By Jay Kvale
(Speech prepared for Hiroshima Commemoration ceremony at Lake Harriet Peace Garden in Minneapolis on Monday, August 6th, 2012.)
Sixty-seven years ago this morning a single B-29, the Enola Gay, appeared over Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb. The incredible blast destroyed most of the city and killed about 60,000 people almost immediately; about 80,000 more died in subsequent months and years from deadly radiation.
Three days later another B-29, Bock's Car, dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing about 20,000 people almost immediately and about 60,000 more in subsequent months and years from radiation.
People became terrified that the world would descend into a new age of nuclear war and barbarism with the advent of these lethal weapons. But courageous diplomacy, treaties, and good fortune have averted a Nuclear Holocaust for two-thirds of a century.
This has led many to believe we must have a good system for averting nuclear war. But as veteran activist Brad Lytle reminded me at a protest at Oak Ridge two years ago, our system resembles Russian roulette.
For example, 18 years ago a Russian technician was minutes away from sending a signal to Premier Yeltsin to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack when his radar showed an apparent attack by the U.S. was underway. Fortunately he waited a few minutes . . . the blip on his radar turned out to be a large flock of geese. And there have been similar incidents that have not even been reported to the public.
The only safe system for dealing with nuclear weapons is to abolish them, as William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and George Schulz made clear in their op-ed in the New York Times five years ago.
There continues to be slow but steady progress toward this goal. The total number of nuclear warheads in the world is now down to just over 19,000 . . . a reduction of more than 70% from 35 years ago. The new START Treaty signed by President Obama and President Medvedev last year is being implemented, with warheads being taken off hair-trigger alert on the way to 1,550 actively deployed weapons for each country by 2018. Global Zero recently issued a report calling for much deeper cuts, up to 80%, which would reduce arsenals to a few hundred weapons within a decade.
Nuclear weapons-free zones are being expanded and now include more than 50%of the earth's population. Later this year a conference will be held in Finland to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
This week an international conference on nuclear disarmament is being held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to promote reductions in arsenals, given impetus by the stories of some of the last survivors of the bombings.
In addition to actual warheads, the problem of securing loose nuclear materials is also being addressed, since 1,600 tons of enriched uranium and 500 tons of plutonium, enough to make tens of thousands of bombs, are still scattered around, mostly in the former Soviet Union. Conferences in Washington in 2010 attended by 47 nations and South Korea this year attended by 51 nations resulted in pledges by many nations, including Canada, Ukraine, Mexico, and Kazahkstan, to secure their loose nukes. Teams of specialists expect to have more than 80% of loose nuclear material from the world's 129 research reactors secured by 2014.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty has limited the number of nations with nuclear weapons to nine. In addition to enforcing this limit, the nuclear Haves should also refrain from developing new, smaller, tactical weapons that are now in the works in many research labs.
Disarming nuclear weapons is not a difficult process, since we have the technical expertise and verification procedures in place. In 1991 4,000 nukes in Europe were disarmed without a treaty under the cooperative leadership of the first President Bush, Gorbachev, Perry, Nunn, and former Senator Richard Lugar. Lugar should be regarded as a national hero for overseeing the disarming of 13,000 nuclear weapons during his career. The Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas is capable of disarming thousands of nuclear weapons in a relatively short time.
But we need political will and popular support to get this accomplished. On the political side, Representative Ed Markey has introduced a bill in the House, H.R. 3974, that would reduce the number of nuclear-armed Trident submarines, which can obliterate entire cities, from 14 to 8, and remove nuclear weapons from new planes and missiles. It would also save more than $100 billion over the next decade. This bill has 46 co-sponsors, including our 5th District Representative Keith Ellison.
But we also need to mobilize people. If one nuclear weapon can kill a million people, shouldn't a million people be able to abolish one nuclear weapon? If we can break down the stereotypes of seeing people from other countries as Enemies, we should be able to work together to abolish weapons that threaten us all.
How many Americans can name more than two people in Iran, a country of 75 million people?. We might be surprised that millions of young Iranians use email and Facebook and are eager to make friends with Americans. They are just as tired as we are at the ongoing war of words between our countries.
180 years ago slavery was considered a normal state of affairs in many societies. But determined abolitionists stood up and proclaimed, "This is wrong, this is unacceptable, and we are determined to abolish it." It took several decades of struggle, but slavery was abolished.
Just look at the situation we face. Our public debt is advancing at an alarming rate while human needs are going unmet in many places. Yet we continue the folly of spending billions of dollars on thousands of lethal weapons that can kill tens of millions of our fellow humans.
We should stand up and proclaim, "This is wrong, this is unacceptable, and we are determined to abolish these weapons." In 2045, possibly even sooner, I hope we can complete the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world President Obama so eloquently stated at Prague in 2009. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could close the circle of abolition with a celebration of the Olympic Games at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.