August 6, 2023 is the 78th anniversary of the start of nuclear war. In 1945, the United States military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing at least 70,000 civilians. Three days later, they dropped another on Nagasaki, killing at least 40,000 more. These are the U.S. military’s estimates at the time, so the real death toll is likely much higher. And they certainly don’t count those who died later of radiation poisoning, or those who survived but suffered horrendous wounds, or those whose radiation-damaged genes led to offspring with severe birth defects and further ghastly deaths.
The U.S. government claimed at the time that these attacks were necessary to end World War II and to save lives. They wanted to show the Japanese people and government, and the world, what refusing to surrender would mean in the horror of a nuclear war — a one-sided nuclear war at that. Many have said that they could have demonstrated the power of the bomb in some deserted area rather than on cities. And why did they destroy two cities, one just three days after the other?
The U.S. military was emerging from World War II as the most powerful in the world. And they wanted to demonstrate that clearly to the whole world — to show that U.S. capitalism was not only the world’s most powerful economy, but they had the weapons to back it up and were willing to use them.
August 6 is indeed a grim anniversary. This year it is marked by the recent release of the movie Oppenheimer that depicts the development of the atomic bomb by the U.S. Many people in Japan (and elsewhere) are outraged that the film does not show the devastation of the Japanese people while it focuses on the scientists who made that possible. And that outrage has been compounded by the marketing of the film alongside the Barbie movie, trivializing the horror of nuclear war so that movie companies can make more money.
We often hear people say that we should never trivialize or exploit the Holocaust. Neither should we trivialize nor exploit the horrors of nuclear war.
Today the threat of nuclear war is still hanging over the world. The U.S. continues to produce new nuclear weapons. Russia and the U.S. each have a nuclear arsenal of over 6,000 weapons. Today’s nuclear weapons are many times more powerful than the bombs dropped on two cities in Japan in 1945. Seven other governments, including France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea, together have about 1,500 weapons.
And with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, and the intensifying competition between the U.S. and China, unfortunately it is not difficult to imagine that these conflicts could lead to larger wars of enormous destruction.
When we remember the horrors of nuclear war, we must remember that we are living under the same system, with the same drive for profits and competition that led to nuclear war in the first place.