In 2007, I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki to study the two nuclear bombs the U.S. military dropped on these cities. The bombs ended World War II and began an era of human history where fear of our species’s destruction haunts us from above.
Now, ten years after my visits to cities devastated by nuclear war, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-un are engaging in an appalling game of nuclear chicken.
For its part, North Korea has moved medium-range No-dong and Scud missiles into active service, per a frightening story from The Atlantic’s Mark Bowden. This means North Korea can launch missiles that can feasibly travel 3,000 miles, per missile experts. U.S. intelligence analysts now say that the country has produced a miniature nuclear warhead.
Trump, in his typical bombastic manner, threatened North Korea: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen… he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Trump’s statement, Trumpian as it may be, also rings familiar. On Aug. 6, 1945, Harry S. Truman announced that we dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima killing between 90,000 and 150,000 people. “If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth,” Truman said.
That day, many people were killed instantly – some in a flash of vapor, others in a puddle of their own blood. Many who lived were riddled with bleeding skin, lesions, mouth and throat legions, cancer, hair loss, and deformations.
Three days later – Aug. 9, 1945, exactly 72 years ago – we dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki. Between 40,000 and 80,000 people were killed.
Whether you found these nuclear bombs, these earthcrushers, a necessary evil or simply evil is besides the point. Nuclear war was a capstone to one of the worst – if not the very worst – moments in human history. It should be left as a relic of time that we view with a mix of awe, shame, and concern. To unleash nuclear weaponry in 2017 would be to learn no lesson from history, to live in a vacuum where our experience has taught us nothing.
We cannot control what Jung-un does with his nuclear weaponry. As Bowden wrote in his Atlantic piece, there is no good option for dealing with the threat of North Korea. The situation will likely, it seems, come to a head at some point. But instead of running head first into raining ruin and fire and fury, we should exhaust every possible method to avoid nuclear war.
Why avoid aside from death and destruction of land and people? A 2014 study by U.S. atmospheric and environmental scientists did a predictive study on what might happen if 100 nuclear warheads were dropped – each the size of Little Boy.
- The earth would have 9 percent less rain five years after the war.
- The frost-free growing season for crops would be shortened by 10 to 40 days within two to six years.
- The ozone layer would be 20 to 25 percent thinner five years after the war, meaning more cancer for Earth’s remaining inhabitants.
Another study, this one by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, found that a 100-bomb nuclear war would result in the starvation of 2 billion people.
It’s important to keep in perspective that if nuclear war happened now, it has the chance to involve much larger, more powerful bombs than we saw in WWII. Russia, for example, unveiled the Satan 2 bomb in 2016, reportedly 2,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What kind of travesty of humanity would 100 nuclear bombs similar to Satan 2 unleash? What kind of mayhem does the U.S. have in its estimated cache of 4,670 nuclear bombs?
In 2008, after I returned from Japan with my DePaul study abroad group, we met with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. We gave Daley a letter from Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and asked him to join Mayors for Peace, an organization that works toward nuclear disarmament. Each of us submitted our own thoughts on why it was important. Here’s mine:
“I recently went to Japan with a group of 19 DePaul students and professors to study the atomic bomb and its effect on the country, its citizens, and the culture. During the trip through the cities of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kyoto, we saw through the museums and heard through the testimony of the survivors about the horrors of nuclear war. We bring to you a letter from Mayor Akiba of Hiroshima asking for you to sign onto becoming a member of Mayors For Peace. We must stand up as an influential American city and let it be known that Chicago will not tolerate the existence or use of nuclear weapons in any situation. We must avoid the atrocities of nuclear war at any cost.”
Nothing groundbreaking, but after a bit of Daley-esque grousing, he accepted. I felt good; we had inched closer – even if just by inches – to worldwide unity in nuclear disarmament.
Now, I wonder if we’ve lost those inches and some feet on top of them. All I can hope is that we learned some lesson from history and nuclear war will be avoided, but my confidence is waning.
Below, please find an excellent, heartbreaking, and beautiful documentary about Hiroshima and Nagasaki called White Light Black Rain. I believe everyone should know what line our country is stepping on right now.