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The nuclear sword of Damocles

By Evaggelos Vallianatos - posted Monday, 20 October 2008

It is possible to explain the atomic bomb as an instrument of massive death born of the fear and hatred of World War II. In addition to the Americans, the Germans were also trying to develop it, so, in the hysteria of war, the Americans won the race for the ultimate killer machine.

The Americans, however, were the first to use atomic bombs against people. On August 6 and 9, 1945 their atomic weapons extinguished the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the face of the earth. Thousands of human beings living in those cities evaporated into nothing.

The civilised world pulled back in horror in the aftermath of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some Americans also condemned the bombing. In 1950, Admiral William Leahy, chief military commander under President Harry Truman, who ordered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, denounced the atomic attack against Japan as an act of barbarians observing the standards of dark ages.


Most Americans dismissed domestic and world opinion and, along with their Russian enemies, embarked on a massive program of nuclear armaments. The reason for that madness was world supremacy, the American hubris of unconditional surrender for its enemies, and the fatal conviction of fighting total wars. Both America and Russia were ready to destroy themselves and the planet in their imperial if futile race for being number one in the world.

Historians called the contest a “cold war”, a fierce antagonism that poisoned the world so much that nuclear weapons - and nuclear power plants - became the new sacred symbols of the deformed Western civilisation.

I don’t know how many nuclear weapons - hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb - America and Russia built during the four decades of their crusading conflict between the 1940s and 1980s. But the number must have been in the thousands, more than enough, experts say, to burn and freeze the planet.

As if such affinity for darkness were not enough, the teaching of “physics” brought the theory, and not a little of the gadgetry, of atom-smashing to the classroom. In fact, “nuclear” physics and engineering and nuclear weapons united lots of money, the military, and young students from all over the world. Under the guise of “atoms for peace” and “national security” - fraudulent claims on behalf of potential tyranny and the ultimate bomb, atomic electricity, and atomic medicine - the teaching of “nuclear physics” and “nuclear engineering” and the building of factories for nuclear electricity opened the way for the globalisation of nuclear weapons.

So the sword of Damocles, now armed with nuclear bombs, is ever ready to slice through the earth. Since August 6, 1945, the people of the world have had to live in the shadow of death.

This new immoral condition is the outcome of the logic of total war and the religion of science, which grew around nuclear physics. That the global nuclear terror has survived for 63 years is partly a testimony to the hubris of the teachers of physics and engineering who, corrupted by the military, accepted bomb making as science.


Such transformation of physics from the study of nature to the training of engineers to think and construct bombs and factories of nuclear electricity has had tragic consequences, the extreme example of which is evolving in Pakistan, India, Iran and North Korea possessing or making their own nuclear weapons.

Many Pakistanis and Indians can barely afford one meal a day, yet their countries are armed to the teeth with the ultimate bomb. Iran, governed by Islamic priests, is determined to acquire the bomb. And Communist North Korea is telling the world that now that it has its own atomic or nuclear bomb no one will dare ignore it any more.

To avoid a global nuclear meltdown, we must abolish all that has to do with the smashing of the atom - nuclear weapons and factories of nuclear electricity - or these technologies will abolish us.

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About the Author

Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of several books, including Poison Spring (Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

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