At 8.15am on 6 August 1945, in the last days of the Second World War, the US dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later it dropped another on Nagasaki.
The bombs immediately wiped out more than 100,000 people. At least the same number again died in the years that followed from burns and cancers. To this day another quarter of a million live with the effects of mass radiation poisoning.
The horrific nature of the attacks fuelled anti-nuclear movements that continue today.
For many, the bombings seemed nonsensical. Those at the top of society benefit from capitalism. Why would they develop weapons that could destroy it?
But the development of weapons of mass destruction is the terrifying, and logical, conclusion of capitalism.
Capitalism is based on companies and states competing to grab the most resources and make the most money. The drive to accumulate profit pushes aside all other considerations.
Frenzied economic competition leads to imperialist plunder and all-out war as states fight to maintain, or extend, their power.
The First and Second World Wars were imperialist wars. The great capitalist powers used whatever they could to beat the other side.
So Britain used mustard gas in the First World War. Mustard gas caused internal and external bleeding, blistered skin and attacked bronchial tubes.
And the massacre of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was no accident. It was the culmination of the three-year Manhattan Project, which had brought together the world’s finest physicists to produce a working atomic bomb.
The US’s Target Committee, which decided where to drop the bombs, wrote that Hiroshima was about “making the initial use sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognised”.
The US ruling class wanted to use its weapons to stamp its authority on the world.
It isn’t the only country to develop weapons to shore up its power. The Cold War, which followed the Second World War, saw a conflict between the US and its allies on the one hand, and Russia and the eastern bloc on the other.
The fact that each side possessed terrifying weapons, and the constant threat that they could be used, was a key part of the conflict.
In the same way that companies compete to make products, imperialist states compete to show their dominance by accumulating more weapons. The clearest example of this was the arms race between the US and Russia during the Cold War.
The globe is still littered with weapons of mass destruction—enough to destroy the world many times over. And as capitalism develops, the logic of competition produces ever deadlier weapons.
For example, when the US was the only state to have an atom bomb, it used that to try and dominate states that didn’t have one. But as soon as other states caught up, the US tried to develop more powerful weapons to win the advantage back.
The years following the Second World War saw a raft of new lethal weapons—including the hydrogen bomb, but also Agent Orange, napalm, white phosphorous, cluster bombs and depleted uranium.
We often read in the press that “rogue states” like Iran and North Korea are trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons, and that this is a risk to “global security”.
The fewer weapons there are in the world, the better. But there are blatant double standards at play.
The US remains the only state in the world that has used nuclear weapons in war. It has by far the biggest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction anywhere—more than 10,000 nuclear warheads and more than 30,000 tons of chemical weapons. It has even built and tested anthrax bombs.
Yet we don’t hear constant talk of the threat that the West poses to the world. Powerful states play up the “threat” of lesser states in order to keep their monopoly on weapons.
That is the way capitalism works, so we need to destroy capitalism—before it destroys us.