Nuclear Weapons

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.

Opportunities
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.”

hiroshima-bombingMaking 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?

lorax 2
The Lorax  by Dr. Seuss

3 thoughts on “Nuclear Weapons

  1. Thanks Julian.

    This is great.

    Some things I have listened to re: Hiroshima and Nagasaki are so terrible, I cannot write them here. The `Mainichi Shimbun`, a major newspaper has launched a front page series against nuclear weapons. Activists, who are themselves bomb blast survivors are writing strong pieces that tell the truth. This is a very hopeful development.

  2. Nuclear weapons scare all people into keeping society the same. My society, the U.S., refuses to acknowledge that anyone can exist outside of our hegemony and uses the presence of these for advantage. The essence of these weapons is not only genocidal, but at this point their use will terminate the human species. Their existence is indeed absurd. Development of the means of eliminating them will in itself reap benefits far beyond what we can see at present.

  3. à la demande de Julian, j’ai demandé à Elyane de coucher sur le papier certains de ses souvenirs d’enfance, pendant la 2e guerre mondiale, elle avait 11 ans :
    “Il est bien difficile de résumer 4 ans d’une vie qui s’est déroulée entre enfance et adolescence , au milieu d’événements d’une grande ampleur dont les échos nous sont arrivés atténués bien qu’ayant perturbé profondément notre vie de tous les jours ; j’avais 11 ans en mai 1940, lorsque , dans notre petite ville tranquille de l’ouest de la France (Cognac où se fabrique cet alcool), nous avons vu arriver une partie des 8 millions de français fuyant l’avance fulgurante des troupes allemandes ……qui sont arrivées quelques jours plus tard ; j’ai vécu les 4 années suivantes plutôt au travers des émotions et des réactions de mes parents: stupeur, incompréhension, révolte, et accablement quand il a fallu se rendre à l’évidence et se soumettre aux nouvelles contraintes et lois de l’occupation et du gouvernement français du Maréchal Petain; réquisitions des écoles des voitures des particuliers, des bâtiments administratifs, d’une partie des hôpitaux et des cliniques, des productions alimentaires, installation des tickets de rationnement pour tout (vêtements, chaussures, papier…….et pas d’essence du tout ! ) souvenirs de recherches de ravitaillement à la campagne à bicyclette. ……souvenirs de froid en classe et dans la maison où seulement 2 pièces étaient chauffées ; souvenirs douloureux et tristes de mes amis de collège privés de leur père, des jeunes femmes seules avec de jeunes enfants, des femmes nouvellement employées dans touts sortes de métiers, puisque père, mari , fils ou frère étaient prisonniers en Allemagne avec les 2 millions de soldats français capturés à la défaite militaire ;
    (La suite bientôt )
    Hervé

    Translation of Hervé’s comment by Theresa:

    On Julian’s request, I asked Elyane to write down some of her childhood memories from the 2nd world war; she was 11.

    “It is very difficult to sum up 4 years of a life that took place between childhood and adolescence in the midst of huge events whose echoes come back weakened, even though they had profoundly disrupted everyday life. I was 11 years old in 1940, when, in our small, quiet city in the west of France (Cognac, where this alcohol is made), we saw the arrival of a portion of the 8 million French fleeing the lightning advance of German troops…who arrived a few days later. I lived the following 4 years somewhat through my parents’ emotions and reactions: stupor, incomprehension, revolt, and depression when they had to face reality and submit to the new constraints and laws of the occupation and Marshal Petain’s French government: requisitions of schools, of private autos, of administrative buildings, of parts of hospitals and clinics, of food production; setting up of ration coupons for everything (clothing, shoes, paper…. and no gasoline at all!). [I have] memories of searching for food on bicycle in the countryside …memories of being cold in class and at home where only 2 rooms were heated; painful and sad memories of my school friends deprived of fathers, young women alone with young children, women newly employed in all sorts of jobs because fathers, husbands, sons or brothers were prisoners in Germany along with 2 million French soldiers captured in the military defeat.

    (To be continued)

    Translation of Hervé’s comment by Theresa:

    On Julian’s request, I asked Elyane to write down some of her childhood memories from the 2nd world war; she was 11.

    “It is very difficult to sum up 4 years of a life that took place between childhood and adolescence in the midst of huge events whose echoes come back weakened, even though they had profoundly disrupted everyday life. I was 11 years old in 1940, when, in our small, quiet city in the west of France (Cognac, where this alcohol is made), we saw the arrival of a portion of the 8 million French fleeing the lightning advance of German troops…who arrived a few days later. I lived the following 4 years somewhat through my parents’ emotions and reactions: stupor, incomprehension, revolt, and depression when they had to face reality and submit to the new constraints and laws of the occupation and Marshal Petain’s French government: requisitions of schools, of private autos, of administrative buildings, of parts of hospitals and clinics, of food production; setting up of ration coupons for everything (clothing, shoes, paper…. and no gasoline at all!). [I have] memories of searching for food on bicycle in the countryside …memories of being cold in class and at home where only 2 rooms were heated; painful and sad memories of my school friends deprived of fathers, young women alone with young children, women newly employed in all sorts of jobs because fathers, husbands, sons or brothers were prisoners in Germany along with 2 million French soldiers captured in the military defeat.

    (To be continued)

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