August 6th is a date that reminds us of a horrible chapter in human history. On this day 62 years ago, the U.S. launched atomic warfare when we dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan almost immediately killing an estimated 80,000 civilians and tens of thousands more who died horrible deaths within a few years due to the radiation poisoning they experienced. On August 9, 1945 we dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki killing tens of thousands more.
Reflecting on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I wonder, have we learned the right lessons? We learned that nuclear weapons kill large numbers of innocent civilians, but so do so-called conventional weapons. Perhaps what we should have learned is that war is not the answer and that the world needs alternatives for solving crises. Unfortunately, the lesson the U.S. and a few other countries took away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that more nuclear weapons were needed. Once the atomic genie was unleashed, nuclear proliferation became the name of the game. Talk about your overkill - the U.S. eventually manufactured and deployed more than 70,000 nuclear weapons! Might, not diplomacy, was 'in'.
By the early 1960s, five nations had nuclear weapons, with the Soviet Union and the U.S. armed to the teeth and following the policy of mutual assured destruction (MAD). The leaders of these countries were indeed mad! Commenting on this situation, Army General Omar Bradley, the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living."
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Stephen Schwartz of The Brookings Institute reported the U.S. spent over $5.5 trillion (in 1996 dollars) on nuclear weapons, a large portion of the $18.7 trillion spent on the military between 1940 and 1996. And add in a few trillion dollars more since then. Contrast these amounts with the paltry sums for preventing violence and supporting agencies working on international cooperation. Moreover, in 1953 President Eisenhower reminded us of the other cost of these huge weapons expenditures when he said: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
Has all this money spent on nuclear weapons and the military brought us peace and security? Or has it simply improved the killing capability of our military and enriched the merchants of death, the Congressional-military-industrial complex, at the expense of our people and worldwide peace and security? A look at the past 62 years shows that our huge and bloated nuclear-armed military has brought neither security here at home nor peace throughout the world. In fact, it appears that the U.S., by having such a powerful military, tends to turn to it first instead of trying to solve problems diplomatically. Our illegal attack on Iraq is a horrible example of our reliance on military might instead of diplomacy. The evidence is now overwhelming that the Bush administration was intent on removing Saddam Hussein and would not countenance any diplomatic resolution. Besides the huge number of Iraqi casualties and over 3600 U.S. military deaths, the image of the U.S. has further been damaged by this wanton and illegal violence. Incredibly we are now seeing a repeat of the propaganda campaign used against Iraq, this time with Iran as the target. The Bush administration is again trying to frighten us, raising the specter of an Iranian nuclear weapon. In an attempt to build more support for an attack on Iran, the Bush administration has added the unsupported claim that Iran is behind many of the attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Once again Bush wants to use the military instead of diplomacy. In 2003 Iran reached out to the U.S. for negotiations on all issues, but the Bush administration would not even consider this offer. Unfortunately Congress is ready and willing to support an attack on Iran. Therefore it is up to the American public to stop another war crime. If we fail to stop the attack, the consequences are likely to be disastrous for the world and for the U.S.
A quote from Seneca the Younger from almost 2000 years ago still seems to apply: "We are mad not only individually but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war and the much vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?"