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On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On 9 August, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. As another anniversary of those events approaches, the newspapers will again carry articles and letters about this. Some will claim the bombs were necessary to end World War II and save the lives of many Allied troops who would have otherwise had to invade Japan. Others will claim that Japan was about to surrender anyway and the bombs were unnecessary. And yet others will claim that the bombs were just too horrible to be justified.
They all miss one very important result of the only nuclear bombs ever used in warfare: These were indeed the only two nuclear bombs ever used in warfare. Unlike any physicist's mathematics, unlike any controlled test, these two bombs proved how truly horrible nuclear weapons are. The first bomb proved that an atomic bomb could be used, and the second proved that the first was not a unique accident.
I had just celebrated my fourth birthday when the bombs were dropped. Obviously, I did not then understand their significance. Years later, when I was in high school and college, the threat of nuclear war remained an ever-present, unsettling cloud over my life and the lives of my friends. We knew that the slogan "Better dead than Red" of those who opposed any accommodation with the Soviet Union could indeed come true.
However, more than 65 years have passed since the bombs were used. No nation, no matter how provoked, has dared to use the bombs again. And nations have joined together to prevent "rogue regimes" from developing nuclear weapons. Tens of thousands (or even more than 100,000) died instantly in Japan when the bombs were last used; they might have been lucky, considering the suffering of those who died later. I thank them and President Truman for providing the necessary example that has prevented the threat of nuclear holocaust from becoming reality.
No, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were definitely not good. But some good came from their use: a general revulsion against using nuclear weapons again.
Five years after I originally wrote this commentary, India and Pakistan came very close to forgetting the lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, they too backed away from the brink of nuclear disaster. This is a lesson that should not ever again be taught. But it seems that world leaders do occasionally require reminding.
Now in 2011, even more nations either have or will soon have nuclear weapons. I pray that the world has not yet forgotten the lessons of 1945.
5 July 1997
Updated 12 July 2011
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