When Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said she’d press the nuclear button during the July 18 vote on Trident, what does that mean on the 71st anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing? Trident Part 2. Trident Part 1.
During the Trident debate on 18 July, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May emphatically declared “Yes” to the question of whether “she personally [is] prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children“.
Today, 6 August, is the 71st anniversary of the first use of a nuclear weapon. Over 140,000 people died when the code-named “Little Boy” uranium bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima in 1945.
In the House of Commons debate, Chris Law, one of the 56 Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs who voted against the government motion to replace Trident, noted that “no one in this House truly knows what it is like to experience the horror, shock, pain and loss, and the complete devastation, of a nuclear strike”.
He recalled a survivor from the Hiroshima bombing, Setsuko Thurlow, who visited Scotland in May, after speaking at the United Nations Working Group on multilateral disarmament in Geneva. “She could be our mother, our grandmother, our aunt or our sister. She told us that in the final year of war in Japan, when she was 13 years old, the first thing she remembers of the bomb hitting was a blue-white light and her body being thrown up into the air. She was in a classroom of 14-year-olds, every one of whom died; she was the only survivor. As the dust settled and she crawled out of that building, she made out some figures walking towards her. She described them as walking ghosts, and when some of them fell to the ground, their stomachs, which were already expanded and full, fell out. Others had skin falling off them, and others still were carrying limbs. One was carrying their eyeballs in their hands. So when I hear the Prime Minister today say that she was would be satisfied to press the button on hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, I ask her to go and see Setsuko Thurlow—I am sure she would be delighted to have a discussion about what it is really like to experience a nuclear bomb. That in itself should be the complete reason why we do not replace Trident.”
The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was 8 times smaller than the 100 kiloton nuclear warheads deployed on Trident. And even after the “reductions” that Theresa May spoke about the UK taking, each of the new submarines is intended to carry 40 warheads. So, to get this into perspective, if the Prime Minister authorised one UK submarine to fire all its nuclear weapons, it would be 320 Hiroshimas. Since most of the chosen targets are in or near cities, the order to fire could cause an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe to 320 cities, most of them bigger than Hiroshima. Her order would be to kill millions, not just 100,000. And potentially unleash years of “nuclear winter” and global famine.
The impacts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with updated studies on the humanitarian risks and consequences of nuclear detonations in today’s world have come to dominate recent UN talks, with the majority of governments now arguing the need for negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons. These UN-based multilateral efforts were raised during the Trident debate by the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, along with SNP and Green MPs. But their interventions were mocked or drowned out by the majority who seemed stuck in a Cold War time warp.
The new Prime Minister appeared at first to want to engage with the arguments, posing several questions on need, costs, alternatives and disarmament, including “in the light of the evolving nature of the threats that we face, is a nuclear deterrent really still necessary and essential?” She delivered her prepared speech with confidence, but this could not hide the fact that her sturdy defence of current UK nuclear positioning illustrated the out-dated defence and foreign policy model on which the decision to renew Trident relies.
What was needed was a critical appraisal of the evidence and implications relevant to her own questions. Instead, the Prime Minister resorted to attacking the patriotism of those who raised alternative perspectives, as when Green MP Caroline Lucas invited her to consider that if “keeping and renewing nuclear weapons” were vital to Britain’s national security then it would be logical for all other states to get them.
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