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Hiroshima and Transfiguration

  • 13 August 2019


In the Catholic calendar the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing and the Feast of the Transfiguration occur on the same day. The conjunction illuminates both events. One, recalling the revelation of Jesus' relationship to God, is a feast of light; the other, recalling man's inhumanity to man, speaks of darkness. Both are pointers to possible human futures — one of glory and the other of annihilation. The history of nuclear weapons and recent developments present this choice even more starkly.

When the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima with the loss of about 150,000 lives only one nation possessed the nuclear bomb. A few years later Britain, France and Russia had also developed nuclear weapons. China, India, Israel, Pakistan and, briefly, South Africa soon followed. By then the destructive force of thermonuclear weapons had greatly increased. The largest device ever tested destroyed an area with a radius of 100km, more than ten times greater than that of the first weapons.

During the Cold War the possession of nuclear weapons was seen as a deterrent: their use would be met by massive retaliation and risked the destruction of both societies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union treaties limiting nuclear testing and reducing the number of nuclear weapons were signed, and efforts made to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty signed with Iran was part of this policy. The goal of these efforts was eventually to produce a world free of nuclear weapons, a Utopian hope but one that provided some reassurance that national leaders recognised their danger to humanity.

More recently the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons still held has not diminished. But the consensus militating against their use has weakened. North Korean leaders' determination to develop nuclear weapons of its own has exposed the hypocrisy of combining the justification of deterrence with opposition to proliferation. They realised that their only defence against possible attack lay in developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

The United States then disowned the treaty signed by its previous president with Iran, so encouraging Iran to expand its nuclear program. Now it has decided to withdraw from the intermediate range nuclear forces agreement with Russia. In Australia, as spring approaches, voices are heard spruiking the merits of nuclear power and the development of nuclear weapons.

This combination of the unilateral repudiation of agreements to curb the development and use of nuclear weapons and the sole emphasis