Joe Dunne, BA Politics
How could I forget that quiet
Which descended over a city of three hundred thousand? The calm
How could I forget those pleas
Of a dying wife and child
Emitted through the whiteness of their eyes, Piercing our minds and souls
– Sankichi Toge, August Sixth
The above is an extract from a poem describing the events at Hiroshima written by one of Japan’s most illustrious atom bomb poets, Sankichi Toge, who died aged 37 due to the after-effects of the radiation he had absorbed from the blast. Given that only a very select handful of people have ever witnessed the practical application of a nuclear bomb, the above account seems a savvy place to start an assessment of their merit. We were having this debate in 1945.
The difference in capacity between the two payloads dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 with the explosive potential of their contemporary counterparts, of which we can include Trident, is phenomenal. In todays world, the largest nuclear weapon available for deployment is over 3000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped 70 years ago. It’s also here that should be noted that the pilot who dropped those very bombs along with the vast majority of scientists working on the Manhattan Project, including Oppenheimer and Einstein, became out-spoken and powerful critics of the atom bomb. So why is it that those in favour of nuclear deproliferation from 1945 to the present day, from Oppenheimer to Jeremy Corbyn, are branded as daisy- chain, loopy-liberal, emotional pacifists who are weak on security issues and ignorant with regard to the academic or logical merit of sustaining such weapons?
Thanks in large part to the premise of the mutually assured destruction; the world has been fortunate not to experience another deployment of an atom bomb the sole exponent of one. Yet, 9 states are suspected of maintaining nuclear weapons, 3 of which are bound by military treaties to the US that dictates that war waged against one equates to war waged against all with the UK being one of them. Thus, when the debate arises in the House of Commons to renew Trident or not, the question must be pitted to our Prime Minister, multiple times if necessary, of would he ever order a nuclear strike on an urban area and in what scenario could he ever envisage that happening?
In the bizarre, far-fetched world where Cameron provides a binary answer, in the affirmative or the negative, his answer would prove to be problematic. If yes, our leader will have just conceded to be willing to eviscerate millions of civilians in a supposed act of war, presumably as a retaliation against a strikes that had already caused comparative destruction on the British homeland. If such an awful scenario were to occur, one would have to question the merit of a ‘victory’ determined by one side prevailing in nuking more millions of civilians than the other. If the answer is no, which is the answer that any empathetic human should come to, then why maintain the programme.
At a time where our public services are being slashed beyond recognition, state welfare is being demonised, degraded and disintegrated, and responsible tax credits are a thing of the distant past; how can we justify the continued funding of a weapons programme at such an economic and moral cost. Renewing Trident will cost the taxpayer £100 billion, money enough to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, build 1.5 million affordable homes, build 30,000 new primary schools, or cover tuition fees for 4 million students according to British Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament. While this government has frequently espoused rhetoric regarding economically living within our means to cut the deficit and leave a respectable legacy to our children, they are convinced that a world in which these weapons exist is a justifiable part of that legacy. Why can’t the UK be the pioneers of nuclear disarmament?
Irrespective of other more logical arguments, the refusal to renew Trident would guarantee that at least one layer of hypocrisy in British foreign policy would be stripped away given our continued committal to stymie nuclear proliferation in the Third World. Eradicating the UK’s nuclear weapons stockpile would also send a clear defined message to the global community that Britain is finally becoming aware of its adjusted role in international affairs since the end of World War II and the dissolution of its empire. Both our place on the UN Security Council and our possession of nuclear weapons are the two most visible vestiges of a by-gone era in which Britain ruled the seas and commanded the obedience of nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
Clinging on to the last remnants of such power has and will only continue to harbour resentment between the UK and other emerging powers, of whom have a stronger economy, military and standing in international affairs. Sustaining our nuclear weaponry and our place on the UNSC is reminiscent of a spoilt child who won’t give his toys back at bed time. In the immediate aftermath of the events of 6th and 9th August 1945, the scientific community quickly mobilised to form a sturdy and committed movement against the proliferation of such weapons and instigated, and have since maintained, a doomsday clock. A piece of simple symbolism which alludes to how close the world is to a nuclear apocalypse and is a constant reminder that despite the days of the classic account of the Cold War being over, the existence of nuclear weapons is sadly not.
This clock began at 23:00 and the minute hand has since moved closer or further away to striking midnight since 1945 dependant on the mood in the international community. The clock struck 23:59 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was set further back to 23:43 upon the dissolution of the USSR, yet the minute hand has since crept closer and closer to midnight and currently stand at 23:57 as of 2016. No one knows what will truly happen if midnight were to ever hit, but if that day were to come, it’d be at least small consolation that the British government had done all it could to avert it ever coming.