On the morning of 6 August 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
US chief of staff Admiral Leah felt “we had adopted an ethical standard common to that of the barbarians of the Dark Age”. But no medieval despot could have inflicted the carnage that followed.
Within seconds, 60 percent of the city was wiped off the face of the earth. The death toll reached 140,000—in a town of 350,000.
Three days later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing half its population.
The nuclear attacks were, and are, justified as the only credible military option. But Japan was in no position to continue the war. Even before the attack Japan’s rulers were prepared to surrender.
Winston Churchill wrote, “It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell.”
But the bomb did mean that the US and Britain did not need Russian troops to defeat Japan.
This was not about deterrence nor was it a plaything of wild warmongers. It was a tool in the battle for strategic control.
US president Harry Truman admitted as much saying, “The bomb might well put us in a position to dictate the terms of the end of war.”
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.
People occasionally credit the bomb with keeping the peace. It did no such thing. In the 70 years since Hiroshima bloody wars poisoned the globe.
Successive wars raised the spectre of nuclear attacks. For nearly 50 years the two highly armed superpowers vied to match each other’s deadly power.
Nuclear weapons are the obscene but logical conclusion of a system based on economic, political and military competition. 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. It shaped the priorities of the whole capitalist system.
A huge amount of the world’s resources were pumped into weapons of mass destruction.
Now the world is littered with enough of them to destroy it many times over.
There are more nuclear weapons today than there were at the height of the Cold War. Many are 40 times more powerful than the devices that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan and Britain also have nuclear weapons. This means regional conflicts can lead to nuclear devastation.
Iran and the US did a deal on nuclear proliferation last month.
Like all such previous deals it was about a power play of position and nothing to do with making the planet a safer place. It will allow the development of nuclear weapons to continue.
And the use of so-called dirty nuclear bombs came not from terrorists but by the US repeatedly using depleted uranium on Iraq.
Nuclear weapons are still a way for the rulers of powerful nations to continue their dominance. We should get rid of them—and the system that spawned them.
Keir Starmer's Thatcher praising speech
Historian John Newsinger writes