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Remembering Hiroshima

Today, it is 65 years since the United States first dropped the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. Soon after, on August 9th, 1945, the United States released “Fat Man” over Nagasaki. The aftermath, of course, was predictably horrific.

The number of people killed can only be estimated. 140,000+ is terrifying number, with most of the deaths occurring during the first day each bomb dropped, the rest due to complications from burns, radiation illness and injuries sustained from the explosions.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nearly wiped off the face of the Earth, yet world leaders still compete for the research and technology needed to create the weapons that we have seen lead to “collateral damage”. Some weapons are sophisticated in design, and others are homemade and may only let off a *poof *, terrifying squirrels and surrounding small animals. Today’s attacks are intended to terrorize the public. Civilian deaths are not a byproduct; it’s what’s aimed for.

To honor today’s solemn anniversary, I have excerpted Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb by Andrew J. Rotter. I only hope the world will continue to learn from its mistakes.     –Arzi Rachman, Publicity Intern

Nightmares and Hopes

More than sixty years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people still have nuclear nightmares. Some imagine a resumption of the Cold War, in which disagreements over human rights or interference in domestic affairs or competition over scarce resources like oil results in a dusting-off of atomic arsenals in the United States, Russia, and China. Others imagine nuclear weapons in the hands of irrational dictators or rogue nations. What if North Korea develops nuclear weapons, as it has frequently threatened to do? Its leader, Kim Jong-Il, an unpredictable man who has nevertheless made a habit of carrying out his threats, might hold hostage to his demands South Korea and Japan, and much of East Asia. What if Iran goes nuclear? Early 2007 estimates are that, if Tehran continues at its current present pace of refining uranium, it could have a bomb as soon as 2009; the Iranian leadership has denied the Holocaust and speculated openly about wiping Israel off the map. The suspicion that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had obtained yellowcake from Niger was one (of several) reasons given by the George W. Bush administration for launching war on Iraq in the spring of 2003. That suspicion was unfounded. Still, worried about Iran and the chronic instability of the region, Middle Eastern governments have begun pressing forward with nuclear programs of their own. Saudi Arabia in particular has recently shown a desire to have nuclear power, though the like of Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have also acknowledged interest. ‘We will develop [nuclear power] openly,’ declared the Saudi Foreign Minister. ‘We want no bombs. All we want is a whole Middle East that is free from weapons of mass destruction,’ including both Israel and Iran. The world has heard such denials before.

There is another nightmare, and it is perhaps more frightening because it is harder to predict. A terrorist is supplied with a small bomb built around a core of uranium. He carries the device, fitted into a backpack or a suitcase, into Charles de Gaulle airport, King’s Cross Station, or Times Square, and detonates it. While the blast itself would kill only the handful of people unlucky enough to be nearby, a large area would be contaminated with radioactivity, and the psychological effect of such an attack would probably be shattering. In 1997 General Aleksandr Lebed, a former Russian national security adviser, claimed that the Russians had built suitcase bombs—their targets, allegedly, were NATO command bunkers in Europe—and that several had disappeared since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Just weeks after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, the Israelis said they had arrested a Pakistani man trying to enter Israel via the Palestinian Territories with a backpack-borne nuclear device. The event worried Western terrorism experts and law-enforcement officials. In December 2005 US air marshals shot dead in Miami a plane passenger who evidently claimed to have a bomb in his knapsack, though it turned out that the man had a psychological condition and had neglected to take his medication; no bomb was found. Atrocious and indiscriminate bomb attacks on public transport in Bombay, Madrid, and London have raised fears that a nuclear device might be used in the same awful way.

Those who would deliver such weapons, attached to their bodies, are different from the pilots at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are not part of a state that has formally declared war. They are reckless with their own lives. But in a fundamental way things have not changed: terrorists with bombs, conventional or nuclear, do not care who they kill, since everyone in a targeted city, country, or civilization is deemed guilty of pursuing an unjust war against them. Their savage logic is that there are among their enemies no non-combatants. All Americans, Israelis, Britons, Shia or Sunni are guilty of transgression against them. Naturally, the intended targets of such attacks find such thinking barbaric, as indeed it is. But let us remember here twentieth-century attacks on non-combatants in ‘Mespot’ and India, at Guernica, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Warsaw, in Coventry and London, at Hamburg and Dresden, at Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. These attacks were undertaken in the name of ‘air policing’ (policing is part of security and less than war), unabashedly to terrorize a population and thus force a quicker end to war (a human strategy, no?), or to ‘de-house’ war workers (their houses were to be destroyed, not them). Technological advances allowed, in Vietnam and Iraq, the use of ‘smart’ bombs, which found only military targets—unless they didn’t, in which case the result was ‘collateral damage,’ a term suggesting that civilian casualties were an unfortunate byproduct of an attack on a legitimate target. Alas: no type of bomb is smart all the time. One might argue that those who use technologically sophisticated weapons are at least trying to avoid killing civilians; that is not the case for a suicide bomber who blows himself up in a crowded marketplace. And yet, in both cases the result is the horrible and predictable death of innocent people.

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