Seventy five years ago this week, the world witnessed a cataclysm that was to change the nature of war forever: The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and worse — while the Japanese argued among themselves about whether and how to surrender — a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later on August 9th. Now there was no other rational choice, and the Japanese gave up.
If anything good ever came out of a war, it was the generous peace. The US helped in the reconstruction of the defeated nations. As a teenaged student in London, I remember visiting Germany a dozen years after the war ended. Major centers had been flattened by the bombing. In Hamburg, one would see a few residential buildings and then ruins as far as the eye could see as if a massive earthquake had hit. A never ending horror across all major cities and a shortage of labor. So the Turks came … and stayed. Welcome then, not so much now.
The Germans were humble — a humility that would gradually diminish with the country’s resurgence as one observed over succeeding decades. Cleanliness and order are part of the national psyche, particularly the latter. Everything in order — ‘Alles in ordnung‘. It even applies on a personal level as someone might ask exactly that if you appear disturbed. It then means, ‘Everything okay?’
A grease spot on the otherwise fresh tablecloth at breakfast, my fastidious six-year old daughter complained. It was whisked away with apologies and immediately replaced. Order restored. Ordnung muss sein says the German proverb.
In dollar terms, Germany is now the world’s fourth largest economy, Japan the third. The world has not ended despite economic interests being often cited as a cause of war. In fact, we are grateful for their products judging by the numbers of their automobile names in the US. Japan appears to have eclipsed the famed auto giants of the past, GM, Ford and Chrysler and UK icons long forgotten. And Donald J. Trump has a beef with both countries and is busy pulling out troops from Germany. Of course the giant dragon of exporters to the US, namely China, is for President Trump our public enemy number one.
The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the end, merely the beginning, and at the back of our minds remains the terrifying hope that it is not the beginning of the end.
Following the US, there soon were other nuclear powers: the UK and the Soviet Union followed by France, then China. After China, India was not to be left behind, and after India the same logic applied to Pakistan. Then there is Israel seeking external security while like diseased fruit, it rots from the inside. And let us not forget nutty North Korea.
When the US and the Soviet Union faced off with thousands of nuclear weapons, the strategists produced the theory of mutually assured destruction. Its acronym MAD was closer to the truth than its Pentagon proponents could ever have imagined for they would have destroyed not just each other but the world.
Even India and Pakistan with 100-plus weapons each could cause a nuclear winter from the fall-out and the dust covered skies. The subsequent crop losses and famines would kill many more across the world than the devastation wrought by the bombs. It is just one more reason why nation states could eventually become obsolete.
Fortunately, for the human race, nuclear war is more potent in the threat than in the execution; the latter would certainly certify MAD. The response to a military threat carrying the phrase ‘by all means necessary’ is enough to cool things down quickly. It was Pakistan’s reply to India’s threat to expand an incident in the disputed Kashmir region with an attack on mainland Pakistan. In that sense, nuclear weapons have become a sort of insurance policy. Pakistan and India have fought several major wars but none since both sides acquired nuclear weapons. The cost is unthinkable, and one hopes will remain so in the minds of strategists.
Such is the world my generation is leaving to you: flawed but holding together all the same.