Today, August 14, is the 73rd anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. It’s time to return to childhood’s wisdom.
What comes up is the birthday purse I received in a preschool year. It was very unusual in all the pockets it contained. I proceeded to get a note pad, scribble something on each page, and then put one in every pocket. Someone asked me why I was doing this.
“When you have something,” I responded, “you have to do what it’s for.”
This memory comes up at the juncture of two important events. One is the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945. The other is President Trump’s use of sanctions to renew the demand that Iran shrink the scope of its nuclear capabilities. Both relate to our first use of the nuclear bomb.
The history of World War II including Japan’s role in it is complex, but following are some important points:
- We dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Why that city? According to BBC History, “Hiroshima was chosen because it had not been targeted during the US Air Force’s conventional bombing raids on Japan, and was therefore regarded as being a suitable place to test the effects of an atomic bomb. It was also an important military base. The Allies feared that any conventional attempt to invade the Japanese home islands would result in enormous casualties, and the bomb was seen as a way of bringing the war against Japan to a swift conclusion.”
- How about Nagasaki where an even bigger bomb was dropped? “The original target was Kokura, but this was obscured by cloud so the bomb was dropped on nearby Nagasaki, an important port.”
In the first case, more than 135,000 people were killed. In the second, at least 50,000. Some of them were military, including our own military who were prisoners of war. The rest, though, were just people–victims as citizens so often are of the ambitions of despots but also sometimes of elected champions. Among the most powerful now is the weaponry to devastate the planet.
GROUND LEVEL ZERO
The nuclear bomb is a close neighbor here in Santa Fe. The Los Alamos National Laboratory where it was developed is about 35 miles north of town. Things are never quiet there relative to further nuclear research. In May, for example, and in spite of a number of dangerous safety lapses at the Lab, the National Nuclear Security Administration approved the production of 30 plutonium pits per year. The pit is the trigger at the heart of thermonuclear weapons.
This is all for “defense,” of course, one item in a pending general increase in military spending. One must assume that, in this light, Iran considers defensive its own production of nuclear weaponry.
If we can leave off being Americans for a moment and just step back and look at the world objectively, what is the most dangerous nation on Earth? Isn’t that us? And if we really want to bring an end to the possibility of nuclear war, shouldn’t we develop a strategy that includes reducing our investment in its inevitability?
With regard to the wisdom invoked by the birthday purse–“When you have something, you have to do what it’s for”–that’s where the danger lies. In the case of something as dangerous as the nuclear bomb, the only answer is to get rid of it–everywhere. Having created it, the United States needs to take the lead in this matter, and that will take a kind of courage this nation has never shown before. Let us hope it is beginning to stir among those able to imagine and create a better future than one limited to “again.”