THE names sound colloquial and matey: Little Boy and Fat Man. But there was nothing friendly or informal about their purpose. Little Boy was the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima 70 years ago today. Three days later the more powerful Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki.
The arguments about whether or not these were right or moral actions have echoed through history ever since. There is no definitive answer to that question, even if there should be.
You only have to look at the archive photographs to gain a glimpse of the magnitude of what was perpetrated by the falling of those terrible bombs. A whole city reduced to little more than toxic dust and rubble, apart from bleached and blasted metal skeletons that once were buildings. And the human cost was terrible: an estimated 246,000 people were killed by the bombs or died in the aftermath, with long-reaching effects on health after that.
Another harmless-sounding name that was anything but was that given to the US research into atomic weapons: the Manhattan Project. This was led by Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos in New Mexico after fears of a Nazi bomb – research intensified following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Oppenheimer seems to have understood the monster he had unleashed, or at least that something unspeakable had been created. In 1945 he said: “If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima.”
One of the arguments in favour of nuclear weapons has always been that of deterrent. This rests on the weapons being so appalling that no one will ever use them: so their existence ‘secures’ peace. Let’s agree that this not the most comfortable argument ever put forward in the name of preserving mankind’s future.
Much more reassuring would be that nuclear weapons no longer existed at all – or had never been invented, but sadly you cannot undo what the past has already ordained.
The big scare story is always that of the rogue state, and that is indeed sobering: one hot-head state or even leader of a terrorist group unleashing a nuclear weapon. Perhaps just as alarming is that nine powers are known to have nuclear weapons: Russia leads the way with 8,420 atomic bombs, while the US follows with 7,650.
Great mushroom-clouding heavens – just imagine if Vladimir Putin really did take one final flip in an international slanging match with new US President Donald Trump. The only comfort in this crazy sketch of a scenario is that toxically bonkers Republican hopeful Trump is unlikely even to win his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. But it is scary in a James Bond manner.
Nuclear weapons truly are appalling, surely we can all nod our heads to that. Yet so are all weapons and the likelihood of man doing away with nuclear weapons or other means of slaughter is sadly very thin.
That is why we should all be peaceable instead of playing roughshod God with atomic weapons.