On 6 August 1945, at 8:15 AM, the United States’ military dropped the world’s first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima in Japan. In an instant, ninety percent of the city was destroyed. By the end of 1945, over 1,40,000 people had died and there was an equal number of ‘Hibakushas’, individuals exposed to the bomb’s radiation.
One of the few buildings that survived the attack, albeit in ghostly skeletal form, was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, which came to be known as the ‘Atomic Bomb Dome’.
Three days later, on 9 August, Nagasaki became a victim of the second atomic bomb dropped by the US, and lost nearly 80,000 of its citizens. This hell on earth, far from deterring leading countries of the world from nipping future nuclear threats in the bud, marked the dawn of a global race for nuclear arms. This race, unless stopped and completely reversed, threatens the very existence of human life on our planet.
One of the Hibakushas was Sadako Kurihara (1913-2005), a Hiroshima-born poetess. With haiku-like brevity and simplicity, she expressed the pathos of humanity:
“It may have been a mistake the first time;
But it's a betrayal the second time.
We'll not forget
The promise we've made to the dead.”
Vajpayee’s Thoughts On Hiroshima & Nagasaki
Hiroshima was the first time, but it was not a mistake. Dropping the atomic bomb on this hapless city was a deliberate act by the US government, especially since the Second World War had already ended in Europe with the suicide of Hitler and the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945.
Nagasaki, which was flattened and burnt, was more than a betrayal. It was a conscious re-enactment of the crime.
Since then, all peace-loving members of the human race have nurtured a desperate hope: ‘NO MORE HIROSHIMA, NAGASAKI’. This hope, mixed with torment and concern, has been expressed in various ways by poets, artists, scientists, philosophers and even sensitive political leaders from around the world. Among them was Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Here is a free rendition of his poem Hiroshima ki Peeda (The Pain of Hiroshima), which he wrote after his visit to Ground Zero in Japan. It was published in the celebrated collection of his Hindi poems, Meri Ikyavan Kavitaein (My Fifty-One Poems) in 1995.
“But the inventors of that ultimate weapon which, on the dark night of the Sixth and Ninth of August, Nineteen Forty-Five, danced the dance of death in Hiroshima-Nagasaki and took the sacrifice of over two hundred thousand people, crippled thousands of people for life,
Did they, for a second even, get the feeling that what they had done was not right? If so, then time will not put them in the dock, but if not then history will never forgive them.”
Vajpayee had penned this poem long before he became prime minister in March 1998. However, within a couple of months, his own government, of which I was a part, conducted nuclear tests at Pokharan, Rajasthan. India became a nuclear-weapon state and joined the ‘elite’ N-club. It justified the move as having been necessitated by the regional and global security scenario.
The Myth That Nuclear Weapons Are ‘Necessary’ For National Security
India, surrounded by two nuclear-powered neighbours, needed a minimum nuclear deterrence for its self-defence. Vajpayee even took pains to underscore the defensive nature of India’s nuclear doctrine: the avowal of no-first use of nuclear weapons and no-use-ever against a non-nuclear nation.
Like millions of Indians, I had then believed in the myth that nuclear weapons are ‘necessary’ for national security. I have since become convinced of this deeply-flawed and dangerous logic.
India’s moral strength and stature as a campaigner for world peace, and especially for global nuclear disarmament, was diminished after it built its own nuclear arsenal.
Two things triggered my reconversion to the cause of a nuclear-free world: one was the study of Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts on nonviolence, and the other was a visit to Hiroshima.
Since 2020 marks the beginning of the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima, and also the conclusion of the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, it is appropriate to recall his thoughts on nuclear weapons. This is all the more necessary because ominous voices are being heard in recent years that India’s ‘No First Use’ self-restraint was ‘wrong’, and the same should be removed from its nuclear doctrine.
"“Atom bomb is the most diabolical use of science.”" - Mahatma Gandhi‘War Knows No Law Except That Of Might’: Gandhi
When the US conducted its demoniac experiments on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gandhi joined an outraged humanity's condemnation by writing an article, titled ‘Atom Bomb and Ahimsa’, in his newspaper Harijan:
"“The atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained mankind for ages. There used to be the so-called laws of war which made it tolerable. Now we know the naked truth. War knows no law except that of might.”"
When a British journalist interviewed him in 1946 for his views on nuclear weapons, Gandhi reiterated his conviction: “I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science.”
The journalist asked him if the atom bomb had antiquated non-violence. “No. It is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, ‘Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind’.”
It is a message that he conveyed repeatedly and insistently throughout his leadership of India's freedom movement. In his article titled ‘The Doctrine of the Sword’ in 1920, long before nuclear weapons came on the global scene, Gandhi with extraordinary prescience had warned against India treading the militaristic path of Western powers:
"“If India takes up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory. Then India will cease to be pride of my heart. I am wedded to India because I owe my all to her. I believe absolutely that she has a mission for the world. She is not to copy Europe blindly. India’s acceptance of the doctrine of the sword will be the hour of my trial. I hope I shall not be found wanting.” " - Gandhiji
‘If You Want To Give A Message Again To The West, It Must Be A Message Of Love’: Gandhi
Gandhi returned to this theme again, in Young India, on 6 April 1921:
“If India makes violence her creed, and I have survived, I would not care to live in India. She will cease to evoke any pride in me. My patriotism is subservient to my religion. I cling to India like a child to its mother's breast because I feel that she gives me the spiritual nourishment I need. She has the environment that responds to my highest aspirations. When that faith is gone, I shall feel like an orphan without hope of ever finding a guardian.”
Only a saint with the good of the whole world at heart, and only an enlightened patriot with the good of his own country at heart, could have uttered such bold words. No leader in modern history has so categorically and courageously subordinated his love for his own nation to his love for humanity and his love for Satya (Truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence).
In one of the finest orations of his life, Gandhi articulated India’s — indeed, renascent Asia’s — message of a nuclear weapons-free world when he addressed the closing session of the historic Inter-Asian Relations Conference held on 2 April 1947 in New Delhi.
Reminding the representatives from the newly-liberated or soon-to-liberated countries that the great prophets and religious lights such as Zoroaster, Buddha, Mahavir, Krishna, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad were all born in Asia, Gandhi said:
"“The message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learnt through European spectacles, not by imitating the tinsel of the West, the gunpowder of the West, the atom bomb of the West. If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of ‘Love’, it must be a message of ‘Truth’.”" - Gandhiji
Gandhi added that “Asia has to conquer the West” morally, which is so fundamentally different from the West’s economic, political and military conquest of the East. But he also said that his was a dream of ‘One World’ – not the East Vs West, but the East and the West together.
"“The West is today pining for wisdom. West today is in despair of multiplication of atom bombs, because a multiplication of atom bombs means utter destruction, not merely of the West, but it will be a destruction of the world, as if the prophecy of the Bible is going to be fulfilled and there is to be a perfect deluge. Heaven forbid that there be that deluge, and through man’s wrongs against himself. It is up to you to deliver the whole world, not merely Asia but deliver the whole world from that wickedness, from that sin. That is the precious heritage your teachers, my teachers, have left to us.”" - GandhijiMutual Assured Destruction Is A MAD principle
Anyone who visits Hiroshima, as I did in 2010, is bound to question, at least fleetingly, the dogma of nuclear weapons serving as a shield of security. Yet, militaristic minds have elevated this dogma to the level of principle — the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) principle that seeks to assure people that the fear of mutual extinction ensures mutual survival. If there is an acronym that proclaims its own meaning, MAD is a perfect example.
As I stood before the Atomic Bomb Dome, which has been preserved as the awful birthmark of the nuclear age, I could feel a sorrowful silence in the air that has remained undisturbed since that eerie August morning in 1945. Every single exhibit in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum carries a grim warning about what could happen to our world if the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to befall any other places in a future nuclear war — or even in the event of an accidental nuclear explosion. And let’s not discount the possibility of terrorist groups, the so-called ‘non-state actors’, using nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
I was benumbed by these thoughts when I came out of the museum. As I took a slow stroll in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, I wondered: What will it be if there is a third time? A mistake? A betrayal? No, it'll be a suicidal folly by the human race.
At the centre of the park is an arch-shaped concrete monument covering a cenotaph that bears the names of all the people who perished in the bomb attack. The epitaph on the cenotaph reads: “Rest in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated.”
With nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons amongst them, how can the nine nuclear-armed countries, India being one of them, assure the present and future generations that “the error shall not be repeated?”
India Must Set An Example Through Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament
As far as India is concerned, if we want to remain truthful to the teachings of the Buddha and Gandhi, if we want India to be regarded as a ‘Vishwa Guru’ (a favourite term of the RSS), and if want to set an example for the rest of the world to follow, there is only ONE option: To unilaterally destroy its nuclear weapons, and thereby give a massive impetus to the international community’s demand for an immediate, universal and irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) from the face of our beautiful planet.
The main responsibility in achieving this goal undoubtedly rests with those nations that were the first to stockpile a huge armoury of such weapons — USA, Russia, UK, France and China.
Nevertheless, India should set an example by strengthening her moral voice through unilateral nuclear disarmament.
Going further, peace-loving people all over the world must advocate for deep cuts in the indefensible overspending on military infrastructure by the US and other powers, including China and India.
Military spending is the single biggest factor contributing to mass poverty in the world and also to the destruction of the environment.
What humanity is crying for is non-military solutions to disputes (US vs China, China vs India, India vs Pakistan, and so on), along with demilitarisation of both international relations and scientific and technological research, so that its collective natural, intellectual and political resources can be deployed for solving the gigantic problems facing our world.
“A world without wars and violence” — this is the new ‘Wisdom Revolution’ humanity is pining for in the 21st century and beyond. India, with her vast wealth of civilisational wisdom, has the responsibility first to correct her own mistake and then shame and encourage other nuclear weapon states to do the same.
Words of Wisdom & Warning In ‘Russell-Einstein Manifesto’
Today the world is staring at the beginning of a new Cold War between the US and China. It is obvious — and very sadly so — that we are quickly unlearning some of the right lessons learnt from the two world wars of the last century. Therefore, I would like to conclude this homage to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by recalling the following words of wisdom and warning which were voiced at the beginning of the previous Cold War between the US and USSR. In what came to be known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, because of the initiative taken by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, it was issued on 9 July 1955. Signed by some of the greatest minds of the 20th century, it is as relevant today as it was then:
"“We (scientists) are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt...There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death...(We) urge the governments of the world to... find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”" - The Russell-Einstein Manifesto
(Sudheendra Kulkarni was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Prime Minister’s Office between 1998 and 2004. As the founder of Forum for a New South Asia, he is actively engaged in efforts to strengthen communal harmony in India and also to promote India-Pakistan and India-China friendship. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.)
. Read more on Opinion by The Quint.India Must Unilaterally Destroy Its Nukes: Lessons From Hiroshima56,282 New COVID Cases Take India’s Tally to 19.6 L; 40,699 Deaths . Read more on Opinion by The Quint.