Seventy-one years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world still lives with the nightmare that atomic bombs could be used again. The survivors of Hiroshima, the Japanese hibakusha, implore the people of the world not to allow another Hiroshima to happen. The hibakusha carry the message worldwide that “Human Beings and Nuclear Weapons Cannot Coexist.”
This message is embodied in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), ratified by nearly every country in the world and requiring nuclear-weapon states to pursue good faith negotiations toward nuclear disarmament. Atomic weapons have been reduced significantly from 70,000 in 1982 to 16,000 today, but bombs are six times more powerful than the bomb that instantly incinerated 70,000 people in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Nine nations possess nuclear weapons and 40 countries have the technology to make atomic bombs.
In 1996 the World Court summed up the facts of nuclear weapons: “The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet.” In his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. The 2010 NPT Review Conference also urged nuclear-weapons states to fulfill their obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament.
But the United States has failed to lead the world toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. President Obama’s 2015 budget will spend $355 billion over ten years for the Life Extension Program (LEP) to “modernize” existing nuclear warheads. The U.S. claims to embrace the NPT, but it violates the treaty by blurring the distinction between “refurbishing” H-bomb warheads and making new weapons prohibited by the NPT.
Albert Einstein said you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. President Obama agrees the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against the threat of nuclear war, yet the LEP plans to produce 80 new H-bombs a year by 2020. Unless nuclear weapons are banned and eliminated, the threat of an accidental launch of an H-bomb is an ever-present danger. Looking back, confessed Strategic Command General George Lee Butler, “We escaped nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention.”
Nuclear accidents do happen more often than the public knows. In Command and Control (2013) Eric Schlosser notes that at least 1,200 nuclear weapons had been involved in “significant” accidents between 1950 and 1968. The explosion of a 9-megaton Titan II ICBM in Damascus, Arkansas, in 1980, was the nation’s worst nuclear accident. Drug and cheating scandals involving Air Force “missileers” continue to expose serious safety lapses in the security and maintenance of aging Minuteman III ICBMs in 450 underground silos.
The 2015 NPT Review Conference again failed to make any progress toward nuclear disarmament, the nuclear-weapon states totally unable to unwilling to take even the first step toward good faith negotiations. Keeping alive hope for “a world free of nuclear weapons” by 2020, a rebellion of 108 NPT member states pledged to ban nuclear weapons with or without the consent of the nine nuclear-weapon states.
It is still up to civil society to push governments to ban nuclear weapons to protect the environment, the planet, and for future generations. Inspired by the witness of the hibakusha and the 1996 opinion of the World Court, citizens have the duty under the Nuremberg Tribunals to act to stop crimes against humanity from the use and threat of use of weapons of mass murder. Nuclear resisters have rights enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and International Declaration of Human Rights to resist the nuclear threat to the basic human right to life.
Citizens can join in the work to ban nuclear weapons with groups like the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), Global Zero, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Nuclear resistance worldwide is reported by The Nuclear Resister in Tucson, NukeWatch Quarterly in Luck, Wisconsin, and The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara.
Dennis DuVall is a Prescott resident, Veteran For Peace, and participates in protests against the Y-12 H-bomb factory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.