On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb destroying the city of Hiroshima. Four years later, the Soviet Union developed its first nuclear weapon. In 1952, the U.S. upped the ante by creating a hydrogen bomb. A year later the Russians did the same and the nuclear arms race was on. One could conclude that no other issue has affected the U.S., and indeed the world, more than nuclear weapons. It is the one constant that has remained for over 70 years. Presidents have come and gone, countries have experienced coups and revolutions, social movements have altered the landscape, the U.S. has fought multiple wars, and the economy has ebbed and flowed all with the looming threat of nuclear war ending life on the planet.
This remains the case today. Nearly every issue that is of importance is directly related to nuclear weapons. The biggest threat in regards to foreign policy is that a terrorist group will obtain a nuclear weapon. This of course was at the heart of the Iran nuclear deal. When people discussed military action in the Ukraine and our relationship with Russia, in the back of everyone's mind was there was no way the two biggest nuclear powers could go to war. As we come to grips with our crumbling infrastructure and abject poverty, one cannot help but bring up President Obama's budget, which includes $1 trillion over the next thirty years for new nuclear weapons.
That said, why is there not currently a major antinuclear movement in the U.S.? This was not always the case. Some of the most prominent activists of the 1960s were committed to disarmament. "As a young man I was moved by two issues, civil rights and the threat of nuclear war," Tom Hayden said. Throughout the Cold War, the nuclear issue brought together peace and civil rights activists, as well as the religious community. Gay or straight, black or white, passive or militant-many were working for nuclear disarmament. One only needs to examine the largest march in U.S. history in June 1982, with over 1 million people in New York City, to see the power of the antinuclear movement.
I asked this question to Lilly Daigle, a U.S. field organizer who organizes young people for Global Zero, the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons. "My generation and those younger than me didn't grow up in the Cold War. While our parents and grandparents vividly remember hiding under their desks for atomic bomb drills, we did not. The Cold War narrative just doesn't resonate with my generation," she said. However, Daigle thinks the key to reviving the antinuclear movement is to "reframe our fight as one about justice, human rights, and fiscal prioritization."
One model Daigle points to is the environmental movement. She explains that while the antinuclear movement seemed to peak with the June 1982 march, the environmental movement has a "done a fantastic job organizing for the long term, building power so there are tens of thousands in the streets calling on elected officials to act on climate." But Daigle points out, "the antinuclear movement today is where the environmental movement once was. Now we have to learn from them because the only way we will eliminate nuclear weapons is when millions around the world are once again demanding nuclear disarmament."
All of this brings me to President Obama. Back in June, I wrote about the frustration of being an Obama supporter and antinuclear activist. In 2009, Obama delivered one of the most antinuclear speeches in presidential history in Prague, then signed the new START treaty, and prevented Iran from building a nuclear weapon. However, Daigle maintains that Obama has "walked back on his promise by pledging to spend $1 trillion on our nuclear arsenal."
This week will be the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit of the Obama presidency. In the first meeting, Obama brought together 47 nations to discuss nuclear security. Over the years, Obama has convinced numerous countries to give up their bomb making materials. However, the most troubling aspect of the 2016 Summit is that the elimination of nuclear weapons is not even on the agenda. So while she remains optimistic about dozens of key nations coming together to discuss nuclear security, Daigle is correct when she argues, "There is no such thing as 'nuclear security' when the world has 15,000 nuclear weapons."
Will we ever get to a place where millennials rise up like previous generations and make the connection between racism, poverty, and nuclear disarmament? Daigle has faith: "My hope for the future is that we rebuild the movement to the point where it's a force to be reckoned with once again. We have a choice: live in a world where nuclear weapons will inevitably be used again, or demand a world without them. My hope is that humanity chooses to demand zero."
Perhaps this election will be the catalyst. We are eight months away from the presidential election and seven months away from the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. While we watch this circus called a campaign there are real issues to think about-none more so than nuclear war. So one could argue the most important question any voter must ask themselves when November comes, is who would you want sitting in President Kennedy's seat if faced with another Cuban Missile Crisis? Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? I say, let's not take that chance, follow Daigle's lead, and demand zero.