Pope Francis this week sent humanity on another soul searching mission. During a visit to Japan, he held out the mirror in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and invited the world to look at itself. The only imagery that stared back at us, was the savagery of the atomic bombs dropped in both Japanese cities by the Americans in August, 1945.
Within eight to twelve weeks the two bombs torched the earth, between 90,000 and 146,000 died in Hiroshima and 39,000 and 80,000 in Nagasaki. Half of the victims died in each city the very day the bombs were dropped. With this carnage, humanity lost its innocence; it died a little and for many, life lost its meaning.
However, that did not stop the human race from engaging in a nuclear weapon race. So much that today, in 2019, there are about 14,000 nuclear bombs and just 100 of such bombs, dropped in crowded areas, can wipe out 34 million human beings; in other words, less than 300 nuclear bombs are enough to wipe out the entire world population of 7,609, 9997,647.
The United States and Russia account for 92 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world. The former carried out the first nuclear test in July 1945 and dropped the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the following month. It felt invisible thinking it had a monopoly that can frighten other countries. But four years later, Russia carried out its own test followed by the United Kingdom in 1952, France, two years later and China in 1964.
As at June, 2019, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that Russia has 6,490 strategic nuclear warheads, United States, 6,185 France, 300, China, 290, United Kingdom, 200, Pakistan, 160, India, 140, Israel, 90 and North Korea, 20.
Iran has an on-going nuclear programme for which there is a shaky treaty. South Africa, Libya and Iraq were at various points thought to be developing nuclear programmes before dismantling them. Syria is suspected to have tried its hands on a nuclear capability. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine who as part of the defunct Soviet Union, had nuclear weapons, returned them to Russia. Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan are said to have shelved their nuclear weapons programmes.
Ironically, possessing hundreds of nuclear warheads is illogical and a great burden partly because even in a nuclear war scenario, only some would be needed. In their joint research, Michigan Technological University Professor, Joshua Pearce and David Denkenberger, Assistant Professor at Tennessee State University who is also Director of Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters, wrote: “The results found that 100 nuclear warheads is adequate for nuclear deterrence in the worst case scenario, while using more than 100 nuclear weapons by any aggressor nation (including the best positioned strategically to handle the unintended consequences) even with optimistic assumptions (including no retaliation) would cause unacceptable damage to their own society.”
The Americans between 1940 and 1988 spent $5 trillion developing and maintaining nuclear weapons and has budgeted $1.2 trillion on its nuclear weapons in the next three decades. The nine nuclear countries expend $12 million every hour on these weapons. On this, Pope Francis argued: “In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven.”
The Pope’s main message was not merely to repeat the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki whose near deletion from the surface of the earth 74 years ago (before their rebuilding) has come to symbolize the extent human beings can go, and the criminal use science has been put. Rather, it is to show the illogicality in the nuclear arms race. He characterized as perverse, the claims by some world leaders that nuclear weapons can be a deterrence. To him, possessing or deploying atomic weapons is ungodly. He argued that: “Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction, or the threat of total annihilation.”
He told the world: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral. As is the possession of atomic weapons…A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere.”
While urging the resumption of talks especially between the two leading nuclear powers, the Pope said: “No one can be indifferent to the pain of millions of men and women whose sufferings trouble our consciences today. No one can turn a deaf ear to the plea of our brothers and sisters in need. No one can turn a blind eye to the ruin caused by a culture incapable of dialogue.”
Interestingly, during the Second World War, it was the Germans, not the Americans that worked speedily towards building a nuclear weapon which Wikipedia described as: “ an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or from a combination of fission and fusion reactions. Both bomb types release large quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter.”
Three German scientists, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassman in 1938, discovered nuclear fission. They discovered that the uranium atom, when bombarded by neutrons, split. It was this discovery that was used to build the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Nazi Germany might have produced the bomb had its scientists worked as a single team, rather than being grouped into three different competing teams.
Had Nazi Germany been able to prolong World War II, used their advantage to produce the first atomic bomb, and was willing to use it as the Americans were, the result of that war might have been different; the Nazi German axis, would have won the Second World War.
It is unlikely that the nuclear power countries would be receptive to the anti-nuclear campaigns of the Pope. They live in mutual suspicion and fear of themselves. Given the mutually assured destruction of a nuclear war, there is more a danger of an accidental, rogue or deranged use of nuclear weapons than a deliberate one. As I write, I recall Bob Marley’s Redemption Song: “Have no fear for atomic energy ‘Cause none of them can stop the time”