On August 9, 1945, the second atomic bomb with which the United States government intended, and managed, to hasten the end of World War II, exploded in Nagasaki. Only three days earlier the population of Hiroshima had been devastated. Some 120,000 people died immediately in that nuclear hell, more than 35,000 were injured, and at least 60,000 died that same year from the effects of radiation. In addition to the horror and pain of mass death, the atomic mushroom caused deep physical and psychological damage to thousands of human beings and spread panic over the nuclear apocalypse in the daily lives of millions of people around the world.
The political motivation behind this heinous show of force was explicitly to end the war without putting thousands of American soldiers at risk. The explosion of a second bomb when the effect of the first was already terrifying could be due, according to historians, to an eagerness to demonstrate to the Soviet Union the supreme potential of the United States, which would lead to the cold war and the arms race. Military interests may also have influenced the deployment of expensive weapons that would have to be tested.
The shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continues to symbolize today the threat of nuclear apocalypse. It also shows the human inability to act together against the barbarity of war and dehumanization. It is not only about our inability to “learn from history” but about destructive tendencies that underlie the logic of war and violence.
If the technological barbarism that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki responded to the desire to avoid the possible death of hundreds of thousands of US soldiers, regardless of the atrocious death of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, with it the colonial assumption that lives are worth more than others. Unfortunately, as Judith Butler wrote after 9/11/200, social, national and “global” duels remain selective. This was confirmed by the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and is evidenced today by the media primacy of some wars and the silencing of others, or the political tolerance of the aggressions and human rights violations committed by regimes “allied” with the powers or by adversaries ” too dangerous.” The war in Yemen, the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the blindness to the colonial war against Palestine or the lukewarmness of Europe in the face of authoritarianism in Turkey or Hungary are just some evidence of the prevalence of this dehumanizing logic.
On the other hand, in contrast to the universal declaration of human rights of 1948, the cold war and the imperial wars of the 20th and 21st centuries favored the triumph of systems of political-military-corporate domination for which wars are a source of massive wealth and death is just “collateral damage”.
Even though climate change threatens the survival of all of humanity and would therefore require a radical change in priorities, the logic of competition for military and economic supremacy persists today. With the invasion of Ukraine, not only is the conventional military arsenal expanding, Russia has renewed the nuclear threat and the nuclear powers have resisted strengthening international agreements against the use of these weapons. Although there is a Treaty against the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force in January 2021, the peaceful use of nuclear energy has not been guaranteed. Current wars and armed conflicts spread pain and hatred and heat the planet.
Today more than ever, the memory of the human and ethical catastrophe of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should drive us to resist fear, to imagine and build a global citizen movement for peace, in defense of the planet and human life.
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