Hiroshima, the Doomsday Clock and the ever present spectre of nuclear annihilation

By James Moules

EARLIER this year, the Doomsday Clock was reset at 100 seconds to midnight – its closest approach to signalling armageddon since the clock’s inception.

Established in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the clock is meant to symbolise how close an apocalyptic event – most notably nuclear war – humanity finds itself.

How many minutes the clock is away from midnight denotes how close we are to Doomsday. The clock was rolled all the way back to 17 minutes to midnight at the end of the Cold War, marking its most distant point ever from a cataclysmic event.

Until this year, its closest pass was two minutes to midnight – a point at which it was set in 1953 and 2018.

It’s most recent setting suggests we are closed than ever to the end – and raises the question of how much we have learned from decades of facing nuclear annihilation.

Today marks 75 years since the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Along with the subsequent bombing of Nagasaki a few days later, it is one of the only two times that nuclear weapons have ever been used in warfare.

Two bombings combined caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians across both cities. Some died in the initial explosion. Others perished later due to the atomic blast’s after-effects, including radiation sickness.

After the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union (among other nations) stockpiled vast sums of nuclear weapons. The Cold War ensued, and the threat of global nuclear war loomed over the planet for most of the latter half of the twentieth century.

Many committed activists spend years campaigning for nuclear disarmament throughout this time – and many continue to this day.

Redaction Politics spoke to Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) about the haunting legacy of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

She said: “The bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively small in today’s terms but they killed hundreds of thousands of people in the most terrible circumstances – at the time and over subsequent years, affecting generations to come.

“The impact of nuclear weapons – in both human and environmental terms – is widely recognised. A nuclear war would kill millions, perhaps destroying the entire human race. The radioactive fallout would render parts, if not all, of the planet uninhabitable.

“There would be no place to run to, no place to hide; in the event of a nuclear war, you may escape the blast but you cannot shut the door on radiation. It will poison and destroy, bringing sickness, cancers, birth deformities and death.

“Currently the global stockpiles are sufficient to destroy the world as we know it many times over. This is not an acceptable situation and we must step up our work, particularly in our crisis-ridden dangerous world, to achieve global nuclear abolition.”

As of 2020, there are five recognised nuclear weapons states – the USA, Russia, the UK, France and the People’s Republic of China.

In addition, India, Pakistan and North Korea also possess atomic weapons, and Israel is also widely understood to possess a nuclear arsenal.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament campaigns for the abolition of both the UK’s nuclear arsenal and nuclear disarmament across the globe.

Ms Hudson said: “Our decades of mass protest have helped in a number of ways to prevent further nuclear use, but cautioned that, in spite of the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war and the need for further activism was not over.

“The hands of the Doomsday Clock are now at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest they have ever been to catastrophe, even at the height of the cold war. So we are in a very dangerous situation.”

At the height of the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union each possessed arsenals of tens of thousands of warheads.

In July 1991, US President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which curbed the number of nuclear weapons held by the two superpowers.

A second START treaty was signed in 2010 by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.

While these treaties severely cut the number of nuclear weapons from the Cold War peak, both Russia and the USA still maintain thousands of nuclear weapons.

The UK currently possesses a sea-based nuclear weapons based programme called Trident. In 2016, the British Parliament voted to renew the deterrent.

Regarding the UK situation, Ms Hudson said: “We have two priority campaigns: firstly to get rid of the UK’s nuclear weapons system, Trident, and secure cancellation of its replacement which is currently being built,” adding, “there is such great global risk from nuclear weapons, a new vision is needed from government, not just repeating Cold War mantras about ‘the deterrent’ as if it isn’t a terrible weapon of mass destruction.”

The CND has organised numerous events to commemorate the two bombings. Find out more here.

Featured Image: Public Domain

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