Humanity cannot survive a nuclear war

In the face of the threat of nuclear war, I echo the appeals of the UN Secretary General, Pope Francis, and world leaders like President Lula: De-escalation, diplomatic intervention, and an end to this brutal war. The longer the fighting continues, the more lives are lost, the more our fragile climate is destroyed, and the greater the threat of total annihilation becomes for all of us.

Humanity cannot survive a nuclear war

by Jeremy Corbyn

[This article posted on 8/6/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

The 78th anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9 is a reminder that the only way to prevent the catastrophe of a war waged with nuclear weapons is to abolish nuclear weapons once and for all.

“I can only pray – earnestly and tirelessly – for peace in the world.” Fujio Torikoshi was sitting at breakfast with his mother when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Feeling a rumble under his feet, Fujio stepped into the garden and saw a black dot in the sky. At that moment, the bomb exploded, filling the sky with a blinding white light.

The last thing he remembers is being lifted off the ground by a gust of hot wind. More than two kilometers from the hypocenter, Fujio woke up with a burning sensation on his face and arms and heard his mother calling his name. While being transported from one hospital to another, Fujio kept losing consciousness and was told that he would not live past twenty. Today, he is over 90 years old and still campaigning for a more peaceful world.

The testimonies of people like Fujio are often lost in the statistical horror of the bombing casualties, which, along with the attack on Nagasaki, took the lives of more than 200,000 people. On Hiroshima Day, we remember every single person killed by an inexcusable act of inhumanity. We also remember the hundreds of thousands of survivors, the hibakusha, who endured the horror of what was left behind: nuclear radiation, mass destruction, and unimaginable suffering.

“We have reaffirmed our will to save humanity from its crisis and at the same time to save ourselves by learning the lessons of our experience.” This remains the mantra of Nihon Hidankyo, a group of elderly hibakusha founded in 1965 who have dedicated their lives to nuclear disarmament. “Nuclear weapons are an absolute evil that cannot coexist with human beings,” a survivor named Taniguchi Sumiteru said in 2010, “There is no choice but to abolish them.”

Some may distrust such an unadulterated, naked and simple statement. But that is often the way with truth. Nuclear weapons have one purpose, and one purpose only: to cause death and destruction on a colossal scale. I will never understand the pride and enthusiasm with which so many politicians proclaim that they would be willing to launch a nuclear attack. Under what circumstances is it necessary to wipe out humanity? Do they know what a global nuclear war would actually look like?

Some may remember a booklet entitled “Protection and Survival” published by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1980. The 32-page manual contained advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack and was derided for its rather optimistic attitude toward complete and total annihilation. People were instructed to hide under a pile of their heaviest possessions, to move the bodies of relatives to another room, or, if outdoors, to lie flat in a ditch and “cover the uncovered skin of the head and hands.”

But there is no survival kit for global nuclear war. You might even wish you had been killed in the first blast, when nuclear firestorms hurl soot and smoke into the sky, blot out the sun, lower temperatures and freeze the oceans. For those who survive the resulting massive crop failures and global famine, their joy may prove premature when the radioactive fallout has already penetrated their skin.

Many hide their fascination with mass death behind the myth of nuclear deterrence. I could cite several examples where the threat of nuclear retaliation failed to prevent an invasion. Or cite several other factors why nuclear weapons are only one of myriad possible reasons to prevent war. But why discuss the failure of deterrence theory when the survivors of the Hibakusha have experienced it themselves?

At worst, nuclear deterrence theory encourages states to build up their arsenals, putting the world at even greater risk of total annihilation. At best, we are left with the consolation that those who have the power to destroy us all have not yet done so.

“This is the moment when the clock comes closest to humanity’s darkest hour,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly earlier this year. He was referring to the infamous Doomsday Clock, invented in 1947 to measure humanity’s proximity to self-destruction. Guterres announced that the clock was 90 seconds from midnight and that humanity was dangerously close to catastrophe.

Eighteen months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the threat of nuclear escalation continues to be downplayed by nation-states around the world. In February of this year, Russia announced it would end its participation in New Start, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the United States. After a period of gradual reduction following the end of the Cold War, the number of deployable nuclear weapons has risen again; there are currently believed to be more than 12,500 warheads worldwide. Of these, 90% are owned by Russia and the United States alone.

The world is gearing up for mutual destruction – and the UK is an active participant. The British government had announced in 2021 that it would increase its nuclear weapons stockpile by more than 40%. Last month, it now announced it would increase the military budget to 50 billion pounds, while all other government departments remain severely underfunded. When Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Britain would slide into war before the end of the decade, one would have hoped our media would have been smart enough to ask him a few simple questions: What are you doing to prevent a slide into a protracted, all-out war with Russia? What are you doing to ensure a lasting peace?

In the face of the threat of nuclear war, I echo the appeals of the UN Secretary General, Pope Francis, and world leaders like President Lula: De-escalation, diplomatic intervention, and an end to this brutal war. The longer the fighting continues, the more lives are lost, the more our fragile climate is destroyed, and the greater the threat of total annihilation becomes for all of us. Those who are fueling the conflict must know that in a nuclear war, no one wins.

If the British government wanted to show global leadership, it would advance nuclear disarmament by signing the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, which prohibits the development, production, possession, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Instead, it is not even complying with the treaties it has already signed. For example, the British government claims to still be in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (signed by Harold Wilson in 1968), but its stockpile says more than its words.

Security is not the ability to threaten and destroy one’s neighbor. Security is the ability to get along with your neighbor. Security is when our children can have confidence in a future worth living. When people are not displaced by poverty, hardship and war. And when every person has enough resources to live a happy and healthy life. The government spends £8,300 every minute on nuclear weapons – what if we spent that money instead on renewable energy, social housing, public healthcare, schools and lifting children out of poverty?

Some might say that a war is a bad time to talk about nuclear disarmament. In reality, there is no better time. Many of us grew up during the Cold War with the real and terrible threat of nuclear annihilation. I do not want our children to learn to cower and hide in preparation for a return. Today, we should listen to the Hibakusha when they say, “People must survive – in peace and prosperity.” We will only live up to their words – and the memory of those who died on August 6, 1945 – if we rid this planet of nuclear weapons once and for all.

Jeremy Corbyn is a member of the House of Commons, where he represents the London constituency of Islington North for the Labor Party. He was leader of the Labor Party from 2015 to 2020. His article first appeared Aug. 6, 2023, under the title Humanity Cannot Survive a Nuclear War in Tribune magazine (translation: Hinrich Kuhls).
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