War Day, by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, a sobering piece of fiction about life in the U.S. after a massive nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union; it's still a compelling read. I remember Hersey's book as being elegaic in its depiction of the lost city and the suffering of the people.

Either book would instruct Trump in the ways that nuclear weapons disrupt regular life far and wide in a way that most weapons don't.  The bombs used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki were small by today's standards--but what damage they did!  The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

Through the years, I've seen many a documentary about the rush to build nuclear weapons, about the uncertainty of what would happen with those first tests and explosions--would the very atmosphere around the planet dissolve?  I have yet to see any footage of scientists who wondered what might happen to civilians on the ground when these bombs exploded.

I've lived long enough to see history being made to know that the choices can be fairly ghastly.  In this case, far better to develop the weapons before the Germans. I know many people who believe that the use of these bombs helped avoid more years of grueling battles that would have left us with even more dead--one could argue that the sacrifice of the populations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were worth the avoidance of more years of war and that loss of life.

I've also done enough reading and thinking about pacifist approaches to wonder if there might not have been another way if we had acted much earlier.

On this day in 1945, nuclear weapons were first used in war, and so far, we haven't used them in war again.  We have been lucky that nuclear weapons are so complicated and pose such a health risk in terms of radiation that terrorists have stayed away from them.

Let us do all that we have in our power to do to make sure that these weapons are not used again.

No comments: