Political activist Daniel Ellsberg said in a December 2020 speech that a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia would incinerate hundreds of millions of people immediately — then it would lead to a nuclear winter, which would slaughter another estimated 7 billion of the Earth’s 7.7 billion people, mostly through starvation. A U.S. nuclear first-strike against China would result in a similar catastrophe.
Building back civilization would require over 1,000 years.
Setsuko Thurlow was 13 years old when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on her hometown of Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945. She miraculously survived. Nine years later, on March 1, 1954, the U.S. tested a thermonuclear bomb on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands — a bomb that was more than 1,000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — that left radioactive deposits in the ocean sediment at the bomb crater. High levels of contamination remain today.
In the Marshall Islands the common greeting is “iakwe,” pronounced “yawk-way.” Literally translated, it means, “you are a rainbow,” which may be the most beautiful greeting in any language. Who in their right mind could conceive of bombing such an exquisite place? Or any place, for that matter?
That was it for Thurlow, who was then 23 years old. She made it her life’s work to tell her story and to call for global nuclear disarmament. She was a leading figure in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and in 2017 she gave a speech with Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s executive director, as they accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for “ICAN’s work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty based prohibition of such weapons.”
But today, nine nations threaten to incinerate entire cities, to destroy life on earth, to make our beautiful world uninhabitable for future generations. I agree with Thurlow that “the development of nuclear weapons signifies not a country’s elevation to greatness, but its descent to the darkest depths of depravity. These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil.”
The U.S. is starting to replace all of its buried missiles with new ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) even though experts say that there is no militarily sound reason to build a new ICBM. This effort is after weapons contractors have spent vast sums of money in order to buy votes from members of Congress in states that host the missiles and air bases: Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Activists, politicians, lawyers, academics, scientists and members of Congress to the rescue! Let’s at least have a no-first-use policy: As a step toward reducing the danger of nuclear war, a coalition of groups has called upon Congress to legislate — and the President to declare — that the United States will neither initiate nor threaten to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons.