Today, August 6th, the world commemorates the 72nd anniversary of the dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Towards the tail end of WW II, the United States used the most devastating weapon in human history on Japan, apparently to precipitate the Japanese surrender.
The destruction caused by this bomb was unparalleled and still haunts the memory of those eventful days. If that happened long ago in that faraway land, why should we bother in Pakistan? Well, Pakistan maybe one of the least developed countries in terms of human development but it surely is the seventh atomic power in the world.
The purpose of this article is first to recall the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and second to draw some lessons for countries such as India, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan that are pinning undue hopes of having an impregnable defence on their atomic programmes. The atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, destroyed most parts of these cities. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, most of them civilians, and a much higher number suffered in the aftermath of these atomic explosions and resultant radiation.
By the time the bombs were dropped, the Allied powers had already defeated Germany in Europe, and many scientists and army generals including General Eisenhower favoured continuing the conventional war against Japan. But the US President Truman and Secretary of State Stimson believed that the bomb’s devastating power would not only end the war quickly, but also put the US in a dominant position to determine the course of the postwar world.
The commander of the US Strategic Air Forces announced after the attacks that there were ‘reports of good results’ and the airmen flying many miles from the targets saw that smoke from fires was rising over 50,000 feet. The Americans warned the Japanese people that further attacks of a similar nature would be made unless they petition their emperor to surrender. In this way, in one fell swoop a large civilian population was eliminated from the face of the earth, with no remorse or compunction. Hundreds of thousands of people suffered from radiation sickness in the decades to come.
Though the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were euphemistically named Little Boy and Fat Man, they destroyed much of these cities within minutes. Especially in Hiroshima the Little Boy explosion wiped out 90 per cent of the city and immediately killed up to a 100 thousand people. Three days later, at Nagasaki Fat Man killed an estimated up to 50,000 people. Japan’s emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender within a week citing the devastating power of ‘a new and most cruel bomb’.
The scale of the damage was increasing year by year, and there was no indication that the production of nuclear weapons would come to a halt. The governments that embarked on their nuclear programmes had little idea of the true extent of the damage done by nuclear strikes. The data obtained from follow-up surveys of victims of radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitutes the world’s only real reference book dealing with the effects of radiation. Over the decades, the surveys have taken note of life span, cause of death, progression of illness, and genetic effects; they have produced very harmful clinical, epidemiological, and radiobiological results.
In case of a nuclear strike, apart from immediate casualties, patients suffer from acute radiation sickness within a large radius of ground zero. And then there develops a contaminated area which goes much beyond and even includes people involved in the cleanup operation, as well as the children of those exposed to radiation.
Japan has done a tremendous job as most of the data concerning radiation-related illnesses, as well as international standards for safe level of radiation, are based on studies done in Japan. Ideally, the information drawn from research in Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be of major interest for countries such as India and Pakistan which boast of their nuclear capacities.
Results obtained in Hiroshima and Nagasaki show that leukemia begins to appear three years after exposure to radiation, and thyroid dysfunction and lung cancer from between five and thirty years afterwards. By subjecting people to this trauma, the US violated all ethics of war. Even now the proponents of the so-called ‘nuclear deterrence’ refuse to admit that the very presence of these weapons is extremely dangerous for human life and destabilising for the region, especially bordering South Asia where there is the largest concentration of actual and potential nuclear powers i.e. China, India, Iran, and Pakistan.
Fundamental ethics of war call for barring violence against civilians and non-combatants. Even in times of reckless combats, armies must protect the most vulnerable members of society because soldiers are trained for war and have the tools and backup to protect them, this is not true of civilians. Discrimination and proportion in the use of force is required of all civilized nations and their security apparatus. In countries such as India and Pakistan, this discrimination and proportion appears to be missing from the training of security personnel, resulting in over-the-board reaction and retaliation against even a minor disagreement with the state authorities.
This can be witnessed right from police to generals, politicians, and nuclear scientists who boast about annihilating each other. The more devastating a weapon is the more it is indiscriminate between combatants and civilians. Atomic weapons can never meet discrimination-and-proportion criteria; they are weapons of mass destruction that pose tremendous risk. There is always a risk of accidental detonation or theft by terrorists. There appear reports of nuclear-material theft every now and then.
The Japanese people may have forgiven America but they have certainly not forgotten. The Japanese constitution severally limits its military. Similar constitutional constraints should be imposed in many other countries that are likely to flare-up a nuclear conflagration. We should admire the Japanese for their love of peace — despite increasing threats from China and North Korea — and learn a lesson or two from them. Bellicosity leads to war and a deeper level of nuclear disarmament is needed on this 72nd anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima.