Addressing the US’s complicitness in maintaining the nuclear status quo
Michelle Cunha represented Peace Action at the World Conference Against A and H Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 2018. Originally published in DigBoston
In the sweltering heat of the Japanese summer, I toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Set nearly on top of the epicenter where an atomic bomb was detonated on Aug 6, 1945, I saw statutes of women trying to protect children from the bomb’s devastation, a burial mound with the ashes of at least ten thousand bodies, and monuments to workers whose lives were lost on that shameful day. At the Nagasaki Peace Park I viewed images of infants, teens, and adults burned beyond recognition, lying in the streets.
The next nine days I spent in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki listening to the voices of nuclear abolitionists from around the globe. I met Hibakusha, survivors of the nuclear attack, and listened to their stories of losing their loved ones and community in a moment. They spoke of the deep unabating grief they felt in the days, months, and decades since. Their words made me verklempt when they described the shame of being a survivor, of how many were unable to marry, find jobs, or live any sort of normal life. They spoke about how many Hibakusha chose to live in silence, never speaking of the day, instead choosing to suffer in silence. They spoke of being instantly alone in middle age having lost their parents, spouses, children, and livelihoods.
As I listened to the speeches at the 2018 World Conference against A and H Bombs, two men kept coming to my mind: Congressman Seth Moulton and State Rep. Kenneth Gordon. Why were these two men on my mind as I looked the legacy of the use of nuclear weapons? Both represent Bedford; Moulton believes nuclear deterrence is a viable doctrine and Gordon believes our attention is better spent on elections in other states as a way to change the discourse on nuclear weapons.
The Doctrine of Deterrence is based on the idea that if a nation possesses nuclear weapons it will not be attacked thus it is protected from any foreign aggressors.
Nations do not like unjust imbalances. If one nation has a nuclear weapon then its chief rival must have two. That skewed thinking leads to an arms race in which the two nations must one-up each other. Other nations wanting to be perceived as powerful join in the arms race as they too start to conceptualize and build their own nuclear arsenal.
Rachel Melly said “Of course our government always claims that they [nuclear weapons] are necessary for our security, that they will never be used, and they are designed to deter attack from hostile powers. But increasingly our politicians are required to say that they would press the button, so there is calculated uncertainty about whether it should be used or not.”
Moulton has declined to sign onto Sen. Ed Markey’s bill, co-authored by Congressman Ted Lieu of California (D-Calif.), which is designed to limit presidential first use of nuclear weapons by requiring Congressional approval before launching. A similar resolution is in the Massachusetts State House, authored by State Sen. Barbara L’Italien. Ken Gordon has procrastinated signing the resolution saying via email on July 12, 2018: “While I do support this initiative and will do what I can to help with this Senate resolution, I really think our time is best spent assisting the campaigns of those Senators in contested races in other states, because the real solution to all of this will only start when people who share our values take back the House and Senate, slowing down the current threat, and then work toward a more rational Administration.”
At a town hall in Newburyport on May 20, 2017, I asked Moulton why he has not signed onto the No First Strike bill. The Congressman mansplained that deterrence is a viable option and US treaty obligations to East Asian allies require the US to maintain a nuclear arsenal. Video of the exchange can be found on Massachusetts Peace Action’s website.
The United States is the only country in the world who has used nuclear bombs, not once but twice. An estimated 60,000-80,000 people were killed instantly in Hiroshima and another 75,000 were lost in Nagasaki. Added together, a rough total of 145,000 people were killed instantly. If you add the populations of Bedford, Lexington, Lincoln, Concord, Carlisle, Billerica, and Burlington together, total population is approximately 147,000. Imagine every single man, woman, child in those communities being lost in less than 5 seconds. Image the first responders from surrounding communities attempting to respond to such a completely preventable catastrophe: the blocked roads, the widespread fires, the cancers and radiation diseases police, fire, and EMS would contract. Imagine Emerson and Lahey Hospitals—if they were not instantly destroyed—trying to treat any survivors who are able to make it to their campuses.
The lucky ones in Hiroshima and Nagasaki died instantly. Radiation poisoning killed thousands more in the weeks following the attacks. Still, to this day, thousands of Hibakusha suffer the consequences with cancers throughout their bodies and other radiation diseases. The illnesses do not end with them. Second-generation Hibakusha are also afflicted with radiation diseases all because the United States believed dropping nuclear bombs on human beings—military and civilians alike—was an acceptable war tactic even at a time when the Japanese were attempting to surrender on the terms accepted after the A-bombings.
If I were to point a gun at someone but not to pull the trigger, I would be arrested for assault because to threaten to use a gun is as much a crime as to actually use it. Nuclear weapons are really big guns with the capability of destroying entire communities like Bedford.
During the last phase of his presidency, President Obama initiated a $1 trillion nuclear upgrade and 2018 Congress has bumped that number up to about $1.7 trillion. Hanscom AFB, in Moulton’s and Gordon’s districts, will see millions of those dollars to upgrade the Nuclear Command and Control Communications. In the last few weeks the NDAA was passed, which included funding for “low yield” nuclear bombs. These low yield bombs have more destructive capabilities than the two dropped on Japan. Earlier this year the Doomsday Clock was moved to 2 minutes to midnight after Trump’s NPT was released. It was the first time since 1953 that the hands have been so close to nuclear annihilation.
And yet, Moulton and Gordon believe the threat of instant and indiscriminate death brought on by a bright flash of light and a searing heat so hot eyeballs melt is necessary for US security. They believe burdening humans with life-threatening cancers that will affect millions for generations is in the US’ best interest.
It is time to put a stop to outmoded and antiquated thinking. It is time for total nuclear disarmament by all nine of the nuclear states. It is time for the United States to sign onto the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and to eliminate every single one of its 4,000+ nuclear weapons.