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August 7, 2004

Remembering Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Dark Cloud Over Civilization


by Douglas Mattern

August 6-9 marks the 59th anniversary of the atomic bombs that obliterated the Cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the instant slaughter of over 100,000 individuals, with tens of thousands of others dying in the days that followed. People who were outside at the time of the blast simply disappeared, leaving only a shadow on the ground where their bodies had blocked the intense heat from scorching the ground a lighter color.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the development of the far more powerful hydrogen bomb initiated the first period of the nuclear nightmare. The second period was the Cold War when enough nuclear weapons were stockpiled to kill every human being on the planet many times over and create a "nuclear winter" that would spell the end of civilization, if not humanity.

The continuing nightmare is that same nuclear threat that dominated the cold war remains with us today with many analysts convinced the situation may be even more dangerous. The reason is the deterioration of Russia's nuclear command structure, its early warning system, the proliferation of nuclear weapon states, and the intention of the Bush administration to build a new class of nuclear weapons.

Moreover, thousands of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads are on a hair-trigger alert, ready for launch in a few minutes notice. A recent Rand think tank study warned that this situation could result in a nuclear exchange either by accident or miscalculation that would destroy both countries in an hour.

About 20 close calls to nuclear war have been documented over the years, and who knows how many others never recorded. The sad indictment on the values and priorities of our civilization is that the warning made by President Kennedy before the UN General Assembly in 1961 remains true today:

"Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."

In his recent article "Cloud Over Civilization" the economist and former ambassador John Kenneth Gailbraith wrote: "Civilization has made great strides over centuries in science, healthcare, the arts and, if not for all, economic well-being. But it has also given a privileged position to the development of weapons and the threat and reality of war. Mass slaughter has become the ultimate civilized achievement."

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate tool of mass slaughter, conceivably of the human race. They cannot be allowed to exist if we are to avoid a disaster beyond history. The playwright Anton Chekhov who wrote that if a gun hung on the wall in the first act of a play it would be fired by the third act. We're in the third act of the nuclear drama and the gun on the wall is fully loaded with 30,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled worldwide. It's Hiroshima 59 and we are running out of time.

The Association of World Citizens and Friends of Earth Australia have produced a resolution that calls for the removal of all nuclear warheads from "hair-trigger" alert to end the daily threat of a nuclear exchange initiated by an accidental missile launch, miscalculation, or early warning system failure.

The resolution is being endorsed by influential individuals such as Nobel Laureates, with peace laureates Oscar Arias and the Dalai Lama

among the first to sign. Nearly 100 peace organizations have also endorsed the resolution that will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly when it meets in September. The Australian Senate passed a version of this resolution on June 23, and it is being submitted to other national parliaments.

It's long overdue to put our priorities in order. Number one is to end the nuclear terror that began with the fireballs from Hell over Hiroshima and Nagasaki 59 years ago by eliminating all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. The future of civilization depends on it. The responsibility lies within each of us.


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Douglas Mattern is president of the Association of World Citizens (AWC); a San Francisco based international peace organization with branches in 50 countries, and with UN NGO status. Douglas is a contributing writer for Liberal Slant.

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