Saturday, May 28, 2016
Business Recorder editorial May 28, 2016
Obama's Hiroshima tryst Seventy one years ago, the world was rudely awakened to a holocaust ushered in by a horrific mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. A few days later, the mass carnage was repeated in Nagasaki. The death toll in Hiroshima alone was 130,000 people, thousands incinerated instantly, the rest dying painful deaths from burns and radiation over weeks, months and years. Along with Nagasaki, the total death toll was 200,000 people. Never before in history had this number of civilian non-combatants been obliterated in the blink of an eye, nor so many left to die slowly and painfully later. Since then, the US had never seen fit to apologise for this massacre, seeking to justify it by arguments about Japan's unwillingness to surrender. Others argue all the signs of an imminent surrender were visible, therefore the atomic bombs were dropped as an assertion of power in the post-Second World War world with an eye to the resurgent Soviet Union. Whatever the truth, successive US presidents have shied away from an admission of guilt reflected in an apology. President Barack Obama's visit, the first by a US president, diplomatically avoided any apology while explicating the human tragedy represented by the bombings and arguing for recognition of the potential demonstrated at Hiroshima of mankind having acquired the terrible means for its destruction. While the sentiment is laudable and in line with Obama's initial election pledge to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons, things have unfortunately turned out exactly the opposite since. In 2009 in a speech in Prague, Obama had reiterated his call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, a speech for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but his administration has since all but abandoned the idea. The US currently spends $ four million an hour on maintaining its nuclear arsenal (which, along with Russia's, constitutes 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world) and the Obama administration proposes to spend $ one trillion over the next 30 years to expand and modernise it. This will no doubt give rise to a fresh nuclear race and encourage smaller powers to attain or embellish their nuclear capability. While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have been justified in calling the carefully calibrated visit "courageous", China and North Korea differed. The former acknowledged the remembrance of Hiroshima as justified, but said the Nanjing massacre of 300,000 people over a six-week killing spree by invading Japanese troops in 1937 was far worse. North Korea condemned the visit as the "height of hypocrisy and impudence" and a naked attempt to castigate it for its nuclear weapons development, while both countries saw the visit's agenda as casting Japan as a victim rather than an aggressor. Time and distance may resolve these conflicting views but for us the terrible implications of nuclear weapons have yet to sink in. Pakistan casts its nuclear weapons development as a defensive measure against India's initiation of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent, and while there is truth in that argument, it does not help matters. Both countries are contemplating the development of a second strike capability and tactical nuclear weapons, developments that can only lower the threshold of the unthinkable use of these weapons of mass murder. Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) should remind us even this far from those terrible events in 1945 that nuclear weapons are unusable, and as deterrents, run the concomitant risk of states testing the below nuclear conflict threshold. If proof is needed, one only has to cast an eye on post-1998 (the year of India and then Pakistan carrying out nuclear tests) conflicts such as Kargil (1999), the attack on the Indian parliament and subsequent sabre rattling (2001-02) and the Mumbai (2008) and Pathankot (2016) attacks. Mercifully, both countries were spared escalation of these events to the nuclear threshold, but playing this Russian roulette cannot continue indefinitely at the risk of mutual destruction. Along with the world, Pakistan and India too have to work for peaceful resolution of differences and an end to the terror of the mushroom cloud.