Sixty-three years after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Bomb is still very much with us. The U.S. retains over 5000 nuclear weapons -- does this surprise you? -- with better than 4000 said to be "operational." There are plans to reduce this number, but only by 15%.
The Russians still have many of their nukes but these remnants of the superpower era -- and the lack of airtight security surrounding them -- get little play today. All we seem to hear about are alleged or possible Iranian or North Korean or freelance terrorist nuclear devices.
The fact is, our "first use" policy, dating back to 1945, remains in effect and past Gallup polls have shown that large numbers of Americans would endorse using the The Bomb against our enemies if need be. More and more often, the U.S. seems to brandish its nukes, with even the likes of Hillary Clinton prosing to "lay waste" Iran if need be. So at this time of year it is always important to review how the original "first-strike" was officially announced on August 6,1945 (as an attack purely on a "military base") and explained and distorted, and then became part of the decades-long narrative of how, in this view, nuclear weapons can be used -- and used again.
I don't have the time to do that all here. In fact, I have devoted much of my life to doing it: As editor of Nuclear Times magazine in the 1980s, via a lengthy sojourn in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and writing dozens of articles afterward for everyone from The New York Times to TV Guide), and then in a rather popular and well-regarded book with Robert Jay Lifton, titled Hiroshima in America: A Half Century of Denial. I've followed that with numerous articles at Editor & Publisher and in a film called Original Child Bomb.
Honorable people can disagree on the decision to use the bomb on Japan. I happen to believe it should not have been used -- the war likely would have ended very shortly without it largely due to the Soviets finally declaring war on Japan. But the key point for today is: How the "Hiroshima narrative" has been handed down to generations of America -- the bombing is overwhelmingly endorsed by officials and the media, even if many historians disagree -- matters greatly.
Over and over top policymakers and commentators say, "We must never use nuclear weapons again," yet they endorse the two times they have been used, in a first-strike. To make any exceptions, even in the past, means exceptions can be made. The line against using nuclear weapons has been drawn....in the sand.
That is why I always urge everyone to study the history surrounding the decision to use the bomb -- and how the full story (along with photos, film footage, documents, and so forth) was covered up for decades. There is certainly, in the minds of the media and the American public, no taboo on using nuclear weapons -- and it all started with Hiroshima and Nagasaki 63 years ago.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.