Hiroshima mon amourFor a couple of years, I worked as a researcher into nuclear weapons policy. It was incredibly banal. If you don't have to think about the pain, the incinerated bodies, the crying children, the spoiled earth and water, the misery, nuclear war is easy to contemplate. Men who could have turned their intellects to the real problems that beset our world: how to get the food that is plentiful to those who do not have plenty; how to make deserts green; how to share the resources of the world equitably; how to live without oil, instead spent their lives calculating to the nth decimal how many people they could stand to lose and how many they could kill if it came to it, how they could make bombs that could explode with a bigger bang, with smaller bangs but more impact, with smaller bangs for smaller purposes.
They were able to hide the truth in numbers and physics.
This weekend I have read Max Hastings in the Guardian, explaining that we must not be too harsh in judging those who used an atomic bomb because we are not in their shoes, that we must put the bomb in context -- a context that included the strategic bombing of cities, including the incendiary bombing of Tokyo, which killed hundreds of thousands. Terry Sweetman in the Courier-Mail explains that if one Australian life was saved by bombing Hiroshima, it was worth it. Mr Sweetman explains that the Japanese were vilified in the Second World War. Oddly, he doesn't distinguish between combatants and others, but implies that the Japanese were monsters to a man, and deserved what they got. He doesn't say whether he thinks the Japanese have ceased to be monsters who deserve extinguishing.
Today, the US, and it grieves me enormously to learn, the UK, are planning to make smaller, "useable" nukes to "bust bunkers". Not that anyone actually has the aforesaid bunkers. That's besides the point though. Once we are all comfortable with the idea that nukes can be used, we'll be able to use them on tank formations, power stations, Teheran.
But here is the thing: the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima is not forgiveable because of its context. Just because we had already been indulging in terrible crimes against humanity doesn't mean that we could permit ourselves another step. And it is not forgiveable because we convinced ourselves that the Japanese were not the same kind of human as us. They were, and so are the peoples of the places we demonise today. The truth is that if bombing Hiroshima was not a crime, there is no such thing as a crime; if it wasn't wrong, nothing can be wrong.
These are hard times in the world. Men without scruple oppose one another. They have barely even begun to fight and yet they have shown that they will not stop at much. Soon the oil will begin to run out. The fighting could well become much more serious. We will talk about our values, how they must be defended. But what are values if they permit you to kill a hundred thousand and more in an instant?