Tomorrow is Hiroshima Day: the 76th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of the Japanese city Hiroshima. It is a somber annual reminder that too few Americans let pass without a second thought: a reminder of one of the most vicious, destructive, and world-changing actions the United States has ever committed. The moral legitimacy and strategic necessity of using the atomic bomb in war has been debated since even before the weapon was completed in 1945, but much of the recent scholarship concludes that the primary motivation for using the bomb on primarily civilian targets in Japan came from political expediency and racist ideas of the Japanese. As of January 22 of this year, nuclear weapons are illegal under international law: that includes prohibitions on developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, deploying, and using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia combined possess over 12,000 nuclear weapons, more than 90% of those in the world. All of the countries presently possessing nuclear weapons are now in violation of international law, but the United States has a unique responsibility among the nuclear-armed nations to dismantle its nuclear weapons and commit to a future free of nuclear weapons: the United States is the first and only country to ever use nuclear weapons in war.
Since at least the beginning of the Cold War, the economy in southeastern Connecticut has been heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex. General Dynamics: Electric Boat (EB) in New London and Groton is the 6th largest military contractor in the country, and has been designing and building nuclear-armed submarines for decades. Despite the outsized importance of EB in New London County’s economy, the company does not appreciably benefit the vast majority of residents — the City of New London’s median income is less than $36,000 per year, while CEO of EB Phebe Novakovic earned nearly $19 million in 2020. In fact, it was EB’s production of the Polaris subs, the first to carry nuclear weapons in the world, that brought the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) to the region in 1960. Two years later, as they continued their opposition to the growing nuclear weapons industry, the CNVA established the Voluntown Peace Trust.
One common argument employees of Electric Boat often repeat is that EB does not build nuclear weapons; they merely build the delivery system. But how reasonable is this argument? Did the EB workers reach this conclusion on their own or is this argument part of the corporate culture? Is this argument taught to workers as the official company line? To take an example from another chapter of Connecticut’s history: while Colt did not produce ammunition, no one can reasonably claim that the company’s manufacture of its famous revolvers and rifles wasn’t a part of the firearms industry. Those guns were made to serve no other practical purpose than to shoot specific ammunition; so, too, are the modern submarines being built at EB. But while bullets can only usually strike one or two targets each, the modern nuclear weapons delivery system on the new Columbia-class submarines is designed to hold up to 16 Trident D-5 missiles, with each missile capable of carrying up to 14 W-76-1 thermonuclear warheads. Each of those warheads possess six times the destructive force as what the United States detonated over Hiroshima in 1945. Therefore, due to the way that multiple warheads are bundled into bigger missiles, the modern submarine-based nuclear weapons delivery system is specifically designed to launch multiple, city-destroying nuclear weapons at once. As Frida Berrigan recently concluded in a recent op-ed in New London’s The Day: “Multiply 12 times 16 times 14 times 6 and the potential carnage is almost unfathomable. The best way to understand the Columbia class submarine, then, is as a $100 billion-plus initiative that aims to deliver 16,128 Hiroshimas.”
Many Americans think that they understand nuclear weapons. We’ve seen the iconic photographs of the mushroom cloud and of the ghostly black shadows where people close to the epicenter were vaporized, seen the shockwave on TV and in movies, perhaps even deployed such weapons in video games. But nothing, not even the actual historical examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, can fully convey the sheer devastation and suffering a nuclear detonation would have on a modern city today. First of all, a modern city relies much more on its infrastructure than even 76 years ago. A thermonuclear detonation over a modern city would be very much like several natural disasters at once, except far worse: buildings, bridges, roads, and essential infrastructure collapse like in an earthquake; a blast of wind shatters windows as far as 12 miles away and sends the lethal debris at unsuspecting bystanders; fires suddenly appear across the city at once as people begin burning alive and gas stations start exploding with no warning; if the city is lucky, the mushroom cloud will merely begin to rain down tarry, radioactive sludge; if the city is unlucky, the mushroom cloud will turn into a firestorm. Secondly, scientists and military leadership now know that after most nuclear detonations, anyone who enters the affected area within two weeks of the detonation will likely receive a lethal dose of radiation. This means that after a nuclear detonation, no doctors, nurses, firefighters, emergency response personnel of any kind, not even the military — no one will come to help for at least two weeks.
The significance of the radiation’s effect and the two-week nuclear quarantine period cannot be overstated. In every other kind of massive disaster, outside help is feasible and even expected. Such help is impossible in the two weeks after a nuclear detonation, and no government on Earth has a practical, aid-oriented planned response to such an event. Meanwhile during those two weeks, thousands will remain trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, while thousands more with their clothes melted into their skin will wander the streets looking for food and water. Within the two weeks, still more thousands will have died from radiation sickness, physical injuries, and sheer exhaustion.
Such a horrifying event is not simply possible; if we do not dismantle all nuclear weapons on Earth, it is inevitable. In some city someday, this will happen if we continue on the present path. It is naive to think that such a thing wouldn’t happen in New London County either; the very fact that Electric Boat is the US Navy’s primary submarine manufacturer, as well as the presence of Naval Submarine Base New London just upriver makes the region a key military target. Though the Hiroshima victims and the hibakusha (“explosion affected people”) are fading from living memory, we must never stop retelling their stories. But as long as nuclear weapons — and the tailor-made means to deliver them — are held by the United States, we as Americans have a unique responsibility to pressure our government to be rid of them. And as residents of New London County, we have a double-responsibility to honestly examine how the products of our local economy will eventually, inevitably cause the unthinkable level of death, devastation, and suffering inherent in a nuclear attack.
If you are concerned about nuclear weapons and live near New London, CT, consider joining the CT Committee on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons tomorrow, August 6 at the corners of Howard and Bank Streets in downtown New London. We will be there from 3p-5p to honor the victims of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as well as to educate the public about the new illegality of nuclear weapons. See the Facebook event page for more info and to RSVP: https://fb.me/e/D33GQsIP
You can also sign petitions to pressure our government to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, like this one: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/support-the-nuclear-weapons-ban-treaty
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Berrigan, Frida. “On Friday, ‘Say no to nuclear weapons.’” The Day. 1 August 2021 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.theday.com/article/20210801/OP03/210809975
“Electric Boat History.” General Dynamics: Electric Boat. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. http://www.gdeb.com/about/history/
“Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance.” Arms Control Association. August 2020 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat
“Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.” United Nations: Office of Disarmament Affairs. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/tpnw/
Wellerstein, Alex. “Nukemap.” Nuclear Secrecy. [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/
“What if We Nuke a City?” Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell. 13 October 2019 [Accessed 4 August 2021]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iPH-br_eJQ
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