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Hiroshima marks 75th A-bomb anniversary

  • Category
    World History
  • Published
    13th Aug, 2020

The city of Hiroshima in western Japan marks the 75th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack

Context

The city of Hiroshima in western Japan marks the 75th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack

Background

  • The United States dropped the first atomic bomb (the uranium bomb known as “Little Boy”) on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying the city.
  • By the end of 1945, about 140,000 people — mostly civilians, and around 40% of the city's population prior to the attack — had died either in the blast or as a result of aftereffects. 
  • The US dropped a second bomb ( “Fat Man,” a plutonium bomb) three days later on the southern city of Nagasaki, which is estimated to have claimed a further 74,000 lives in 1945 alone. 
  • Japan declared its surrender days later, on August 15, 1945, ending World War II and, more broadly, its aggression toward Asian neighbors that had lasted nearly half a century.
  • The device that exploded over Hiroshima destroyed about two –third of the city’s structures.
  • The atomic bombing of Japan was a hugely significant final act of the most destructive global conflict in human history.
  • Simultaneously, it signalled the dawn of the atomic age, the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union and - before too long - the cold war.

Analysis

Why did the US drop the bomb?

  • Japan was a fierce enemy of the US and its allies, Britain, China and the Soviet Union during World War II. 
  • By 1945, the allies had turned the tide of the war and pushed the Japanese forces back from many locations.
  • The decision to take nuclear action against Japan is widely justified as a measure designed to end World War Two and thus save countless livesthat might otherwise have been lost in battle.
  • The atomic assaults were viewed by the US as a swift alternative to an ongoing Allied attempt to invade Japan, a plan that had so far proved unnervingly messy.
  • The Japanese had publicly stated their intent to fight to the bitter end, and were using tactics such as kamikaze attacks, suicide attacks by Japanese fighter pilots against US warships. 
  • In July 1945, US President Harry Truman and allies demanded the "immediate and unconditional"surrender of Japan, but Japan did not issue  a clear response.
  • Shortly after, the US attacked Hiroshima, chosen because it was seen as a "strategically sound" target based on calculations around weather conditions, aircraft range, military impact and the impact on "enemy morale"

Why was Hiroshima chosen as a target?

  • Hiroshima was a major Japanese military hub with factories, military bases and ammunition facilities.
  • Historians say the United States picked it as a suitable target because of its size and landscape, and carefully avoided fire bombing the city ahead of time so American officials could accurately assess the impact of the atomic attack.
  • The United States said the bombings hastened Japan’s surrender and prevented the need for a U.S. invasion of Japan.
  • Some historians today say Japan was already close to surrendering, but there is still debate in the U.S.

What effect did radiation have?

  • Many people exposed to radiation developed symptoms such as vomiting and hair loss. Most of those with severe radiation symptoms died within three to six weeks.
  • Others who lived beyond that developed health problems related to burns and radiation-induced cancers and other illnesses.
  • The impact of the bomb was so terrific that practically all living things - human and animal - were literally seared to death by the tremendous heat and pressure set up by the blast.
  • Thousands more died from their injuries, radiation sickness and cancer in the years that followed, bringing the toll closer to 200,000. 
  • But the damage did not end there. The radiation released from the explosion kept causing suffering.
  • Five to six years after the bombings, the incidence of leukaemia increased noticeablyamong survivors. After about a decade, survivors began suffering from thyroid, breast, lung and other cancers at higher than normal rates.
  • Survivors have a higher risk of developing cataracts and cancer. About 136,700 people certified as “hibakusha,” as victims are called, under a government support program are still alive and entitled to regular free health checkups and treatment.
  • Health monitoring of second-generation hibakusha began recently.
  • Japan’s government provided no support for victims until a law was finally enacted in 1957 under pressure from them.

What is an atomic bomb?

  • An atomis the basic unit of matter. The nucleus of an atom is made of smaller particles called protons and neutrons. Other atomic particles called electrons surround the nucleus.
  • Elementsare the simplest chemical substances and consist of atoms that all have the same number of protons.
  • In the 1930s, scientists showed that nuclear energycould be released from an atom, either by splitting the nucleus (fission) or fusing two smaller atoms to form a larger one (fusion).
  • As the second world war erupted, intense research focused on how to artificially inducenuclear fission by firing a free neutron into an atom of radioactive uranium or plutonium.
  • Through their efforts, scientists found a way to induce a chain reactionwithin a bomb that would generate an unprecedented amount of energy.
  • An atomic bomb causes massive destruction through intense heat, pressure, radiation and radioactive fallout. At the hypocentre (centre of the blast), the heat is so intense, it vaporises

How the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Changed the World?

  • Whether or not the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be viewed as a horrific necessity or an ethically indefensible aberration, it’s impossible to deny the powerful historic precedent that they set.
  • By granting the world a terrifying vision of the apocalyptic horror that nuclear warfare can inflict, the strikes on Japan have cast a long shadow over the last seven decades.
  • The bombing was only a small part of the overall coverage of World War II (or barely mentioned at all).
  • It was the start of the Cold War.

Can the world afford any future nuclear war?

  • If a nuclear weapon were to be detonated over a city today, first responders - hospitals, firemen, aid organisations - would simply be unable to help.
  • Nuclear weapons are depicted as so inhumane as to justify global prohibition of their production, retention or use.
  • Any futurenuclear warfare is predicted to have far more severe humanitarian and environmental consequences than the 1945 strikes on Japan.

The ‘World’ 75 years later

  • There are growing tensions between global powers.
    • Relations between Russia and the US, the two nuclear superpowers, are under significant strain and both are modernising their nuclear arsenals.
    • Meanwhile, strategic competition between the US and China has sparked fears of a new cold war. There are a range of disputes between the two countries which could lead to a further deterioration in relations.
  • At the same time, international arms control and disarmament mechanisms have begun to unravel.
  • In 2019, the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which had banned nuclear-capable, land-launched missiles with a range between 500km and 5,500km, accusing Russia of non-compliance.
  • The US also withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed mutual surveillance of each country’s territories.
  • The New Start agreement, the last remaining limit on US and Russia arsenals, is set to expire in February 2021. While it’s positive that negotiations have begun, it is not at all clear the treaty will be extended.
  • There has been little progress on other arms control and global disarmament initiatives.
  • There have also been challenges to nuclear non-proliferation. The withdrawal of the US from the nuclear accord with Iran was a step backwards that has undermined efforts to avert nuclear proliferation in the region.
  • Efforts to dissuade North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons have failed, with the country having conducted six nuclear warhead tests since 2006.

Is the world ready for ‘Denuclearisation’?

  • Seventy-five years later, the long-term goal of a nuclear weapon-free world remains a distant aspiration and there are several reasons to think that the level of nuclear weapons-related risk is rising.
  • Though, denuclearisation advocacy has also been taken up globally in recent years.
  • In 2017, the Nobel Peace Prizewas awarded to ICAN - the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – which successfully lobbied the UN General Assembly to hold a conference to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
  • The text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weaponswas adopted by 122 states in 2017.
  • States that wish to become parties to the treaty must commit to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. As of today, 60 states have signedthe treaty, and of those, 13 have ratified it. Thirty-seven more ratifications are needed to make the treaty binding.
  • However, noneof the nine nuclear powers (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) support the ban.
  • Australia’s refusal to endorsethe ban is tied to this political reality. It is one of 30 “nuclear-weapon-endorsing-states” who rely on the nuclear “protection” of allies.
  • The government argues for a “building blocks” approach instead, favouring incremental steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Counting the nuclear warheads

  • The number of nuclear warheads has dropped from a peak of around 70,000 in the mid-1980s to about 14,000 today.
  • But in the past 25 years, India, Pakistan and North Korea have established themselves as nuclear states
  • China has expanded its modest arsenal.
  • The United States and Russia — far and away the largest nuclear powers — have begun extricating themselves from treaties that have bound them since the end of the Cold War. 92% of these weapons are held by the US and Russia.
  • The people of Japan, very recently, have had legitimate cause to fear the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

What the world needs to do?

  • Re-energising the agenda: Given the rising tensions and uncertainty, there is an urgent need to re-energise the global nuclear non-proliferation agenda and reduce the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. This is why Labour will place arms control and non-proliferation efforts at the heart of its foreign policy commitment to peace-building.
  • Similar political commitments: Addressing rising nuclear risk requires the same political commitment and statecraft that achieved disarmament breakthroughs in the past.
  • Completing commitments: Members must look to finally complete the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Any testing of nuclear weapons has the potential to undo much of the progress we have seen on arms control over the last 60 years. Under a Labour government, the UK ratified the CTBT but currently France and Russia are the only other nuclear-armed states to have ratified it. Britain should become a renewed advocate for the treaty.
  • Strengthening the NPT: In the same vein, the global powers must look to strengthen the NPT.
    • Turning 50 this year, the NPT is the most important treaty in the history of nuclear disarmament, but there are important non-signatories outside the agreement.
    • The 2020 review conference for the treaty, which has been postponed due to Covid-19 to 2021, is an important opportunity to reinvigorate the multilateral disarmament agenda and address the lack of progress on the commitments made in 2010.

Conclusion

Today, after 75 years, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to work hard to ensure that the consequences of the atomic bombings are not lost to history. It reminds the world that nuclear weapons could unleash if used again. The responsible word demands and needs a ‘denuclearised future’.

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