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(Photo: Hiroshima Travel Dept.)

Our Moral Awakening in the Long Shadow of the Bomb

The continued existence of nuclear weapons are effectively killing us every day even without their use.

Robert DodgeVincint J. Intondi

In May 2016, President Barack Obama became the first sitting United States president to visit Hiroshima, the city that suffered the first atomic bombing in history. Delivering remarks at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Obama called for a "moral revolution."

"The memory of the morning of August 6, 1945, must never fade," he argued. "That memory allows us to fight complacency, fuels our moral imagination, and allows us to change."

However, in nearly four years of a Trump presidency, children have been separated from their families and locked in cages, and a global pandemic rages on taking the lives of hundreds of thousands in the United States. The president continues to fuel division, racism, and bigotry, while millions of unemployed go to bed hungry each night. Police officers and white supremacists are able to kill African Americans with impunity and as the planet warms Trump calls for more nuclear weapons, resumption of testing and rips up long-held nuclear agreements. That said, it is easy to conclude that Obama's call for a "moral revolution" was just wishful thinking.

But perhaps through these incredibly difficult times, we have begun to have a "moral awakening." Colin Kaepernick's actions are no longer the exception but the norm for many athletes. From a wall of mothers and veterans in Portland to young activists in the streets, throughout the country the message is clear: Black Lives Matter. Love will "trump" hate. In communities big and small, we have seen acts of kindness in far greater numbers than the racist "Karens" that appear on social media trying so hard to spread hate and division.

This week is the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  These bombs on August 6th and 9th resulted in the indiscriminate deaths of more than 200 thousand people, mostly civilians who had nothing to do with the horrific atrocities committed by the Japanese military. 

The continued existence of nuclear weapons are effectively killing us every day even without their use. This is evidenced by the fact that the U.S. is spending $67.6 billion this year on all nuclear programs, with a plan to spend $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to rebuild our entire arsenal with enhanced weapons robbing our communities of precious dollars that could be used for many life-preserving programs but instead go to fund weapons that can never be used.

Thankfully in this last decade, we have seen a new nuclear disarmament energy.  This has manifested in many ways. One is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) with their global response to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war focusing on the need to ban nuclear weapons like all other weapons of mass destruction. They were instrumental in the evolution and passage of the 2017 U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The non-nuclear nations refused to be held hostage any longer to the nuclear powers. The Treaty currently has been ratified by 43 nations and will go into force 90 days after 50 nations have done so.

Once in force, nuclear weapons will be illegal to possess, produce, stockpile, transfer, develop, use or threaten to use. Also, assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities is prohibited. When in force, nuclear weapons will not disappear overnight. However, like land mines and chemical weapons, the Treaty will begin the process of stigmatizing these weapons of mass destruction in hopes that countries will begin to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs, realizing they are simply not welcome or needed in the world. Additionally ICAN and PAX launched a major study, "Don't Bank on the Bomb," detailing global investments in nuclear weapons companies putting pressure on their financial institutions to end their support for the nuclear arms industry. In the U.S. there are several initiatives including a national comprehensive grassroots campaign called Back from the Brink. It calls on the U.S. to: renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first; end the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; cancel the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and actively pursue a verifiable, enforceable, time-bound agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenal.

We owe it to the hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombs, to realize their wish that all nuclear weapons be abolished and that there are "No More Hiroshima's, No More Nagasaki's." Civil rights activists have long understood this.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We have a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out in the face of injustice. When you see something that is not right you must say something. You must do something."

In his final essay, John Lewis called on us to get into "good trouble." And he continued, "When the historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st-century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."

President Obama called on us to choose a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening. What better way to honor these ideals than to finally have our "moral awakening" and work every day to ensure that one day the world is free from racism and nuclear weapons.


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Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Vincint J. Intondi

Vincint J. Intondi is Professor of History at Montgomery College, Director of Research for American University's Nuclear Studies Institute, and author of "African Americans Against the Bomb."

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