In the recent debate in the House of Commons on the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine capability, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, was asked point blank if she would be prepared to use these weapons of mass destruction. Her equally blunt response was that yes, she would, on the basis that there is no point in having a deterrent unless you are prepared to use it. There is an inexorable logic to May’s position, if you believe that possessing nuclear weapons has a deterrent effect.
There is no evidence that nuclear weapons do deter, any more than there is any absolute evidence that they do not. So the real motivation behind what ever position we take on the issue has to be a mix of the political, the moral and the humanitarian.
The war crimes committed by the United States of America, in dropping nuclear bombs upon the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, have never been acknowledged as war crimes. History, written by the victors as ever, records the use of nuclear weapons as having brought an end to the war in the Far East more quickly. That at least is the generally accepted wisdom. The fact that the war in the Far East was all but over, and the Japanese were on the brink of surrendering to the Soviet Union, an outcome that the United States could not countenance, finds little airspace.
This poem was written last year on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the bombings. The Hiroshima anniversary gained much news coverage, due to being the first, while Nagasaki received less attention, hence the subject of the poem.
Since writing this poem I have read the first hand account, Hiroshima by John Hersey, first published in the New Yorker in August 1946 and published as a Penguin paperback, reprinted last year. It is probably the most harrowing 100 pages of journalism you are ever likely to read. You should however, read it.
The debate about Trident continues to be a major political fault line in the UK. Theresa May has been categorical about where she stands. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been equally categorical. He is against the recommissioning of Trident and would never, under any circumstances, resort to the use of nuclear weapons.
It is a subject on which we all must decide which side we are on…
Don’t Leave Nagasaki
Little Boy pushed his way to the front,
Had to be first in the queue.
Fat Man groaned as the boy shoved past,
‘Hey son, I was there too.’
In the cold war light the atomic flash
Turned people to shadows on the floor,
Shedding thousands of tears in the seventy years,
Since opening the nuclear door.
Don’t leave Nagasaki burning
With the shame of this regret
Don’t leave Nagasaki wondering
Why no justice yet?
At The Hague they try war criminals
So the world can understand,
But there is no space to try the case
Of the melting of Japan.
The United States stands for freedom,
The United States stands for law.
Is there anyone outside of the United States
Who believes that, anymore?
Don’t leave Nagasaki burning
With the burden of this war crime.
Don’t leave Nagasaki thinking
That there could even be a next time.
“Little Boy” was the name given to the atomic bomb the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. “Fat Man” was the name given to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, on 9th August 1945. An estimated 70,000 people died in each of the bombings. Tens of thousands more have died subsequently from burns and radiation.