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Remember Hiroshima as US nixes treaties



The announcement that the USA was withdrawing from treaties limiting the nuclear arms race is a cause for concern. It may feel justified in doing this because Russia has apparently not honoured its commitments. If Russia has been at fault, then this most likely reflects weaknesses in the compliance mechanisms rather than the treaty is unworkable.

Bombings of Hiroshima and NagasakiThe timing of the announcement seems particularly unfortunate, coming as it did just a few days before 6 August. This is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

The anniversary remains important because it serves as a reminder that nuclear weapons have been used and that they could be used again. Regardless of debates about whether extreme measures were needed to defeat Japan in the Pacific War, we need to remember that tens of thousands of civilians died either quickly or excruciatingly slowly as a result of that event.

The victors in that war wrote the histories and so it is hardly surprising that the bombing of Hiroshima — and of Nagasaki a few days later — was seen as an end rather than as a beginning. Some critics have argued that one purpose of the bombing was to demonstrate US superiority to the Russians.

Indisputable facts about the arms race remain. In terms of the kiloton in nuclear arsenals, today nuclear weapons have the potential to deliver destruction equivalent to a million Hiroshimas.

The arms race has impoverished the world in terms of the opportunities lost to address poverty, hunger and disease and so to ameliorate the causes of instability. Nuclear weapons and general arms races have contributed to the distrust between east and west. Lazy leaders in the world's richest countries trade on the distrust of others implicit in armaments.

While some world leaders might complain about fake news, they engage in propaganda campaigns of their own. Of course the horrors perpetrated in the USA on 911 should be remembered. However the number of deaths involved ought to be kept in perspective.


"We should be using our convenient location to pressure the USA to strengthen arms treaties, not abandon them."


One way of doing this is to remember the greater numerical losses at Hiroshima. In both cases, those inflicting the damage reckoned they had justification. There was nothing moral about what happened on 911. The usual moral argument offered for bombing Hiroshima is one of proportionality — that it saved more lives than it cost. Any appeal to numbers implies that Hiroshima was a more important event than 911.

We should all be consulted via the UN before alterations are made to nuclear treaties. We are all closely affected by the actions of the world's great powers.

In the 1980s New Zealand, a major sponsor of a nuclear free Pacific, made a courageous stand by insisting that the US reveal whether its visiting warships were nuclear armed. The US refusal resulted in the effective end of the ANZUS treaty. New Zealand also campaigned against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll and Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior was sunk by French saboteurs in Auckland Harbour.

New Zealand's actions show that we are not obliged to court favour with powerful allies. The USA makes decisions based on its national interests, not ours. Australia has been fortunate that generally, their interests and ours coincide. Nevertheless Australian governments have deceived domestic populations to follow the USA into wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, the USA has apparently decided unilaterally to expand its presence in the north of Australia and our government seems to have taken the rest of us for granted. We should be using our convenient location to pressure the USA to strengthen arms treaties, not abandon them.

Australia as an advocate for world peace? It could happen, but not if we forget the lessons of Hiroshima.



Tony Smith headshotDr Tony Smith is a former political science academic with interests in elections, parliament and political ethics.

Topic tags: Tony Smith, Hiroshima, nuclear weapons, Russia, United States



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Existing comments

The interesting thing about nuclear weapons is that whoever uses them first wins the war - something with which the Japanese people would almost certainly agree!

john frawley | 06 August 2019  

HBO series on Chernobyl should be compulsory viewing for all decision makers on our nuclear future.

Bruce Pennay | 07 August 2019  

I totally agree with you Tony. Our slavish involvement in Vietnam ( I was a conscript) , Afghanistan and Iraq have shown the danger of following the U.S. without caution. New Zealand's courageous action demonstrate we can survive alone. Neutrality IS an option. John, I assume you have heard the terms "MAD" ( Mutual Assured Destruction) and "Nuclear Winter"; where a nuclear exchange fills the atmosphere with smoke and dust, plunging the Earth into a glacial climate , ending photosynthesis, the basis of present life and human survival. There are NO winners in a nuclear exchange. Civilization kaput!

Gavin A. O'Brien | 07 August 2019  

DrTony, with China muscling into our ports and utility infrastructure, our water rights, farms, transport infrastructure, mines and real estate, and with their recent belligerent posturing and lieing about militarising the South China Sea, we need the USA as an ally we can trust. That's not to say Truman was wrong in ordering the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was serious overkill, especially against innocent civilians. But Japan's WW2 brutality and Banzai pride, their attack on Pearl, their slaughter of millions in Nanjing. Their rape of the Phillipines, they brought it on themselves. Truman didnt realize the far reaching consequences of the atomic bomb. China is now openly verbally threatening Australia if the USA deploys medium rage missiles here. They think they can do what they like. How many missiles have they deployed in the South China Sea? What about their new military bases in the Antarctic? Their belligerence against Taiwan? Tibet has never been avenged. They have bought 76 ports around the world. It just goes on. If ever there was a plan of conquest by stealth, it is epitomised by China. China doesnt give a toss about treaties as they signed the Antarctic treaty in 1985.

Francis Armstrong | 07 August 2019  

I wish I had a remedy in my head, but all I can do is volunteer a highly subjective analysis. Since the rise of the so-called "neo-conservatives" and their think tanks, the US's Republican elites (quite unlike the military, by paradox) have succumbed to the illusion of invincibility and the divine inevitability of Pax Americana. But, as Jacob Bronowski observed in the final chapter of "The Ascent of Man", culturally, morally and otherwise the West in general (consequently its US component) has not been given any guarantees of hegemonic longevity that Egypt, Assyria and Rome were not given. The US looks to be approaching moral and political dccline rapidly. At least, the precedent of umpteen defunct empires points that way. If the environment doesn't do for us in Australia within the next one hundred years, our unthinking and UNCRITICAL betting on enduring US global dominance (calling it "leadership" would be an abuse of language) will. I don't give much for Hockey and the current Canberra regime he speaks for, talking frankly to Trump as friends should. Trump's US of today is the antithesis of Roosevelt's and even Truman's US which - with the Russians' largely ignored sacrifices - dispatched the Axis and then helped Europe and Japan rebuild. The US of today is an I'm-all-right-Jack entity whose truculence dwarfs that of Bush Jr and Reagan together.

Fred Green | 07 August 2019  

Thank you to Dr Tony Smith for a very thoughtful and pertinent article about the US pulling out of treaties to reduce nuclear weapons just prior to Hiroshima Day It should cause thinking Australians to reflect on the alliance with the US at a time when it is making military challenges towards China - our major trading partner - while it has troops on our soil and getting us more involved in US war games in the region. In addition, we know that the US base at Pine Gap has already been used in conflicts in other parts of the world and is used to target US killer drones. These facts make parts of Australia possible nuclear targets in the event of hostilities between the US and other nations, We must remember that the US is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against civilian populations and that there is great historical doubt as to whether these bombings were necessary. Many are not aware that US Generals Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and Brigadier General Carter Clark along with Admirals Chester Nimitz (the admiral for the US Pacific Fleet) and William Leahy (President Truman's Chief of Staff) all opposed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan was not a military necessity, but was a grim political tactic to demonstrate US military power and to deter any Soviet military ambitions. At the time, the Red Army had 1.5 million troops poised to attack the Manchurian region controlled by Imperial Japan. We also need to recognise , as others have already, that US leaders have initiated more wars and toppled more governments since WW2 than any other nation. Our leaders have just complied with US bellicose policies. They should have learned from NZ leaders who withdrew their nation from ANZUS because the US refused to notify NZ when its warships with nuclear warheads were visiting their shores. I think it is crucial that Australia become a neutral, independent and non-aligned republic because it is too dangerous for us to be so reliant on the US for our security. Our leaders could play a much more positive role in world affairs by working actively for peace, human rights, fair dealings between nations and working more energetically to establish initiatives to control pollution and climate change.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 17 August 2019  

'regardless of debates..' I can't disregard those debates. We know history is written by victors who then justify anything. Now enough time has gone by we can access information which makes the 'moral argument' for 'proportionality', to do with the hypothetical number of lives saved compared to lives nuked out looks rotten to the foundations. This confusing article seems to start out by making a case that the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was regrettable but necessary and then goes on to insist we should not slavishly follow the US. If one was convinced by the first part of the article one might think "why on earth not?" After all if they were right then odds are they'll be right now, and anyway they have all the power in the world now and we are on their team and you cant pick and choose about which orders you'll obey in the military. Wouldn't work would it?

Jillian | 09 September 2019  

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