I recently returned from Poland, where I led two 4-day workshops on the topic of Healing from War and a visit to the concentration camp at Auschwitz and death camp at Birkenau. There were people from 21 countries at the workshops. People were able to tell their stories and release their emotions about a variety of issues — genocide, colonialism, imperialism, war, and nuclear weapons. At each workshop Japanese women told how they, as young people, learned about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how they feel about it now. They each had powerful stories to tell. And 2 people who grew up in the U.S. talked about their feelings about the bombings and U.S. militarism. From my perspective, there is no more important issue facing humanity than the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The current situation
There are about 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The U.S. and Russia maintain roughly 1,800 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert (ready to be launched within minutes of a warning) status. Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people. A “small” nuclear war involving 50 nuclear weapons would cool the entire planet by about 1.25 degrees Celsius [2 degrees Fahrenheit] and cause significant food shortages. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics found that, if these weapons were aimed at the center of large cities, the direct fatalities would be “comparable to all of those worldwide in World War II.” [60 million deaths]
The climatic consequences of a larger war (hundreds or thousands of weapons) could cause global average temperatures to drop as much as 7 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to several years. There would be disastrous crop failures, widespread famine, and massive ecological disruption. I have not found an estimate for death toll of humans or other living things
It is morally imperative that we do everything possible to avoid this possibility. The only certain solution is to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Threats of using nuclear weapons in recent years have increased people’s awareness of the dangers of nuclear war. The recent UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons https://www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw/index.html and the award of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) http://www.icanw.org/action/nobel-peace-prize-2017-2/ have opened up new possibilities for mass movements for the elimination of nuclear weapons to be successful. This is an important time for people to take action.
Challenges and Strategies
Many people, however, are numb and terrified about a possible nuclear Holocaust. They do not have much hope that we can eliminate them. I think humanity can! We can build a movement based on hope and a determination to eliminate them. It is absurd that nuclear weapons continue to exist. It will help if we confront our fears and develop our ability to listen to others’ feelings about nuclear bombs. I started confronting my fears by exchanging listening time with another person on how I learned about nuclear weapons and the effect it had on me. I remembered:
- Seeing a picture of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima in a newspaper.
- Being required to crouch under my desk during air raid drills at elementary school.
- Reading Hiroshima by John Hersey when I was a teenager.
- As an adult reading books on the development of the atomic bomb including a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory which developed the atomic bomb.
- Reading On the Beach by Nevil Shute (published in 1957 and later made into a movie.) The novel describes the experiences of a group of people living in Australia as they await the arrival of deadly radiation spreading towards them from the Northern Hemisphere following a nuclear war.
- Going to Hiroshima before leading a workshop in Japan and seeing the devastation cause by the atomic bomb.
- Listening to stories about Hiroshima and Nagasaki at that workshop. .
I do not remember talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki or anything about nuclear weapons in my family or at school. But then we did not talk about the Holocaust either.
Reading Hiroshima had a big impact on me. In May, 1946, Hersey traveled to Japan and spent 3 weeks interviewing survivors. The book reports on the effects of the bomb on six Japanese citizens. It starts “At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.”
Making a significant change in the world requires (1) a decision on the part of at least a small group of people to bring about the change; (2) their talking about their feelings and thinking; and (3) developing a strategy to involve large groups of people who then take action and demand that the change happens. All three are necessary. If you do not talk about your feelings, you will not have attention to listen to others feelings.
Reflection: Pair up with a friend and each take a turn (roughly equal amount of time) to talk without interruption about your memories of nuclear weapons. When did you learn about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the Cuban missile crisis, for example? When did you become aware of how many nuclear weapons there are in the world? How do you feel about this?
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss