By Ray Acheson
Seventy-five years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs: one on Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. These two detonations unleashed hell on earth for those within both cities, incinerating hundreds of thousands of people, along with plants, animals, and buildings. The heat and fire from the blast melted objects and turned human beings into shadows. The burns and the radiation poising killed many more in the days, months, and years after the bombings. As testimony from the survivors, the hibakusha, tells us, the terror of the bombs impacted the lives of those who survived forever.
For seventy-five years, we have all lived under the threat of radioactive blast and firestorm, the effects of which are immediately devastating and punishingly intergenerational. For seventy-five years, from production to testing to use to storage to disposal, nuclear weapon activities have contaminated land and water — and will continue to do so for thousands of years more. For seventy-five years, corporations like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bechtel have reaped incredible profits from government contracts for bombs and bombers.
Last year, the nine nuclear-armed states spent 73 billion dollars on nuclear weapons. That is more than 138,000 dollars per minute. In the midst of a global pandemic, the US has more nuclear warheads than hospitals. While people of the world have suffered from these economic choices, others have profited. Certain academics, politicians, and bureaucrats have risen through the ranks of think tanks or governments in positions bankrolled by the nuclear profiteers, spinning theories of “nuclear deterrence” and “strategic stability” to justify this massive, unconscionable investment in technologies of massive violence.
The patriarchy of nuclearism
For seventy-five years, we have been told that these weapons are absolutely necessary for certain governments to possess, in order to ensure “international security” or “strategic stability”. This is nuclearism. Nuclearism is the mythology that nuclear weapons are essential for security. It is an epic feat of gaslighting that insists that weapons that can kill everyone on the planet many times over are the only things keeping us safe.
Nuclearism is patriarchy: it is the dominance of a mindset that says violence equals power, that weapons equal security. It is a mentality that comes from the domination of men over women, of white supremacy and wealth, of able-bodiedness and heteronormativity. It comes from the capitalist prioritisation of profit over people, and from the militarism that accumulates wealth through war.
Nuclear weapons are part of the structures of violence that plague so many of our societies. They are weapons meant to assert control, to intimidate, to threaten genocide. The policies of nuclear weapon development, testing, and use are policies of radioactive racism. The same racist ideology that enables certain governments to explode nuclear bombs, dig up radioactive materials, and bury nuclear waste on Indigenous lands and near poor communities also lies within carceral systems, border controls, and treatment of people deemed “other” around the world.
Taking action against the bomb
Right now, there are calls in many countries to defund the police and prison industries and build alternative structures for preventing harm and for transformative justice. This incredible work is crucial toward building the type of communities in which we can all live and thrive. This work is about, among other things, disarming and demilitarising; it is about divesting from weapons and violence and investing in peace and equality instead.
Abolishing nuclear weapons is part of this work.
In 2017, 122 governments voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This landmark agreement completely outlaws the development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons. It recognises the disproportionate impact that nuclear weapon activities have had on Indigenous communities. It recognises the gendered impacts of radiation, and it calls for gender diversity in discussions on nuclear weapons. It includes provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, recognising the harms that have been caused and the needs of communities that have suffered.
The nuclear-armed states—China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — did not participate in the negotiation of this Treaty. Nor did the countries that rely on the fantasy of “extended nuclear deterrence” from the US arsenal for their perceived protection (those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as well as Australia, Japan, and South Korea). By rejecting this Treaty, they are asserting that their “security” is derived from the ability to commit to genocide, to wreak horrific suffering on entire populations, to risk the survival of our entire planet.
The governments supporting the Treaty in 2017, and those that are ratifying it now, are largely those of the Global South. Their support stems from the straightforward understanding that nuclear weapons have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences and must be destroyed. For decades, these countries have been told they had no legitimate say over nuclear weapon policy, because they do not possess these weapons of terror. By banning the bomb, these countries stood up to power and claimed their legitimate stake on this issue.
Divest, demilitarise, disarm
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a feat of collective action by people who came together to do something that had not been tried before. It offers a glimpse of what is possible in this world — including that it is possible to do something that all of the “great powers” in the world collectively forbid. Resistance may take time to have an effect, but it can make a difference.
Right now, actions against nuclear weapons and in support of the Treaty are taking place all over the world. WILPF is organising four days of action against nuclear weapon spending. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has activities related to divesting from nuclear weapons, encouraging local governments to support nuclear disarmament, getting universities out of nuclear weapon work, and elevating the testimony of hibakusha. Many other groups around the world will be holding events online to mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The time to act against the bomb is now. As we face other perils and converging crisis, like COVID-19 and climate change, we need to act cooperatively and turn all of our ingenuity and resources away from weapons and war towards peace, equity, and nonviolence. Otherwise, we will not survive.
On 6 and 9 August, we say Never Again. No more Hiroshimas, no more Nagasakis, no more hibakusha, no more nuclear weapons. And then we work to make that promise a reality.