I awoke this morning with NPR, as I usually do, and heard poetic words from President Obama speaking in Hiroshima, Japan:
“…among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. …”
“The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”
“…our own moral awakening.” These are powerful and hopeful words, calling the whole world to abandon nuclear weapons… and perhaps war itself.
Sadly, Obama — despite his personal opposition to nuclear weapons — has not been able to do that as president, although he has been much less inclined to use blatant military force than his predecessors. He also struck a nuclear deal with Iran and made a nuclear arms agreement with Russia. But he has not been able to achieve his ultimate goal: a world without nuclear weapons.
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According to Matthew Bunn of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s Belfer Center, “President Obama has made some major progress on controlling nuclear dangers,” and there are, in fact, fewer nuclear weapons in the world today than there were in January 2009. Both the U.S. and Russia have reduced their nuclear stockpiles, and Obama has made strenuous efforts to make sure that nuclear weapons do not get into the hands of terrorists.
But there are failures too. There is no comprehensive nuclear test ban; India and Pakistan are engaged in a nuclear arms race, and North Korea continues to taunt the world with its nuclear tests. And according to NPR, even Obama asked Congress to fund a new class of ballistic missile submarine, a new stealth bomber, upgrades to the current stock of nuclear weapons, and a new cruise missile.
And so, ridding the world of nuclear arms will not be easy. The ideal and the real remain far apart, even for Obama who fervently wants to make nuclear weapons a mere “history,” not a reality.
May his visit to Hiroshima have a lasting impact on him and all those who witnessed it.