Our world changed forever 68 years ago this week. Tuesday marked the day that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, followed by the bombing of Nagasakithree days later.
The repercusions and lessons of these bombings at the end of World War II, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people in the months that followed, are still being realized today.
Most significantly, these events marked the end of war as a means of resolving conflict as man now controlled the fate of mankind and the planet itself. War had become obsolete. What was now needed was a new way of thinking. War was the old way of thinking. This was and is the new reality.
Albert Einstein famously said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”
He recognized that we must change our thinking or face possible extinction.
President John F. Kennedy also realized this fact and probably said it most presciently in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 1961: “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”
Yet, we still have approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world today with more than 95 percent in the arsenals of the U.S.and Russia. The human and financial costs of these programs are real and devastating.
The U.S.alone has spent in excess of $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons programs since 1940 and continues to spend in excess of $56 billion annually. Such expenditures rob our future of so much and provide nothing in return except unacceptable risk.
Recent scientific studies have demonstrated the devastating effects of even a small limited nuclear war using ~100 Hiroshima size weapons with catastrophic climate changes resulting in global famine and the deaths of up to 1 billion people.
There is no adequate medical or societal response or recovery from these types of attacks. As with any potential public health threat, prevention is the only response. There is no safe number of nuclear weapons. A complete ban and elimination of these weapons is the only response. A “nuclear weapons convention” analogous to the landmine convention and chemical weapons convention is needed.
The framework and steps to realize this have already been worked out. A majority of people around the world in poll after poll agree that abolition is the goal. What is needed is the political will.
Although there remains a shrinking group who feel that nuclear weapons and war play a role in resolving conflict they are, nevertheless, incorrect in their thinking. They cannot imagine a world without the institution of war.
They are incorrect in their thinking just as those in the past who felt that slavery and apartheid would always be with us. They were wrong in their thinking as each of these institutions was abolished.
Today the idea of war prevention and resolving conflict without war has now moved to the mainstream as people from the grassroots to NGO’s, professional organizations, faith communities, academics, youth groups, civil society and elected take up the cause. Even Rotary International is taking on the cause in its Rotary Action Group for Peace and War Prevention Initiative (www.warpreventioninitiative.org). We are faced with tremendous opportunity and challenge. — We all have a stake in a secure, prosperous, and peaceful world.
Yes, ultimately war will end or mankind will end. The choice is ours. We have the tools and we have the means.
We must persevere and work together until this challenge is met.
The Hibakusha survivors of the atomic bombings remind us daily of the responsibility each of us has to work for the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and war. We owe this to their legacy and to the future of our children.