On Jan. 22, 2015 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, in consultation with 17 Nobel Prize laureates adjusted the Doomsday Clock to three minutes to midnight. With this change, scientists and experts are sending a clear warning that the effects of climate change, the increase in nuclear weapons modernization programs, and the Obama administration's decision to only cut 309 nuclear warheads from 2009-2013, have all, in part led us to this most dangerous time in history.
But rather than do everything we can to halt global warming or reduce the threat of nuclear war, many in Congress have chosen to double down on their climate change denial or hardline against Iran and Russia. Indeed, as members of Congress continue to push for new sanctions on Iran (which would have devastating effects on a deal that would keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon), newly elected Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has now gone even further, publicly calling for regime change.
Representatives Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Mike Turner (R-OH) recently sent a letter to Sec. of Defense Hagel and Sec. of State Kerry calling for new sites in Europe to deploy nuclear weapons to possibly use against Russia. These actions do nothing except move us closer to a nuclear confrontation in which the entire world would cease to exist. Perhaps these Congressmen should visit Hiroshima. Maybe if they saw with their own eyes the charred tricycle or lunchbox of young children who were vaporized by the atomic bomb they would realize what could happen if we stay on this path.
Of course, they are not the only ones who should visit Hiroshima. Since he was in college, President Obama has advocated for nuclear disarmament. While Obama started out strong on the nuclear front, there has been not only a steady decline in the amount of action, but in some cases an outright reversal in his policies, including plans to spend over $1 trillion on a new nuclear arsenal over the next decade. However, there is another way forward.
President Obama is now calling for two years of free community college. The first question many have asked is how will he pay for it? Taking the money for nuclear weapons and shifting it to education seems to be a good start. In 2010, Obama became the first president in history to send a U.S. ambassador to the Hiroshima peace ceremony to commemorate the atomic bombing. When asked about Obama visiting Hiroshima, Ambassador Roos stated that he thought Obama would visit before his presidency ended.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In June, American University will host a group of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) and have an exhibit that will challenge viewers to think about the morality of the atomic bombings. In August I will travel back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with students. My hope is that I will have the same experience I had in 2010. As I wrote in a letter to the President in April, following Obama's Prague speech, there was such optimism in Japan. Every time I mentioned I was from America, a Japanese citizen smiled and said, "Obamajority!" Japanese citizens handed me stacks of letters to bring back to the President. One read: I've read the whole of your speech at Prague...I do want to join your honest pursuit of peace. We must ignore the voices that tell that the world cannot change. Please come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and let me join your voice for peace and progress: Yes, we can." Another wrote, "Mr. President: I am 76 years old. I have grandchildren, many relatives, friends, and good neighbors. For their happy safe lives, I will do my best and will continue to work for the peace of the world. I am really happy to hear your speech, which had made me feel invincible."
President Obama has two years left in office. As I explained in my letter last April, the hibakusha have made clear that he does not need to apologize. Just visiting would be a huge step in moving closer to a world without nuclear weapons. Now is the time for President Obama to visit Hiroshima.
Today in the U.S. we have a new movement forming. Millennials are fighting for economic equality, immigration rights, and for black lives to matter. But as Dr. King said, "What will be the ultimate value of establishing social justice in a context where all people, Negro and White, are merely free to face destruction from atomic war?" King knew how these issues were connected. Now it is imperative that we, and President Obama take King's lead before it is too late.
Vincent Intondi is an Associate Professor of History at Montgomery College, Director of Research for American University's Nuclear Studies Institute, and author of African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement