August 6th, 2020
“Don’t you know it is better for one person to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed?”, the high priest Caiaphas – John 11:50
“Add to this the memory of that shadowy companion who is always with us, like an inverted guardian angel, silent, invisible, almost incredible -and yet unquestionably there and ready to assert itself at the touch of a button; and one must concede that the future of civilization does not look very bright.” – Kenneth Clark, historian
“But (Leo) Szilard did not stop. When in 1945 the European war had been won, and he realized that the bomb was now about to be ready to made and used on the Japanese, Szilard marshaled protest everywhere he could. He wrote memorandum after memorandum. One memorandum to President Roosevelt only failed because Roosevelt died during the very days that Szilard was transmitting it to him. Always Szilard wanted the bomb to be tested openly before the Japanese and an international audience, so that the Japanese would know its power and surrender before people died.
As you know, Szilard failed…” – Jacob Bronowski, polymath and historian
What is there to say?
Today is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and do we care? 140,000 people were killed during the actual bombing, and from the effects of radiation. All of that death and suffering from the use of one atomic weapon.
The shadow of Hiroshima is still with us. It hovers in the back of our mind, barely at the edge of consciousness. We are preoccupied with other crises: the pandemic, climate change, racial violence and unrest, a crippled economy. We don’t think about the threat of nuclear war. Too many other issues vie for our attention. The threat remains.
I am too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, I do remember serving as a U.S. Army officer in West Germany in the early 80’s. I remember waking up each morning wondering if I would die in a war with the Soviets. I remember that gnawing fear, that angst. That feeling never completely goes away.
I could review the arguments for and against the attack on Hiroshima, but to what end? It all boils down to the end justifies the means. A nation that had no problem with firebombing Tokyo, Hamburg, and Dresden probably had no conscience left. Dropping a nuke is only a small step beyond burning 100,000 people to death with incendiaries. We worry about North Korea having nukes, and we panic about Iran building one. We have thousands of them, all ready to annihilate life on this planet.
I end this with another quote from Jacob Bronowski. He was speaking about the Holocaust, and about nuclear warfare.
“I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond (at Auschwitz) as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”