My Turn: Hiroshima at 75 and the nuclear legacy

For the Monitor
Published: 8/3/2020 6:20:14 AM

This August (6th and 9th) marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which needlessly and immorally exterminated nearly 200,000 Japanese civilians.

It was a shameful action by irresponsible leadership bent on post-war world domination. It brought on 46 years of a reckless U.S.-Soviet Cold War and near nuclear annihilation. Thus far we’ve managed to escape.

As Gen. Lee Butler, former head of US Strategic Command (1991-94), put it: We escaped thanks to “skill, luck, and divine intervention – and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

In the following, I’ll remind readers of some post-Cold War history, and our current two worst threats: the renewed nuclear threat and global warming. And finally, I’ll make a connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the Cold War

It’s difficult for many to grasp the terror of the Cold War. Most Americans under 50 don’t remember the nuclear fears before the end of the Cold War (1991). And many of the few who do think the Cold War’s end removed those old dangers.

It did for a while, a very short while. In 1993 President Bill Clinton provocatively kept the NATO military alliance despite the termination of the Warsaw Pact, and despite the U.S. pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev – “not one inch eastward” – Clinton extended NATO membership eastward, to countries bordering Russia.

Unsurprisingly, Boris Yeltsin’s response was to begin rebuilding his shrunken army and ending Russia’s “no first (nuke) use” policy. (The United States had, and still has, a “first use” option; it should be dropped.)

In 2002, to Russia’s dismay, George W. Bush pulled out of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, which had prevented an arms race in space for 30 years. When the United States began plans to build anti-ballistic missile bases near Russia, the Russians assumed U.S. intent to block her nuclear retaliatory capability, which both sides had long understood as necessary to deter an opponent’s first strike.

By 2010, world nukes (over 50,000 in the mid-1980s) had been brought down to 15,000 (90% belonging to the United States and Russia), thanks to the 1991 START treaty. Still the United States announced plans for a costly ($1.5 trillion) nuclear arms race with the innocent name “nuclear modernization.” Barack Obama approved in exchange for Republican agreement to renew the expiring START treaty, which was wisely done.

Currently both countries have reduced their deployed nukes to roughly 1,400 (but still several thousand in storage). The treaty expires in early 2021. The Trump administration has been vague about renewal.

In 2014, the Ukraine “revolution” and war with Russia (13,000 killed) was brought on in part by Russia’s worries about Ukraine’s coziness with NATO – yet another step in the return of a dangerous Cold War.

In 2015 Obama led an international agreement with Iran (the five permanent nuclear-weapon members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) to allow Iran access to nuclear power, but not nuclear weapons, under strict international controls. Iran fully cooperated and, in exchange, the U.S. lifted sanctions on $10 billion in frozen assets and oil revenue.

Trump: Sinking chances of peace, rising chances of war

1) Arms control is undone.

In 2018, Donald Trump removed the United States from the Iran nuke agreement despite frequent inspections and full cooperation.

In 2019, he pulled out of the 1987 INF treaty, which removed/destroyed thousands of U.S. and Russian short-intermediate range nuclear missiles from the European theatre and prevented a nuclear war in Europe.

He has allowed military spending to balloon. The Pentagon budget is (again) out of control – nearly $800 billion, and not just of Republican doing. (The House Democrats recently voted down a bill to cut the bloated military budget by a mere 10% for health needs.) Such needless, wasteful spending, many times that of Russia and China, serves mainly to enrich the military-industrial complex (of which President Eisenhower warned) at the expense of the needy.

2) Global climate control: a hoax, not our concern.

In 2018, Trump quit the 2015 Paris agreement (197 members) – a much-needed international deal to stop global warming – this, despite the fact that the United States has long been a major world polluter.

3) COVID-19: a problem too long ignored.

For several months, Trump pooh-poohed the seriousness of the virus, allowing it to get out of control. (The United States, with 4.25% of world population, has 25% of world cases and deaths.)

The COVID connection

Finally, in this tragic, long-suffering time of COVID-19, we can’t blame our citizenry (or media) for little attention to the return of the nuclear threat, and the acceleration of global warming. But we are seeing that the pandemic’s disappearance requires good science, national concern and, most importantly, international cooperation.

The solutions for the even greater threats of global warming and nuclear war will require such cooperation as well. These are not just United States problems. As the pandemic has reminded us, we are all human beings, we are all in this together.

(Ray Perkins Jr. of Concord is professor of philosophy, emeritus, at Plymouth State University and vice chairman of the Bertrand Russell Society board of directors.)


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