Carolina Peace Resource Center President David Matos gave the following remarks at the 26th Annual Hiroshima Vigil sponsored by Carolina Peace and the Palmetto Friends Meeting (Quakers) on Sunday Aug 6th, 2017:
Today marks the seventy-second anniversary of the first use of the atomic bomb in war. The bombing of Hiroshima, Japan took place on Monday Aug 6th 1945 at precisely 8:15AM. From daylight the denizens of Hiroshima were plunged into darknesss: a flash, an explosion, an all consuming firestorm, and then black rain ensued. An estimated 70,000 were killed immediately. An equal number more died within a year due to burns, injuries and radiation poisoning. Three days later the devastation would be repeated in Nagasaki.
Why do we gather every year to remember Hiroshima?
It’s not because we are renewing the debate over whether the bombing was necessary or not, although we can have that discussion.
Sadly, it’s not because death and destruction on a massive scale is uncommon in human history.
We light the lantern of memory each year to honor the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only uses of nuclear weapons in war in human history, to remind ourselves why we must never allow nuclear weapons to be used in war again.
Scarred and discriminated against, the Hibakusha, the Japanese atomic bomb survivors, have traveled the world with one message: “Never let this happen again.” Now that their generation is all but gone, will we heed the charge?
Today nine countries have nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel. The US and Russian nuclear arsenals, containing almost all of the world’s over 15,000 nuclear warheads, with hundreds till on hair-trigger alert pointed at each other. In 2015, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight, citing “[un]checked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals”. While we worry about nuclear worry between superpowers, even an exchange of a relatively few nuclear weapons between lesser powers would be drastic global climatic consequences.
The risk of accident is as severe as war: Russia mistook a Norwegian space rocket launch in 1995 for a possible nuclear strike, meanwhile the US military itself has had 33 acknowledged “Broken Arrows”, nuclear weapons accidents that put the public at risk, including the dropping of a nuclear weapon from a USAF bomber onto Mars Bluff, SC in 1958.
Beyond, the imminent dangers of nuclear weapons are the long- term costs. The sheer financial expense of building and maintaining nuclear arsenals across nine nations costs approximately $1 trillion over ten years… with US spending roughly half that, money spent on weapons instead of human needs. For instance, the Navy plans to buy twelve new Columbia class Trident ballistic missile submarines at an initial estimated cost of $5 billion each. We have money for maintaining a nuclear arsenal for the past 22 years at Cold War levels but we don’t have money to provide healthcare for our own people.
And then there’s the highly radioactive waste that is left behind. South Carolina in particular carries the weight of the legacy of nuclear weapons. In the fifties at the height of the Cold War,
the Federal government created the Savannah River Site or SRS near Aiken to separate plutonium for thermonuclear “hydrogen” bombs. Some fifty underground tanks with a capacity of a million gallons each sit in the ground near the water table slowly corroding and there is a race to empty them of their highly radioactive contents before they fail… a multi billion dollar clean up at taxpayer expense. While the focus at SRS has gone to clean up, it s still remains a bomb plant. SRS maintains the Tritium Extraction Facility that supplies all the tritium hydrogen gas to fill “dial a yield”warhead reservoirs in the US nuclear arsenal.. Westinghouse’s Bluff Road facility in Columbia, SC also produces aluminum assemblies crucial to this process. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the explosive force of 13 kilotons of TNT; Dial-a-Yield warheads can be set from 5 kilotons to 150 kilotons.
Can we prevent nuclear war? Can we reduce or even eliminate nuclear weapons?
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has been successful inlimiting the spread of nuclear weapons with only four countries acquiring nuclear weapons since its adoption. Reagan and Gorbachev were committed to the vision of nuclear free world. That commitment was renewed by President Obama in his Prague speech heralding the New START treaty with Russia.
But we have also seen backsliding…
While the NPT requires nuclear weapon states to reduce their arsenals and move toward disarmament, the US an Russia are both undertaking massively expensive nuclear weapons modernization drives.
While the NPT was the basis for the successful Iran Deal that, despite the partisan detractors, has put effective limits on Iran’s nuclear program, we now have an administration seemly intent on undermining the agreement.
In North Korea, we’ve seen a Clinton era deal unravel, in part due to the George W. Bush’s administration more hostile stance toward North Korea, in part due to North Korea. The current crisis is direct consequence of that failure in diplomacy, now with UN sanctions enacted, US bombers flying over the Korean peninsula. We forget that North Korea reaches for the same nuclear weapons deterrent the US has and sees the US massive presence on the peninsula as a clear threat. Our ability to work towards nuclear disarmament may as much depend on our ability to de-escalate resolve conflicts between nations peacefully as it does on the reduction of nuclear weapons. Both the superpower and the small nation alike must be secure to relinquish a death-grip on nuclear weapons.
A treaty to abolish nuclear weapons in the UN was passed last month with 122 countries vote in favor, but not a single state with nuclear weapons holding country voted.
The US Senate has refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty since the 1990s. And now we have the “Wilson Amendment” put forward by Rep Joe Wilson to undermine US funding of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) that monitors nuclear tests globally and seeks to exempt the US from the ban.
The challenges are real
But where there is a will there is a way.
WE must provide that critical will for nuclear disarmament… Repeated rounds of mutual nuclear weapons reductions will reduce the threat and maybe even eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.
As US First Lady, Diplomat and Human Right activist Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “ It’s not enough to talk about peace. One has to believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. Onemust work at it.”