Assuming I’ve got this written in time, today as September 21st. It’s my birthday!1 It’s also the International Day of Peace. The United Nations General Assembly, in 1982, declared that September 21st would be dedicated to world peace.
So this year, on World Peace Day, I’m hoping we can take some time to talk about nuclear weapons. They’re something I’ve written about a few times before, because they’re fascinating. It’s a weapon with a higher explosive yield than anything else we’ve ever made,2 and it’s also got some nasty aftereffects – the amount of time it takes radiation to subside to background levels after an explosion can be measured in anything up to tens of thousands of years.
Personally, I refer to nuclear bombs as “hell weapons.” Especially within the context of the Cold War, their use would be like making a deal with the devil – sure, your enemies get pretty messed up, but you know that you’re gonna get screwed over just as hard when it comes time to pay the bill.
So, whenever I see people saying they’d consider their use , I am horrified. I wasn’t even alive during the Cold War, and I still spend a lot of time thinking about the specter of instant annihilation that everyone on the planet was under during that entire time.
Normally I’m against fear as a motivating tactic, but I just don’t think people are afraid of nuclear weapons as much as they should be. The US stopped nuclear tests when the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect.3 The Soviet Union collapsed. Under President Obama, the idea of the US utilizing a nuclear weapon has seemed utterly ridiculous – basically, nobody that’s not directly neighboring North Korea really thought nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. Basically, once the Doomsday Clock folks stopped telling us to be utterly terrified, we let that fear fade into the background, and it’s just about gone now.
But I’ll say it again: nuclear weapons are hell weapons. Don’t take my word for it, though: as I’ve mentioned, I spent last Friday in the UN’s Vienna headquarters, listening to WWII survivors. One, Yamada Reiko,4 gave a speech titled “My Experience of the Atomic Bombing and Message of the Hibakusha.” I’ve got a few quotes that I’m going to share with you.5 (Emphases mine.)
Our town was 2.5 kilometers from ground zero and escaped from raging fires caused by the bomb. Many injured and burned people fled to this area from the city center. They were so heavily burned and disfigured that they did not look like human beings.
The bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 67 terajoules equivalent to 16 kilotons of dynamite. The design was considered “very inefficient” – less than 2% of the present nuclear material underwent fission. The largest weapon still present in the US nuclear arsenal is the B83,6 with a maximum yield of 1.9 megatons – more than 100 times as powerful as the bomb that obliterated everything within one mile of the detonation and set fire to everything within five.
On the second day after the bombing, a moving black lump crawled into [my friend’s] house; they first thought it was big black dog, but soon realized it was their mother. She collapsed and died when she finally got home, leaving her 5 children behind.
Roughly a third of the population of Hiroshima was killed by the bomb – somewhere around 75,000 people.
Nuclear weapons are absolutely inhuman weapons. Even a single bomb can turn a whole city to ruins in an instant, kill people indiscriminately, and deprive even future generations of their lives. We the Hibakusha call them “weapons of the devil.”
I’m hoping I’ve made my point fairly thoroughly: nuclear weapons are a bad business. Their use as weapons is deeply horrifying, and even ‘peaceful’ uses have considerable problems. Nuclear tests have spread radiation around the planet and rendered large swathes of land uninhabitable; Soviet ‘peaceful detonation’ programs had similar effects.
And here’s where it gets weird: the closest we’ve got to a ban on their use is a treaty that says we won’t make more than a certain amount. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a good start, but the US, still hasn’t ratified it, despite being the single biggest guilty party still in existence. Similarly, the largest non-proliferation treaty is still lacking key signatories.
Clearly, we’ve still got some issues with nuclear weapons. Now, the call to action: make it clear to the folks you’re voting for, regardless of who they are, that the use of nuclear weapons is not in the cards. Join the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons.
Happy Day of Peace, everyone. Make it count.
- I’m turning 21 while in a country with a drinking age of 16, a fact I find quite amusing. ↩
- Well, technically antimatter has a higher energy yield per gram, but we’ve never manufactured enough antimatter to actually weaponize it and I pray that we never find a reason to do so. ↩
- Actually, we may have stopped with the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but I’m not entirely sure and it’s not actually super important to what I’m saying here, so I digress. ↩
- Vice Chairperson of the Tokyo Federation of A-bomb Sufferer’s Organizations (TOYUKAI) – she’s an impressive lady. ↩
- These are translated – the speech she gave was in Japanese, and as event staff I had access to the transcript used as a cheat-sheet for the folks doing live translation. ↩
- Taking over after the B53, a 9 megaton weapon was retired. ↩