For a total of eight months during 1978-1980, I lived in and near Hiroshima, Japan, where one of the first atomic bombs had been detonated, at the end of World War II. The Hiroshima atomic fission bomb, "Little Boy," was a weak little monster by today's standards, with 'only' a 13-kiloton yield, or the explosive equivalent of 13K tons, or 26 million pounds, of dynamite. (A 20-megaton hydrogen fusion weapon has the explosive equivalent of 20,000K tons, or 40 billion pounds, of dynamite--well over 1,000 times the power of "Little Boy.") Yet, the Hiroshima weapon immolated about 75,000 civilians instantly (with more dying later). At the museum in Hiroshima's Peace Park, I saw artifacts and photos illustrating blast effects. In this city divided by many rivers, photos of bridges showed the permanent "shadows" created by the brilliant blast, shadows left behind by morning commuters, as well as children who had been walking to school on those bridges at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, when the children and the commuters and everyone else were turned into piles of hot ash. (See photo above; note the outline of the shoes.)
(Yes, I know the received wisdom about the bombing being 'necessary to end the war.' I don't buy it; the historical facts show otherwise. See Howard Zinn's essay about this claim.)
The 1980s saw the publication of books like Carl Sagan's A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race, and Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth, which documented how even 'small-scale' nuclear war could bring about global nuclear winter, changing the climate of the planet for generations, ending human civilization. (See also Schell's The Abolition, and his 2007 book, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger.)
In the 1990s, with the political disintegration of the Soviet Union, I wondered who was taking charge of Soviet nuclear arms. I learned that, for all practical purposes, no one was; nuclear materials were being protected on lonely bases by rusty locks and corruptible guards. Consequently, there is now a lively international black market in nuclear materials and technology.
Yesterday in Prague, President Obama made an observation that should have been obvious since the demise of the Soviet Union: "In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up." He has called for a renewal of American and international efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
I am not a pacifist. However, I have come to understand that the mere existence of nuclear weapons presents a threat to the survival of the entire human race. They must be eliminated from the armories of the nations of the world, and they must be kept from the hands of stateless terrorist forces.
Some say disarmament cannot be accomplished at this late date. I say this is a problem of will, not practicality. We have satellite technology that can read newspaper headlines from space; surely we can find a way to monitor the world for nuclear weapons.
Some say disarmament is weakness. I say it shows the will to survive. We are not the stronger for holding weapons that can destroy humanity; we are only making it more probable that some extremist politician or military officer or terrorist will someday use them.
I do not wish my someday grandchildren to end up as shadows on a bridge. Let us end these weapons now, before they end all of our hopes and dreams. I urge you to contact your federal Senators and Representative to instruct them to follow the President's lead on this matter, including the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nuclear disarmament is clearly On The Mark.
Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger. (2009, April 6). Citing rising risk, Obama seeks nuclear arms cuts: Warns of spread of bomb technology in black market. The New York Times [late edition], pp. A1, A8.
Thanks to Adam Harrison Levy for posting the Hiroshima bridge picture on the site of DesignObserver with his story, "Hiroshima: The Lost Photographs."