Nuclear Disarmament is More Urgent than Ever

Joseph Gerson spoke at Watertown's Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration, Aug 8, 2021. Virginia Pratt photo
Joseph Gerson spoke at Watertown's Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration, Aug 8, 2021. Virginia Pratt photo

by Joseph Gerson

Remarks delivered at the Watertown Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration, August 8, 2021 (August 9 in Nagasaki)

Friends, The A-bombings , 76 years ago, were crimes humanity. They were indiscriminate, unnecessary, and ushered in an era in which human survival is constantly threated by accident, miscalculation or intention.  Even before we knew about nuclear winter, Hibakusha, the courageous and inspired A-bomb survivors, warned that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.

Those A-bombs were small by today’s standards.  U.S. strategic are on average 20 times more powerful and devastating. The fireballs of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs had the heat of the sun, about 3 million degrees. In the first second, the bombs’ radioactive waves poisoned everyone within a two-mile radius. Then came the blast wave, destroying nearly all of Hiroshima’s buildings within a 2-mile radius.

The blast wave was followed by a fierce heat wave, burning devastated ruins and people across the cities. My friend Professor Shoji Sawada, had a not uncommon experience. He was six years old and was at home with his mother. The blast wave destroyed their home, leaving his mother pinned beneath a heavy beam. The heat wave engulfed their home in fire. Shoji struggled to move the beam to save his mother’s life. But he was small, and there was no one to help. As he worked frantically to save her, crying in fear and desperation, the fire spread. His mother screamed at him that he must run away, abandon her, and save his own life. This is Sawada-senei’s searing memory and that of many other Hibakusha. It led him to dedicating his life to banning nuclear weapons. He played a major role in an important court case that was decided last week, finally extending Hibakusha recognition to a number of people exposed to radioactive black rain after decades of government resistance.

Those who initially survived the A-bombings witnessed and suffered Hell on earth: bodies so badly burned that you couldn’t tell if they had been women or men. Scorched and blackened people, walking like ghosts, skin hanging from their hands and bodies, eyeballs protruding from their faces, body organs exposed. The dying moaned “give me water”. Others drowned in rivers and cisterns where they had sought to escape the fires. Most hospitals were destroyed. Half or more of the doctors and nurses were killed or incapacitated. And what medicines there were were powerless against radioactive poisons. By year’s end, 210,000 had died from the A-bombs. Today, a nuclear war means the end of all life as we know it.

Few know that senior U.S. military leaders opposed the 1945 A-bombings. They understood that Japan was defeated and seeking to surrender on terms that President Truman accepted AFTER the A-bombings: that Emperor Hirohito remain on his throne. Secretary of War Stimson, who informed newly installed President Truman about the existence of the secret A-bomb project,  also advised him that Japan’s surrender could be arranged on terms acceptable to the United State. As General, later President, Eisenhower put it, it wasn’t necessary to hit Japan with that terrible thing.

The determinative reason for the A-bombings was to win Japan’s immediate surrender, before the Soviet Union joined the war. The U.S. sought to avoid sharing influence in Manchuria, Northern China, and Korea. As Truman wrote in his diary, he also wanted a nuclear “hammer over those boys”, the Soviet leaders, at the dawn of the Cold War. Thus the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed.

To be clear, the Asia- Pacific war was between competing empires: Japan’s, Washington’s’ and Britain’s. Japan, began what became its 15-year war by invading China, and it struck the U.S after FDR embargoed oil supplies needed by the Japanese military. But killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians with the fire bombings that consumed more than 60 cities and the A-bombs were hardly justified by the attack on Pearl Harbor and by the threat Japan posed to what was then the United States 50 year-old Asia-Pacific empire. .

Since then, to maintain is global dominance, during wars and international crises, with first-use doctrine and thousands of nuclear warheads, successive U.S. presidents have prepared and threaten to initiate nuclear wars at least 30 times: in the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Europe, and even in relation to Central America. They’ve done it like an armed robber. Whether or not the trigger is pulled, the gun has been used.

As we meet, the Biden Administration and the military-industrial complex – certainly Raytheon and Lincoln Labs here in Massachusetts, are recklessly seeking to restore U.S. nuclear first strike capacity. They plan to spend about $1.7 trillion to entirely replace the U.S. arsenal of nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. Biden’s budget includes funding for stand-off cruise missiles to intimidate China and Russia, more usable first strike B-61 warheads in Europe, and the first-strike related missile defenses that are driving Chinese plans to build more nuclear weapons.. This, when we lack money or the common security diplomacy needed to address the existential threats of the climate emergency, nuclear weapons,  and this and future pandemics.

A decade ago, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a conference in international nuclear aboltionists that governments alone will not deliver us a nuclear weapons-free world. Even as we are fortunate that Senators Markey and Warren have introduced legislation to eliminate the U.S. first-strike policy, we need to keep the pressure on Representative Clark, others in Congress that we can influence, and Biden himself. Among our demands must be:

  • Eliminate the first strike nuclear warfighting doctrine
  • Halt all funding for the nuclear arsenal upgrade.
  • Honor, and stop resisting, the U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons