This week commemorates the 75th anniversary of an event that shook the world and changed the course of history: the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Although it has long been claimed that the bomb ended the war, the work of a number of historians has demonstrated irrefutably that Japan would have surrendered anyway, as officials knew, and that the bomb was actually used as a show of power against the Soviet Union, whose incursions into Eastern Europe convinced Americans that Stalin’s goal was the communist takeover of Europe.
Yet the myth that bombing Japan saved a million American lives has persisted to this day.
The event launched the Cold War, bringing the world to the brink of nuclear devastation a number of times, and generated pervading anxiety that hovers over the future to this day.
The United States is now engaged in accelerating that threat. It was Obama who approved a plan to “modernize” the nuclear “deterrent” in a ten-year, one trillion-dollar effort that includes the creation of new weapons. Trump has intensified that program, now estimated to cost $1.7 trillion, and has even threatened to resume nuclear testing. At the same time, he has abrogated a number of treaties that have held the world in tenuous but steady progress toward nuclear disarmament; and if he is re-elected, he will likely refuse to renew the latest agreement with Russia, the New Start.
With the world order unraveling all around us, it’s easy to forget that 14,000 nuclear weapons are still ready to fire, whether by design or accident; and that even 100 of those, approximately the size of the Hiroshima bomb and smaller than those in the existential arsenals of the US and Russia, would bring on a nuclear winter that would bring human society to a cataclysmic and miserable end.
But it’s precisely because of that unraveling that we must pay attention to the dangers of our predicament. Trump continues to threaten Iran and China with provocative military maneuvers, stating that a US attack on Iran will be over quickly, with no boots on the ground, and devastating. He has also said, during his campaign for election in 2016, What’s the point of having nuclear weapons if you don’t use them?
With the invention of nuclear weapons, humanity achieved an unprecedented destructive power, the power of destroying the world. In the 75 years since we witnessed the grotesque suffering produced by their use, we have failed to bring their existence to a halt, persuaded that we must keep up the arms race in order to deter other countries from attacking us, a theory put forward by a group of intellectuals at the Rand Corporation and, needless to say, never proven.
Since then, like the legendary Pharaoh at the time of Exodus, we have faced, or failed to face, two more threats to our continuance, climate change, and with it, the current plague. All of them seem to exceed our capacity to change our ways in order to save ourselves. Now the revelations of our genocidal history, particularly our racist treatment of African Americans, have found their way into public awareness; and the unfolding recession, threatening all poor people and people of color while fattening the ranks of the already rich, has exposed the injustices and inequality of our economic system. Everything seems to be crumbling all at once, and our last hope, of staunching the wound at least temporarily by electing a different president, is also looking fragile.
The picture is overwhelming. How can we possibly cope with all this?
But perhaps in its enormity lies its potential gift. Although we ourselves, humanity as a whole, are responsible for at least two, and possibly three of these existential scourges, we do not seem to be capable of eliminating them. We are in over our heads, starting with Hiroshima and the Manhattan Project that created it, and moving right along into the desecration of the planet by extractive and especially fossil fuel companies, dictated by old habits of white male supremacy and elemental greed, we have mixed up our creations with sheer destruction and produced the means of our own demise. What next?
Could we wake up?
Can the undeniable horror of our situation force us to take a knee to the awful game we have been playing or at least permitting, averting our eyes and pretending it isn’t so, looking for a message of optimism, “being positive”, and hopeful, as we drive on blindly over the cliff, shouting hallelujah?
If we began looking for a way out, is it possible we might actually find one?
In this week of remembrance of the worst crime ever perpetrated in a history of great crimes, let’s turn around and stare in the face of the demon that has been chasing us and watch its ugly mask crack under our gaze.
Now that racism has begun to pry us out of our various silos, now that environmentalists are actually working for affordable housing and healthcare advocates are calling for an end to militarism, now that Trump’s reckless buffoonery is making a mockery of governance, now that an invisible microbe is eating away at our tissues, is it surely time that we open our eyes to the hell realm we find ourselves in and see what all these evils have in common?
Could we ask for help? Is there a higher power we can summon? Do we believe in something greater than ourselves? Is there a God? Now that our policies threaten to destroy creation, can we do something different, and if so, what? Is there a place to begin?
Perhaps in surrender we may yet be victorious.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.