Dear Editor: August brings with it two awful anniversaries. The first is on the 6th, the 76th anniversary of the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, by the United States. Three days later, on the 9th of August, the U.S. detonated another nuclear device over the city of Nagasaki, Japan.
Together, the two bombs instantly killed at least 105,000 people and injured 94,000 more, mostly civilians. As the months stretched on, we learned of the lingering effects of atomic radiation, even unto the unborn. The total death toll from the two bombs is much, much larger, but can never be known exactly.
Our two bombs, the only nuclear weapons ever used in warfare, were game-changers in the history of warfare. The one used on Hiroshima, dubbed “Little Boy,” had an explosive power equal to 15,000 tons of TNT. “Fat Man,” the bomb used on Nagasaki, was equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT. That measure of explosive power neglects the pernicious effects of radiation, which the world learned is the deadly lingering after-effect of atomic weapons and their radioactive components.
The nuclear arms race was on. By 1986, the nuclear nations had 70,300 atomic weapons in their arsenals. However, the experiences of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, nuclear tests and atomic accidents had begun to show how dangerous the genie was that had been freed in 1945.
With first the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and then the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968, world leaders began to acknowledge the horrendous nature of the nuclear genie.
In fact, Article VI of the NPT states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
The United States, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union committed to nuclear disarmament 53 years ago. Unfortunately, Israel, India and Pakistan never signed the NPT and North Korea withdrew from it. While various treaties and agreements have reduced the global nuclear arsenal to an estimated 13,100 weapons in 2021, the world is still not safe from a nuclear holocaust. For one thing, the term “weapons” includes both Little Boy (15 kilotons of explosive energy) and our B63 bomb (1,200 kilotons). The B63 is 80 times more powerful than Little Boy! While Little Boy killed the equivalent of three-quarters of the population of Santa Fe today (83,922), just one of our 600 B63s could more than obliterate the Denver metropolitan area (2,862,000 population)!
Sadly, we are moving away from the nuclear-free goal of Section VI of the NPT. This administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 includes increased funding for a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). This new missile would replace the 450 ICBMs in silos across the upper Midwest and would be fitted with the W87 warhead, which packs a punch of 300,000 tons of TNT (20 Little Boys!). The multi-year, multi-billion-dollar project is in the hands of Northrup Grumman, with an estimated delivery date of 2029. Line items in the Pentagon budget are often viewed in terms of jobs and contracts in congressional districts, not in relation to our actual defense needs or to the moral implications of what we’re buying. New Mexico, with its Los Alamos and Sandia laboratories, will rake in a good share of the proposed budget outlays for enhanced nuclear warfare potential. The anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki provide us with an opportunity to step back and contemplate the real world consequences should we decide again to use nuclear weapons. Most military and political leaders say launching a nuclear attack is unthinkable. We now know of instances when U.S. and Soviet military personnel could have ignited a nuclear holocaust but had the wisdom to question false or misleading data they were receiving. Yet we plunge on! For more than 30 years, Gila Friends Meeting (Quaker) has been hosting just such an opportunity for shared public contemplation of our nuclear fates at their annual Hiroshima Peace Day Observance. This year’s observance will take place at the Gough Park Pavilion in Silver City at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 8. There will be a period of silent meditation, followed by a time of sharing of views by participants. All are welcome; please bring your own chair.