This week saw the world mark the 70th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the only use of nuclear weapons in wartime.
In July 1945, Allied leaders issued the Potsdam Declaration – an ultimatum demanding Japan's immediate surrender. If ignored, the Allies threatened "the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland".
This ultimatum was duly ignored and, on the morning of 06 August 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The device exploded 1,900ft above the ground releasing a blinding light followed by a fireball with a surface temperature of 6,000°C – the same temperature as the Earth’s core.
Tens of thousands of civilians were eviscerated where they stood – to this day the ruins of old Hiroshima show the shadows of human figures scorched on to buildings. Fires ravaged the city for five days killing tens of thousands in the inferno. Many more succumbed to a slow and painful death from radiation poising.
Hiroshima was chosen as the initial target as it remained undamaged from conventional air raids. The U.S. Army Air Force was keen to accurately assess the full effect their new weapon would have.
The full horror of the weapon that they unleashed and the impact it would ultimately have on international politics, economics and the environment has still not been fully realised.
After the Second World War as the Cold War began to heat up, humanity witnessed a proliferation of these new and deadly weapons. Nations clambered to develop their own version of ‘the bomb’ – the membership fee to a new and very exclusive club. Through the second half of the twentieth century, trillions of Dollars, Francs, Rules and Pounds were invested in making bigger and deadlier bombs.
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) helped many generals sleep at night; whilst civilians were told they would receive a ‘four minute warning’ of any impending attack. Often, people could only watch aghast as world leaders embarked on a game of nuclear high brinkmanship, such as during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Few were aware that in 1983, but for the cool thinking of Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defence Forces an accidental nuclear war could have begun. On September 26 that year he was the duty officer at the command centre of the Soviet nuclear early-warning system when it reported that a missile, followed up to five others, were being launched from the United States. Petrov judged the report to be a false alarm and his decision is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war, global devastation and our own extinction. And for what?
Since Hiroshima, 2,053 nuclear tests have been carried out around the globe, dispersing dangerous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. Indeed a number of UK service personnel are still seeking medical damages from the UK Government after they were seemingly used as guinea pigs during the UK trials in Australia and at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
The story of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is difficult to absorb and still shocks and appals us to this day. The Cold War arms race reads like a John le Carré novel and also feels very much consigned to our history. Sadly, that is not quite the case.
At a time of increasing poverty and public sector austerity, the UK Government continues to pour billions of pounds into the operation of Trident; the UK’s ‘independent’ nuclear weapons system. One has to ask ‘why?’
Many argue that Nuclear weapons are necessary to act as a deterrent and to keep us safe. However, this argument does not stand up to much scrutiny. If so, why do 96% of countries from Australia to Canada deem them unnecessary? The UK faces many diverse and challenging threats, including from extremist terror groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda; as well as less conventional threats such as cyber terrorism. None of these can be remedied by the detonation of a thermonuclear device over a large population centre. Indeed, I’m struggling to envisage a situation that could be resolved in such a manner.
In reality, continuing to spend a substantial chunk of the military budget to operate a Cold War relic ensures that strong conventional forces are difficult to maintain and puts the UK in the ridiculous position of being unable to properly secure its own coastline by conventional means. Even former Tory Defence Secretary Michael Portillo publicly admitted that the concept of a nuclear deterrent is "completely past its sell-by date" and “a waste of money.”
The true reason that the UK government wishes to renew Trident – at a cost of £100 billion – is purely to use it as a status symbol and to assert the illusion of power and influence long since lost.
Air Commodore Alastair Mackie, vice-president of CND and former hydrogen bomber pilot perhaps summed up the situation best by saying:
“We regard having a deterrent as a virility symbol, like a stick-on hairy chest.”
This pathetic approach to international diplomacy must be brought to an end. To play games with weapons of mass destruction; to base them a few miles from Scotland’s largest city; to waste billions of pounds on hardware known to be of no practical use and to consider the acquisition of these weapons as more important than the financial and physical welfare of your fellow citizens – all of these things are unforgivable.
A single Trident warhead is eight times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A single Trident nuclear submarine carries 40 of these warheads.
On the 70th anniversary of that fateful day, I think we all have a duty to say that there shall be ‘no more Hiroshimas’ and make it our duty to ensure there never can be.