The time of the Bomb
- The News International
August 06, 2005
THE TIME OF THE BOMB
by Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar
When he was told on August 6, 1945, that America's new atom bomb had
destroyed its first target, the Japanese city of Hiroshima, U.S.
President Harry Truman declared "This is the greatest thing in
history." Three days later, on August 9, another atom bomb destroyed
the city of Nagasaki.
The coming of the bomb brought pain and death. A 1946 survey by the
Hiroshima City Council found that from a civilian population of about
320,000 on the day of the explosion: over 118,000 were killed, over
30,000 seriously injured, with almost 49,000 slightly injured, and
nearly 4,000 people were missing. In December 1945, the Nagasaki City
Commission determined that because of the bombing there, almost
74,000 people had been killed and 75,000 injured. The injured
continued to die for months and years later, one of the reasons being
radiation sickness. Pregnant women who were affected produced
children who were severely physically and mentally retarded. The
Japanese created a new word -- hibakusha, -- a survivor of the atom
In the sixty years since the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
we have been spared the horror of a nuclear weapon attack on another
city. But nuclear weapons have grown in their destructive power; each
can now be tens of times, or even hundreds of times, more powerful
that those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of
nuclear weapons has grown; there are now tens of thousands. Where
there was one country with the bomb, there are now perhaps nine (US,
Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea).
There are many more political and military leaders who, like Truman
in 1945, see the bomb as "the greatest thing in history".
From the very beginning, there has also been opposition to the bomb.
The French writer and activist Albert Camus wrote on August 6, 1945:
"technological civilization has just reached its final degree of
savagery... Faced with the terrifying perspectives which are opening
up to humanity, we can perceive even better that peace is the only
battle worth waging."
The American sociologist and critic Lewis Mumford wrote: "We in
America are living among madmen. Madmen govern our affairs in the
name of order and security. The chief madmen claim the titles of
general, admiral, senator, scientist, administrator, Secretary of
State, even President." There are many more of these madmen now. They
all mumble the same nonsense about "threats," and "national
security," and "nuclear deterrence," and try to scare everyone around
Protest and resistance against the madness of nuclear weapons has
brought together some of the greatest figures of our times with
millions of ordinary men and women around the world. Albert Einstein
and the philosopher Bertrand Russell gave the reason most simply and
clearly. They published a manifesto in 1955 in which they identified
the stark challenge created by nuclear weapons: "Shall we put an end
to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?"
The only way forward for humanity, Einstein and Russell said, was
that "We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask
ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give a military victory to
whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the
question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to
prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to
all parties?" Their 1955 manifesto led to the formation of the
Pugwash movement of scientists. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
for its work against nuclear weapons in 1995. There are now Pugwash
groups in 50 countries, including in India and Pakistan.
Global protests eventually forced an end to nuclear weapons testing
in the atmosphere and under water. These explosions had been spewing
radioactivity in the air, where it was blown around the world,
poisoning land, water, food and people. But the "madmen" were blinded
by the power of the ultimate weapon. They kept building more and
bigger bombs and threatening to use them. They have been stopped from
using them only by the determined efforts of peace movements and
The bomb and the madmen came to South Asia too. India tested a bomb
in 1974 and Pakistan set about trying to make one. There was protest
too. In 1985, a small group of people in Islamabad organised an event
for Hiroshima Day, August 6, at the Rawalpindi Press Club. There was
a slide show and talk about nuclear weapons and their terrible
effects, with pictures of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Every picture brought gasps of horror and revulsion from the packed
audience. The posters and placards and banners on the walls carried
messages about the need to end war, to reduce military spending and
increase spending on education and health, and to make peace between
India and Pakistan. A small, short-lived peace group was born, the
Movement for Nuclear Disarmament.
That was twenty years ago. The Cold War is long over, the Soviet
Union long gone, but there has been little relief. The United States
still has five thousand weapons deployed, 2000 of which are ready to
use within 15 minutes, and there are another five thousand in
reserve. Russia has over 7000 weapons deployed and 9000 in reserve.
The UK, France, and China are estimated each to have several hundred
warheads, Israel may have almost as many, and India and Pakistan have
a hundred or fewer. North Korea may have a handful. And, leaders are
still mad; they send armies to attack and occupy other countries, and
kill and maim tens of thousands. In America, they plan for newer and
more useable nuclear weapons.
In the meantime, India and Pakistan have also tested their nuclear
weapons -- which are about as powerful as the bombs that destroyed
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They have threatened to use their weapons in
every crisis since then. They are making more weapons and missiles as
fast as they can. A nuclear war between Pakistan and India, in which
they each used only five of their nuclear weapons, would likely kill
about three million people and severely injure another one and a half
million. What more proof is needed that we are ruled by madmen?
If South Asia is to survive its own nuclear age, we shall need to
have strong peace movements in both Pakistan and India. A beginning
has been made. The Pakistan Peace Coalition was founded in 1999; it
is a national network of groups working for peace and justice. In
2000, Indian activists established the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament and Peace. These movements will need all the help and
support they can get to keep the generals and Prime Ministers in both
countries in check. The leaders in both countries must be taught,
over and over again, that the people will not allow a nuclear war to
be fought. There should never be a word in any other language for
Zia Mian, peace activist, is a physicist at Princeton University.
A.H. Nayyar is a physicist, co-convener of Pugwash Pakistan, and
president of the Pakistan Peace Coalition.
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