As I started to write this piece I had a feeling of déjà vu. Perhaps it is because every August, I and many others who fight for nuclear disarmament, write and speak about the dangers of nuclear weapons as we commemorate the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We plead with the public to take notice and do whatever is in its power to eliminate nuclear weapons. However, this year feels different.
Ask anyone who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and they will most likely tell you where they were when the U.S. was “eyeball to eyeball” with the Soviets. Most who lived through those thirteen days in October 1962, believed nuclear war was inevitable. Tom Hayden told me that one night during the crisis, he went out to have his favorite meal because he did not think he would live to see another day.
Even though I grew up in the 1980s and was aware of the nuclear threat, I never felt that nuclear war was a real possibility. It was abstract and did not play a significant role in my life. This changed the first time I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But even as I turned my focus towards nuclear disarmament, there remained a part of me that believed I would live out my life never witnessing a nuclear exchange or dying from nuclear war...until now.
The election of Donald Trump has brought the world closer to nuclear catastrophe. Trump has threatened war with North Korea, seems hellbent on undermining the Iran nuclear deal, and has pushed to expand the nuclear arsenal. He is not mentally fit to be anywhere near the nuclear codes. Indeed, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly have reportedly vowed to not ever leave the country at the same time so they can keep tabs on him. In short, I am scared. I am scared that too many people either do not think about nuclear weapons, do not care about them, or perhaps even want Trump to use them. I am scared that by the time people realize the danger Trump poses, it will be too late.
While the possibility of a nuclear exchange becomes more real with each day Trump remains in office, we have been on the brink before and managed to prevent nuclear annihilation. In 1963, President Kennedy signed a nuclear test ban treaty. In the 1980s, President Reagan shifted his stance and made clear that nuclear weapons should be eliminated. At the end of the decade, South Africa proved it was possible to completely dismantle a nuclear weapons program and two years later George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the START treaty. Barack Obama, the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima, prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and just last month, over 120 nations gathered at the U.N. to pass a treaty banning nuclear weapons. None of these developments would have occurred without millions of people organizing, demonstrating, and pushing for politicians to act. So, the question in 2017 is why do we not see a heightened level of activism for nuclear disarmament?
Some argue that today we are fighting on too many fronts, including immigration, police brutality, institutional racism, poverty, gender equality, climate change, and more. However, these issues have always existed. Perhaps one difference for millennials is that they have lived most, if not all their lives with war. Indeed, most of my incoming freshman students were only two years old when 9/11 happened. There has become a numbing to war and peace and once again, many have divorced themselves from the nuclear issue. This must change.
Today, younger activists in various movements are learning from their elders who fought before them. It should be no different when it comes to nuclear disarmament. Those who organized the famous June 12, 1982 rally did not all agree on combining the nuclear issue with other causes. Race, gender, and ideological differences all at some point threatened to split the movement. But they managed to come together and without a single cell phone or computer, one million people gathered in Central Park to demand an end to the arms race. While one can debate to what degree, it is clear these citizens played a role in President Reagan’s shift in nuclear policy.
It is time for nuclear disarmament organizers, arms control advocates, the Washington D.C. beltway think-tanks, and peace activists around the country to once again build a movement to stop Donald Trump from using nuclear weapons. We cannot pretend that cooler heads will prevail or wait for Bob Mueller to finish his investigation. It is a moral imperative that we act now. So once again, this August I implore those who read this to organize. While I have written these words before, today they seem more urgent, more important, and more critical than ever: No More Hiroshimas!