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The 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminds us of the need to ban nuclear weapons | COMMENTARY

The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen at dusk, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Hiroshima, western Japan. The city of Hiroshima on Thursday, Aug. 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing.
The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen at dusk, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Hiroshima, western Japan. The city of Hiroshima on Thursday, Aug. 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

In 1945, Jacob Beser, a 24-year-old air force lieutenant from Baltimore, was the only crew member to be on both flights that dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though he never regretted what he had done, according to his grandson Ari Beser, he felt he had to bear witness to the worst act of inhumanity of man against his fellow man.

As we approach the 75th anniversary of Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, few are left to recall the shock as information leaked out about the atomic bombs that instantly destroyed two Japanese cities and propelled the whole world into the nuclear age. Events are planned locally and around the United States, with some international ones as well, to honor the memory of the victims, now nearly 300,000 people, whose names can be found along with an inscription at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park that inspires our work: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”

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The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by Manhattan Project scientists in 1945 to convey the urgent nuclear threat. In 1947 they created the metaphoric Doomsday Clock to which they have now added climate crisis and disruptive technology. It was set to 100 seconds before midnight this year, the closest it has ever been, in part because of nuclear treaties canceled, a new nuclear arms race and a lowered barrier to nuclear war.

These days we are living with many existential threats like COVID-19, climate crises and racism. In Maryland, we have connections to causes as well as solutions to the existential threat of nuclear war.

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The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the Department of Energy oversees the research, development, test and acquisition programs that produce, maintain and sustain the nuclear warheads as part of its offices in Germantown.

Other connections include the universities and corporations in Maryland that profit from the nuclear arms race. In 2019, Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Lab’s “multi-year contract with the Department of Defense exceeded $7 billion” and it had renewed a 7-year contract in 2017 for up to $92 million “for continuing the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s (AFNWC) strategic partnership.” While classified research is generally not allowed at Hopkins, whose mission includes an openness in documentation and dissemination of research results, the Applied Physics Laboratory gets a pass.

Lockheed Martin, headquartered in Bethesda, is the largest defense contractor in the world and one of four corporations that profits the most developing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Given important nuclear weapons complex sites as well as proximity to the national government, it is not surprising that a FEMA map from 1990 (the most recent time such a map was published) estimated that if nuclear war occurred, Maryland would be heavily targeted.

Our collective nuclear weapons complex taxes for 2019 in Maryland were $1.55 billion, (for Baltimore nearly $113 million) This money, post COVID-19, is desperately needed locally for jobs, health care, housing and education.

Maryland has important examples of people trying to prevent nuclear war. Baltimore was the first major city and Montgomery County was the first county to pass a “Back from the Brink” resolution, to change nuclear policy in the U.S. and make nuclear war less likely. Other cities include Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Honolulu as well as the states of California and Oregon. About 15% of the population live where these resolutions have passed. Many of these include support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which would ban, stigmatize and then eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. It is operational once 50 nations ratify it and presently 40 nations have. Then, will Hopkins be willing to do research on weapons that are banned by international law? Will the board of Lockheed Martin be OK with profits coming from weapons systems the United Nations has condemned?

Ari Beser, the grandson of Baltimorean Jacob Beser has been a supporter of the nuclear weapon ban treaty and believes its passage will make a difference as will boycotting the banks that fund the nuclear weapons. He learned from his grandfather that the day we forget what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the day we risk letting it happen again.

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Dr. Gwen L. DuBois (bikenotbomb@gmail.com) is president of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-founder Prevent Nuclear War-Maryland.

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