Nightmare on Every Street

I’ve been trying to assemble an essay on nuclear warfare, but the topic is too vast and my blog too small to tackle it all at once. So I’m breaking it up into pieces. This is the first, beginning with a journal entry from 2005.

Nearly all of us who routinely comment on the world around us — whether to millions on CNN or to dozens on an obscure web-log — tailor that world to fit our whims and prejudices. We mark off what suits us at the moment, and cut away the rest.

A learned legal treatise on Michael Jackson. Meticulous analysis of the Terry Schiavo case. Facts, factoids, and lies about Social Security. Rationale for maintaining the senate filibuster, or for preventing it. Arguments that the Iraq war was necessary or was criminal, that we must stay or that we should leave. Screeds, rants, diatribes, and broadsides galore.

We seldom write about that most terrifying issue, the one possible human act which threatens us all: Nuclear war. Perhaps we have lived so long in the shadow of nuclear horror that we’ve forgotten it’s there. Perhaps, with the collapse of the Soviet Union — against whose arsenal ours was primarily arrayed — we’ve been able to delude ourselves into believing the danger is past.

It is not past. It is the genie we’ll never get back into the bottle. Nuclear nightmare has already struck two cities, with tragedy swifter, more devastating, and more enduring than our own Twin Towers experience. This is how it was described ten years ago to the International Court of Justice by the mayor of Nagasaki — a man born two weeks after the bomb dropped on his city.

The explosion of the atomic bomb generated an enormous fireball, 200 meters in radius, almost as though a small sun had appeared in the sky. The next instant, a ferocious blast and wave of heat assailed the ground with a thunderous roar. The surface temperature of the fireball was about 7000 degrees C, and the heat rays that reached the ground were over 3000 degrees C. The explosion instantly killed or injured people within a two- kilometer radius of the hypocenter, leaving innumerable corpses charred like clumps of charcoal and scattered in the ruins near the hypocenter. In some cases not even a trace of the person’s remains could be found. The blast wind of over 300 meters per second slapped down trees and demolished most buildings. Even iron-reinforced concrete structures were so badly damaged that they seemed to have been smashed by a giant hammer. The fierce flash of heat meanwhile melted glass and left metal objects contorted like strands of taffy, and the subsequent fires burned the ruins of the city to ashes.

Nagasaki became a city of death where not even the sounds of insects could be heard. After a while, countless men, women and children began to gather for a drink of water at the banks of nearby Urakami River, their hair and clothing scorched and their burnt skin hanging off in sheets like rags. Begging for help they died one after another in the water or in heaps on the banks. Then radiation began to take its toll, killing people like a scourge of death expanding in concentric circles from the hypocenter. Four months after the atomic bombing, 74,000 people were dead and 75,000 had suffered injuries, that is, two thirds of the city population had fallen victim to this calamity that came upon Nagasaki like a preview of the Apocalypse.

In October of 2007, then-candidate Barak Obama made a clear and definitive statement of his stand on nuclear weapons.

What has now-President Obama done about that promise? Too soon to expect substantive action, but at least there is this much newly posted on the White House web site.

Move Toward a Nuclear Free World: Obama and Biden will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama and Biden will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But they will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. They will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.

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