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Bombs away

Editorial by Bruce Wark

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Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some, like Peter Kelly, have greatness thrust upon them. Well, almost. Halifax peaceniks are striving to thrust some measure of greatness upon the Supercity mayor, but so far, he’s refusing to accept it. Kelly is balking at joining Mayors for Peace, an organization campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020. So far, 1,381 mayors in 117 countries have joined—81 in the US and 40 in Canada. Members here include the mayors of Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. The only Atlantic Canadian in the club so far is the mayor of Badger, Newfoundland. So the Halifax Peace Coalition is again calling on Peter Kelly to join the group, founded in 1982 after the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki spoke out about the horrors of nuclear war. American nukes incinerated both Japanese cities in August 1945, instantly killing more than 100,000 and injuring 100,000 more. Since many of the world’s 17,000 operational nuclear weapons are aimed directly at cities, it makes sense for civic leaders to push for an end to them, especially in Halifax, site of the biggest military explosion before Hiroshima. The Halifax Peace Coalition will press mayor Kelly again to join Mayors for Peace during its commemoration of the Japanese bombings on August 6 at the Alderney Landing Peace Pavilion in Dartmouth.

But maybe mayor Kelly thinks we’re all safe now that the Cold War has ended. Maybe he’s forgotten that thousands of weapons are still on hair-trigger alert, and that international outlaws like George Bush and Tony Blair have their thumbs on the nuclear button. And there’s also the danger of accidental war. Professor Lloyd Dumas, author of Lethal Arrogance: Human Fallibility and Dangerous Technologies, writes that “US nuclear attack warning systems generated more than 1,150 serious false alarms between 1977 and 1984 (the only years for which the Pentagon has released data).” Dumas describes a close call on January 25, 1995, “when Russian warning radars appeared to detect a US submarine-launched ballistic missile heading for Moscow. President Yeltsin was alerted, and Russian nuclear forces prepared to retaliate. Then, in the last minutes, it was determined that the missile was headed far out to sea.” The Russian government had been informed that the US would be launching a probe to study the northern lights, “but apparently—through human error—word never reached key military commanders.”

Decades ago, the knowledge that nuclear war could wipe out humanity persuaded the big nuclear powers to work toward scrapping their nuclear arsenals. Under the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China promised to negotiate the elimination of their nuclear weapons. In return, most states without nuclear weapons agreed not to acquire them. (India, Pakistan and Israel refused to sign the treaty and pressed ahead with their own nuclear weapons.) In 1995, the non-proliferation treaty was extended indefinitely. But the big nuclear states, led by the US, are now downplaying their commitment to work toward disarmament. Instead, they’re focusing on preventing countries like Iran or North Korea from joining the nuclear club.

In his book Beyond Hiroshima, former Canadian senator Douglas Roche points out that so far more than $12 trillion has been spent on these weapons of mass murder. Roche calls it “a theft from the poorest people in the world.” The US alone spends $110 million every day on its nuclear forces, as George Bush muses about using bunker-buster nukes to blast Iran’s underground labs. Roche, who has worked on nuclear disarmament issues for more than three decades, says getting rid of nuclear weapons will provide the only real guarantee they will never be used. “The day will arrive when either nuclear weapons are abolished or the world is devastated by a nuclear attack,” he writes. “One or the other will happen. No person, informed on the gravity of the situation, can deny it.”

Over to you, mayor Kelly.

Should our mayor ban the bomb? Email: bwark@thecoast.ca

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