Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, are the only two cities in the world which have ever been attacked with atomic bombs. It was 1945 and World War II was almost over. Japan was a defeated nation but it was feared it would defend its homeland from invasion to the very last soldier. The US already had 1.25 million battle casualties in the wars against Japan and Germany. It had now developed two types of atomic bombs and it was decided to use them – in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – in the hope that they would convince the Japanese it would be futile to keep fighting.
A nuclear bomb using uranium-235 called “Little Boy”was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, on August 9, a more powerful bomb using plutonium called “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki. The two bombs killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians. About half of the deaths in both cities occurred on the first day. Many died for months afterwards from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by sickness and malnutrition. Japan surrendered on August 15, six days after Nagasaki.
Last Sunday, Pope Francis visited the two cities, 74 years after that devastation, prayed at the sites of those powerful blasts that began the nuclear age, and called for a ban on all nuclear weapons. There was a treaty for such a ban in 2017 that was supported by two-thirds of the United Nations members, but opposed by the nuclear powers, who believe that nuclear deterrence is helping avert conventional war.
As of early 2019, according to the Federation of American Scientists, nine nations led by the US and Russia still had a total of 13,890 nuclear warheads, of which 1,800 are deployed on “high alert,” ready for use on short notice. They may indeed be deterring nuclear war between the US and Russia, because each of the two is capable of such massive retaliation that would wipe out the other nation from the face of the earth. The other nations with nuclear weapons are France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea – all believing they need their bombs to deter their own enemies.
It may indeed be impossible to achieve any total ban on nuclear weapons because of the present state of international relations so dominated by fear and distrust. But we continue to look to leaders like Pope Francis who sees beyond the national interests of nuclear powers and believes that a truly nuclear-free world is possible under God.