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Transcript #31-05 The Past, Present and Future of Nuclear Weapons
Beck: This week on “Making Contact”...
Gwozdecky: When you’re dealing with nuclear weapons, there’s absolutely no room for any kind of complacency. We believe this is one of the more dangerous times we’ve ever had with regard to nuclear proliferation.
Beck: Although the Cold War ended more than a decade ago, nuclear weapons, and the threat of nuclear war, haven’t gone away. There are still about two thousand warheads on hair-trigger alert just in the United States; at least two new countries have joined the nuclear family since the 1990s; meanwhile the Bush administration continues to pursue new types of nuclear weapons while lowering the threshold for using them.
On this edition, we look at the past, present and possible future of nuclear weapons, from the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the War on Terror. We'll also hear an update on international efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
I'm Justin Beck, your host this week on “Making Contact”, a program creating connections between people, vital ideas, and important information.
On August 6, 1945, U.S. president Harry Truman gave the order to detonate an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, a second bomb was dropped, this time over Nagasaki.
By 1950, somewhere between two and four hundred thousand people had died from the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, either in the initial blasts, the firestorms that immediately followed, or from radiation sickness and other diseases during the aftermath.
The decision to drop the bomb has profoundly affected the lives of everyone involved, whether war veterans, government policy makers or the Japanese survivors, who can say from personal experience what it is like to endure a nuclear attack.
Correspondent Reese Erlich explores the modern legacy of the atomic bomb through the eyes of those survivors known as the Hibakusha.
Erlich: Atomic bomb survivor Keiko [kay’-ee-ko] Ogura helped found Translators for Peace in Hiroshima. Because she wasn’t physically wounded, she thought she had overcome the trauma of August 6 th. That is, until the day she accompanied a group of survivors in Washington DC to see the Smithsonian’s exhibit of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
Ogura: All of a sudden, I saw the Enola Gay, I saw myself, I felt like an eight year girl, and I was so scared. And I just continued to cry for one hour or so. I didn’t know that so hidden unconscious fear within myself. I recall and I think about the children in Iraq and other, so many countries, who had very sad experience -- the fear. Even 60 years later, they will recall and react toward the fear. And so I just cried and was scared.
Ogura: I was asked, “Don’t you hate American people, that you hated American people or do you have any anti-feeling against American people?” To tell the truth, almost 99% of Hiroshima people, even though they lost their family, do no hate Americans—ordinary people. But I think they hate militarism.
Erlich: War veteran Yoshio Suzuki now lives in retirement north of Tokyo. His personal experiences as a draftee during World War II have profoundly affected his life. While some Japanese remember the horror of being bombed, he has nightmares about the horrors he was forced to perpetrate against civilians in China.
Suzuki (Japanese translated): There in a small room was a young woman of about 25 or 26. Not knowing who it was, I flipped the blanket off of her with the stock of my gun. Next to the woman who was shaking in fear, was a newborn baby. I was speechless and I did pity them. But I went out and lit bundle after bundle of straw and threw them all into the room with the mother and her child. Then I slammed the door shut. Smoke billowed out from the windows and I could hear the screams from inside.
Erlich: Suzuki’s experiences have made him a life long opponent of Japanese militarism. He supports the US decision to drop the atomic bombs.
Suzuki: At the time, I was very bitter about it, but later, after studying the war in more depth, I came to believe that the U.S. had saved Japan. It’s just what you would expect from a great country. If it hadn’t been for the U.S., who knows how far Japan would have pursued the war… all the American attacks were conducted to vanquish Japanese militarism. They were good.
Erlich: Suzuki also opposes current efforts for Japan to upgrade its army and station troops abroad. Under pressure from the US, Japan has sent troops to Iraq, the first such foreign commitment since the end of World War II.
Suzuki: I am totally opposed. I was part of the occupying army in China, right? We have reverted to the position we were in when we occupied China! It is not a force just to keep the peace. I don’t think we need an army.
Erlich: The Japanese government has announced plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq, in part because of strong public opposition.
US Navy veteran Lincoln Grafhls also went through personal tumult as a result of radiation exposure during the Bikini A-bomb tests.
Grafhls: I have non-malignant nodules on my thyroid and I have had malfunctions of my thyroid, but it’s fairly well-regulated. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my digestive system, hypersensitivity in the lining of my digestive system. I’m fairly certain that they’re related to radiation exposure.
Erlich: Grahfls, now a leader in Veterans for Peace, has devoted a good portion of his life to examining the impact of atomic radiation on Americans.
Grafhls: One of the things that I discovered in my research was that almost everyone I interviewed who had been Marines in the occupation of Nagasaki, ended up with leukemia, sometimes as much as 20 years later. And my feeling is, this is a weapon that is deadly not only to the people you’re using it against, but to the people who are using it.
Grafhls: The United States gets all upset at the possibility that somebody is developing nuclear weapons. We have more nuclear weapons than anyone else. We’re in a position to say, OK, let’s start disarming.
Erlich: Back in Nagasaki, atomic bomb survivor Fumiko Matsuda, whose son died from radiation sickness, now considers herself a peace activist.
Matsuda: I try to talk to the kids in my neighborhood. When I get out of my car, the kids in the neighborhood run to me. And I really love them and I care about them, I cherish them and I always talk to them. This is how I try to disseminate my feeling about peace. I know that it is maybe too much to call that peace activity. Mine is very, very basic. It is part of my daily life. But the very first step of peace is there.
Sound of kids playing.
Erlich: Across the river from Nagasaki’s Ground Zero, fourth graders are working in their elementary school garden. Their school maintains a small museum about the atomic bomb and a garden commemorating the destruction of their school 60 years ago. One student stops weeding for a moment and eagerly answers the question, “What does peace mean to you?”
Shimohira: It means a world where there's no war, where there are no conflicts and oppression or discrimination, where we're friendly with each other.
Beck: That segment was written and produced by Reese Erlich for Peacetalks, whose executive producer is Barbara Simmons. It’s part of a longer documentary called “Lessons from Hiroshima 60 Years Later,” hosted by Walter Cronkite and airing on public radio stations nationwide.
Once every five years, world leaders review the most comprehensive agreement, to control the spread of nuclear weapons, and move closer toward disarmament.
The agreement is known as the Nonproliferation Treaty, or N-P-T. The review of the N-P-T in May revealed that despite the agreement, nuclear tensions are still running high.
Correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell was at United Nations headquarters in New York City for the 2005 review conference of the N-P-T, and has this update.
Various ambassadors’ voices, overlapping: As we conclude this review conference, it has become obvious that questions will be further raised about the future of the N-P-T…
The review conference was not able to achieve an agreed outcome that reflects…
The conference was unable to produce a document by consensus…
By overcoming differences for the sake of the common good….
By achieving a peaceful and safe world free of nuclear weapons.
It’s been made clear here, the political will to achieve the ultimate goals of the N-P-T treaty is lacking.
Caldwell: Only one thing was agreed upon, that the month-long review conference accomplished little.
Some hold the United States responsible for the conference's failure, while others blame the threat of terrorism by so-called rogue states.
The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or N-P-T, is an international agreement dating back to 1970; its purpose is to prevent non-nuclear states from joining the nuclear family. As of 2005, 188 nations have signed the treaty, but four have not - India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea - yet these countries either have or are thought to have nuclear weapons. Iran, which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons, is currently the only member of the treaty in possible violation of it.
The review conference has several goals - to renew states' commitment to the treaty, to assess the progress, or lack of progress, of implementing the treaty, and to further strengthen it. This year, no final consensus was reached in any of these areas. Then again, the same was true in 1995, 1990, and 1980. The major issues of contention are the same today as they were 25 years ago - countries that already have nuclear weapons want to prevent others from getting them, while those that don't have the bomb want the nuclear states to abolish theirs.
Mark Gwozdecky is Chief Spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global watchdog of nuclear proliferation.
Gwozdecky: There were some countries who didn’t feel that the nuclear weapons states where doing enough to move towards nuclear disarmament.
They would say that 35 years into the treaty with the existence of almost 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, that that’s not enough progress.
Isa: We have maintained that the questions concerning nuclear disarmament, concerning nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology, the three pillars of the N-P-T, should be approached and addressed in a balanced matter.
Caldwell: Rastam Mohd. Isa is Malaysia's Ambassador to the U-N. At this year’s review conference, Malaysia headed the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM. The NAM is an organization formed during the Cold War by more than 100 countries that didn’t align themselves for or against either of the major superpowers. Ambassador Rastam Isa spoke at the closing of the review conference.
Isa: We also maintain the importance of the full and non selective implementation of the treaty. The lack of balance in implementing the provisions of the N-P-T threatens to unravel the N-P-T regime.
Caldwell: In addition to the U.S. and Russia, three other members of the Nonproliferation Treaty are allowed to have nuclear weapons -- China, France, and Great Britain.
These nations have two main concerns: One, that countries like Iran, will build nuclear weapons under the pretense of a peaceful nuclear energy program. And secondly, that such countries could sell a nuclear bomb, or the technology, to terrorists.
Again, Mark Gwozdecky with the I-A-E-A.
Gwozdecky: There were many countries who said, well there’s this other set of commitments, which is that countries which do not have nuclear weapons should not acquire them. And we saw a number of cases -- in Libya, for example, where the country pursued a nuclear weapons program covertly with the help of the AQ Kahn network. And this is an equally legitimate concern -- that countries that don’t have don’t get.
Caldwell: The U.S. is one of the countries that cites the case of A.Q. Kahn, a Pakistani scientist who masterminded a scheme to smuggle nuclear weapons technology into the hands of countries - such as Libya.
Jackie Sanders is the Special Representative of the President for the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. She spoke at the closing of the N-P-T for the U.S.
Sanders: We must remain determined in the face of proliferators' efforts to sell or acquire the world's most dangerous weapon to ensure terrorists and states that support them do not acquire weapons of mass destruction or the materials and capabilities to develop them.
Caldwell: Members of the treaty were miles apart on issues. The conference ended with few answers to the problem of nuclear weapons, and many unresolved disagreements.
Professor Lawrence Scheinman is with the Monterey Institute of International Studies and is former assistant director of arms control and disarmament for the Clinton Administration.
Scheinman: Do we start telling countries “You can’t do this, you can’t do that”? That’s what President Bush tried to do on February 11, 2004 in his NDU speech.
President Bush: The 40 nations of the Nuclear Suppliers Group should refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.
Scheinman: When he said those who have it can keep it, those who haven’t got it don’t get it, in terms of enrichment and reprocessing… that hit home with a lot of countries. They said, “Wait a minute, we signed a treaty that allowed us to do everything we wanted to do for civil purposes, in conforming with the treaty, under safeguards. Which means we can enrich, we can reprocess in order to have independence. We don’t want to be dependent on an outside source of energy supply. We want to exercise our manifest destiny and our sovereign rights. And we made a bargain with you, we said we won’t proliferate, you said you’ll disarm.”
“Well, we don’t see any disarmament. We said we’ll not proliferate, but we’ll have peaceful use. Now you’re telling us, ‘Oh, you can’t have that either unless we give it to you.’”
Caldwell: The International Atomic Energy Agency believes that each country must be on a level playing field.The I-A-E-A maintains that everyone should have access to nuclear technology. Led by Director General, Mohammed Al-Baredei, the agency proposed IT be the guarantor and controller of international access to nuclear fuel. That way, every country will have access to enriched uranium, at levels suitable for energy, but no country will have sole propriety of its own enrichment process, which could then be used for weapons.
Even though the N-P-T failed to move forward this year, the treaty remains in effect and member countries are still bound to adhere to its three pillars - disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Still, with the continued existence of thousands of nuclear weapons and the ongoing development of new ones, the threat of nuclear war is very real.
Mark Gwozdecky of the I-A-E-A:
Gwozdecky: Do we lose sleep over the risks involved with nuclear weapons? I think there are a lot of people who are very, very worried. When you’re dealing with nuclear weapons, there’s absolutely no room for any kind of complacency, and that’s one of the reasons why we believe that this is one of the more dangerous times we’ve ever had when it comes to nuclear proliferation.
Caldwell: For Making Contact, I’m Leigh Ann Caldwell
Beck: You're listening to “Making Contact,” a production of the National Radio Project. If you’d like more information or for cassette or C-D copies of this program, please call 800-529-5736. That’s 800-529-5736. You can also visit us on the Web at radioproject-dot-org.
Beck: Nuclear tensions between the United States and North Korea began in the 1950s during the Korean War, when the U.S. threatened North Korea several times with nuclear attack.
Tensions flared once again in 2002 when President Bush, during his State of the Union speech, labeled North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil.
Two years later, North Korea’s government, which by now was thought to be developing its own nuclear weapons, warned that the two countries were at the brink of nuclear war.
North Korea announced recently that in fact it had nuclear weapons, as well as the ability to launch them against the U.S. We won’t know for sure, however, until North Korea actually conducts a nuclear test. By May of this year, based on satellite photographs, it appeared that preparations for such a test were well underway.
To provide some perspective on the fear and paranoia surrounding the standoff, correspondent Miae Kim spoke with a number of peace activists and scholars, and she prepared this audio collage of their voices.
Hart-Landsberg: My name is Marty Hart-Landsberg and I am a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. I think the nuclear problem really began during the Korean War when the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons. It was intensified when the U.S. actually brought nuclear weapons to South Korea in violation of the armistice ending the Korean War. The U.S. continued to upgrade the nuclear weapons in South Korea during the 60s and 70s. And during the decade of the 80s, the U.S actually engaged in simulated nuclear attacks against North Korea. And, I should say that all of that is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which says that a nuclear power cannot threaten a non-nuclear power with nuclear attack. The threat of a nuclear war and the nuclear problem really have been on the peninsula for decades and I would argue it was really introduced by the U.S.
Hyung Lee: My name is Sun Hyung Lee. I am a 1.5-generation Korean. I think it has a lot to do with the U.S. policies towards Korea and especially towards North Korea. It’s kind of this very contradictory policy where on one hand, they keep saying they really try to go for an engagement and that it is North Korea’s fault that no progress is being made, and yet on the other hand, the U.S., especially the Bush administration, has really been making a lot of hostile statements against the North Korean government. Such as calling it part of the Axis of Evil and an outpost of tyranny. And maybe it’s a two-faced kind of interaction that is causing the North Koreans to get really frustrated. I definitely see their nuclear weapon issue is one of self-defense for them and they don’t want to see what happened to Iraq or Afghanistan happen to them.
Ki Pung (Korean translation): My name is Chong Ki Pung and I am a professor at Kim Hyung Jik Teachers’ University in North Korea. Regarding the confrontation between North Korea and the U.S., it is not North Korea who started it, it is the United States, a big country and the only self-proclaimed superpower in the world, that is attacking us from above with a sword of aggression. So we are just defending ourselves with a sword of Sun Gun policy, the army-based policy. The U.S. keeps telling us to give up nuclear weapons first, our sword first. But if we drop our sword, the U.S sword will fall down on us. So we have to endure until the last moment. If the U.S. takes away their sword of aggression against us, we will naturally take away ours as well.
Hart-Landsberg: I think it is a game of a chicken. When you have a game of chicken, you have two sides racing towards each other to see who will blink first, and under those conditions, it is dangerous and it is two sides. I think what you have is the U.S. side with its own momentum towards war and you have the North Korean side which says the only way we are going to change the situation for us is to escalate the tensions as well.
In another words, if the U.S. raises a North Korean threat, the North Koreans say, “Oh great, we will raise it still higher as a way of maybe getting the U.S. to talk with us.” North Korea may be developing nuclear weapons, but they are not threatening to drop them on anyone. It is the U.S. who has used the nuclear bomb, who is threatening to attack North Korea. It’s the North Koreans who say, “Let’s have a conversation.”
It’s the U.S. who doesn’t.
Ki Pung: We wish that the United States would give up its hostile policies against us and take a proper stand to develop peaceful and friendly relations with North Korea. It is important for us to protect our country. So even though we have a tough food situation, we put great importance on strengthening the army. In our country, even school children know bullets are more important than candy.
Hart-Landsberg: The longer events go as they are, the greater the danger of the Japanese getting the weapons, the Chinese, the South, who knows what happens.
And at least a couple of times in the last ten years, we know that the U.S. prepared nuclear strikes that could have, in fact, led to a new war.
Ahn: My name is Christine Ahn. I am the director of the Peace and International Solidarity Program at the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland, California. I was on a peace delegation with other Korean-Americans. And when we were in North Korea, we did visit a massacre site where there was a tremendous bombing by the U.S. And you know, we got a sense from them- that it was 50 years ago but still they have held on to that history close to their hearts. And I got the sense that they were ready for a war.
And this woman that I met sort of blew me away, because we were advised that we should dress very plain when we go to North Korea because we’re going to a communist country and we need to be respectable of their culture. So, we put on most of our pilgrim outfits and then to greet us was this very beautiful, tall woman. And she was in a very nice suit and had a Valentino bag and she had glitter high heels on and it was really interesting because we looked like this pathetic group of pilgrims, and she was very stylish. And she was telling me about how monthly people go, everybody, doesn’t matter who you are, you go and you either work on the farm or you help build a road. They are in such a shortage, whether it is labor, and constantly in a food shortage, so that everybody needs to contribute in the food production.
And they also go out to the shooting range. They practice shooting. And I found that to be really shocking -- because here she was, this incredibly feminine, beautiful woman, highly educated. But she is ready to fight. And she said, grannies are ready to fight, too-- because we are not going to go down. We are going to fight back. This is our country and we have the right to exist. That was kind of interesting to me. It was also kind of sad that a nation had to be so paranoid as they were, to always live under the constant threat of attack.
Hart-Landsberg: If in fact the U.S. does launch air strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facilities, if I had to bet, I would bet the North Koreans would launch missile strikes against Japan. I do not think North Korea would launch an attack against South Korea. There are just too many reasons. One is the fact is that there is a strong sense of Korea-ness. And that neither the North nor the South looks to each other as a playground for war. This is one country that is divided, but not in terms of a spirit of people and in terms of the consequences that would exist.
I think if the U.S literally invaded across the DMZ, the war would rage up and down the peninsula. You know, these things are out of control and we can say there would be the Japanese casualties, whether the Japanese would seek a return strike, how the Chinese would relate, this is why it becomes very scary.
Ki Pung: If the confrontation between North Korea and the U.S. escalates and a war breaks out on our territory, not only North Korea but the entire Korean nation will suffer from a catastrophic disaster by war.
Beck: That segment was produced for Making Contact by correspondent Miae Kim.
That's it for this edition of “Making Contact.” Thanks for listening. Special thanks to Reese Erlich and Charles Ball.
“Making Contact” is an independent production, funded primarily by generous gifts from people in the community. We are committed to providing a unique forum for voices and opinions not often heard in the mass media. If you'd like to support our work or if you have ideas for future programs, we'd love to hear from you. For a cassette or C-D copy of program number 31-05 call the National Radio Project at 800-529-5736. That's 800-529-5736. You can also visit our website at radioproject-dot-org. Our theme music is by the Charlie Hunter trio.
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And, I'm your host and associate producer, Justin Beck.