“We must keep the horrors of Hiroshima in view at all times, recognizing there is only one solution to the nuclear threat: not to have nuclear weapons at all.”
— UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Hiroshima on August 6, 2022
What would it be like if you woke up one normal, typical morning in Kansas went down to the kitchen in your picture-perfect house to make coffee, only to discover that Russia had lofted a missile at your typical American town, and Long Range Nuclear Missiles had been set off in response?
That’s the subject of The Day After 1983 made-for-TV movie that allegedly woke up Ronald Reagan to the dangers of nuclear war. It was shown this month on Hiroshima Day in an online program presented by World Beyond War.
Why do we have to think about such things today? Because our government and the Russian government are in the midst of nuclear modernization projects that in this country is slated to cost between one and two trillion dollars over ten years. Yes, trillion. Our taxpayer money!
But putting aside for the moment the immense cost, what about the danger of this insane buildup? What about the consequences of a nuclear exchange, whether intended or accidental? Dr. Ira Helfand, co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a Nobel Prize winner has explained the sequence of events that would be caused by a single 20 megaton nuclear bomb dropped on an American city, like Boston.
In a thousandth of a second, within a two-mile radius, a fireball would form with temperatures higher than the surface of the sun, and everything would be vaporized.
Death in the blast might well be a blessing compared to what comes next. The firestorm to follow, far exceeding anything we have seen in a forest fire, would be fanned by winds at the speed of 600 miles per hour. Within 16 miles the heat would still be so intense that everything would burn.
Within half an hour every living being would die.
Beyond that radius, survivors would experience all kinds of injuries, especially burns. There would not be sufficient medical care to help them. There might well not be enough hearses to take all the bodies away.
Our entire infrastructure would be destroyed. Phones and computers won’t operate, electrical power will be disrupted, supply chains would be broken, fuel will be at a premium, the post office won’t operate and so on.
But the worst impact would be on the climate. The 150 million tons of smoke from the fires would spread out over the entire atmosphere, blocking the light of the sun, and temperatures would drop 35 to 50 degrees – a chill colder than the last Ice Age which would persist for more than a decade. “All ecosystems would collapse, food production would stop and the vast majority of the human race would die,” says Helfand.
Even a small nuclear war, for example between India and Pakistan, would cause a similar climate shift affecting all people, everywhere on the planet.
Last week a report was published in Nature Food about the after effects of a nuclear war, called Famine. According to the study, “A few years after a nuclear war between the United States, its allies, and Russia, the global average calories produced would drop by about 90%—leaving an estimated 5 billion dead from the famine.”
In short, there are no safe havens from a nuclear war.
We are now at greater risk of nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. At that time, we had a president who was able to pick up the phone and speak directly with Russian president Nikita Khrushchev. They actually worked out an agreement that sent those nuclear submarines back to the USSR.
President Biden is not talking to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
We have the power to get rid of nuclear weapons. We made them, and we know how to take them apart. What is needed is a powerful citizen movement to pressure our government to act. We are the people, now is the time.
Nuclear weapons are illegal by international law, thanks to a new treaty, approved by a vote of 122 nations (of 197) at the United Nations on July 7, 2017, and ratified by 66 nations as of June 2022. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is now in effect. On June 21 the first Meeting of the Parties was held in Vienne.
The TPNW stresses the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war as a primary reason for prohibiting their use.
The nine nuclear nations who together possess some 13,000 nuclear weapons refused to sign. The US reportedly objected strenuously to the TPNW, asserting that it undermined its national security.
And there we are.
But Americans want to see an end to nuclear weapons. According to a September 2007 survey conducted by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, 73 percent of us were in favor of the elimination of nuclear weapons! Somehow we are not being heard!
If communities declared their demand for nuclear disarmament, that would strengthen our voice and pressure our government to cut back its reliance on nuclear weapons. That at least is the theory behind an initiative put forth by the Physicians for Social Responsibility called Back from the Brink (www.preventnuclearwar.org). Their website provides resources and tools for inviting elected officials, legislative bodies, municipalities, and organizations to endorse this grassroots coalition to abolish nuclear weapons and participate in the campaign to inform the public. And that’s important – because the mass media has chosen not to say boo about the Treaty. Many otherwise informed citizens don’t even know it exists!
Getting endorsements from our elected officials might not be difficult, and it’s a place to start. If we can build citizen participation at the local level, we can help grow a movement. If you’d like to work with me on this, please let me know.
Please go to Back from the Brink and endorse their proposal. The Los Alamos Study Group also has an important petition demanding a stop to new nuclear weapons development at LANL, the home of the Manhattan Project that produced the Bomb. They would appreciate your support for the Call for Sanity. NNSA’s plan for plutonium pit production calls for massive new development in Los Alamos, adjacent Indian lands, and neighboring Santa Fe . LASG website is a goldmine of information on all matters nuclear. Please remember that that nuclear weapons are designed at our own nuclear nearby , Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.
ICAN, the Nobel-prize winning group – of mostly young people! — that created the TPNW, has current news on nuclear policy. Sign up at https://www.icanw.org/join
A tremendous amount of energy and resources are pouring into the production of nuclear weapons. We can’t really transform our society or tackle climate change unless we end this scourge that is hanging over our heads like “the sword of Damocles.” Let’s not wait for it to drop. It’s time our voices were heard.
Stephanie Hiller helped edit the book, Los Alamos. Secret Colony, Hidden Truths. A Whistleblowers Diary, by Chuck Montano, as well as other publications.