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The Myths, the Silence, and the Propaganda That Keep Nuclear Weapons in Existence

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Remarks in Poulsbo, Washington, August 4, 2019


This week, 74 years ago, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were each hit with a single nuclear bomb that had the power of a third to a half of what NPR calls a low-yield or "usable" weapon. By NPR I mean both the Nuclear Posture Review and National Public Radio, both the U.S. government and what many people dangerously think of as a free press. These so-called usable nukes are for firing from the submarines based nearby here. They are two to three times the size of what destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the U.S. military's plans involve using multiple nukes at once. But they really are tiny compared to other nuclear weapons that the United States and other nations have ready just in case some unfortunate scenario makes completely annihilating ours and other species the wisest course of action. Some U.S. nukes are 1,000 times what was used to vaporize Japanese populations. Each submarine can launch 5,000 times what was dropped on Hiroshima.

But the claim has been that the submarines are for so-called deterrence. Putting so-called small nukes on them and calling those "usable," drops the pretense of deterrence in favor of openly embracing the madness of initiating an exchange of nukes likely to kill us all directly or through the creation of a nuclear winter.

It may sound like I'm joking or mocking when I say that the U.S. government might decide that the apocalypse is the wisest course of action, but in the part of the United States that I live in there are huge bunkers, designed by former Nazis, under hills for various agencies of the government to hide in so as to live marginally longer than the rest of us, and these bunkers would take hours to get to even avoiding rush hour traffic. A decision to kill us all would have to have been made and planned out but not yet acted upon prior to the long commute to the bunkers. This is all part of the policy of first-strike.

And, of course, the President of the United States has tweeted nuclear threats at other countries, something previous U.S. presidents never did. They all made their nuclear threats without the use of Twitter.

When the United States dropped those nuclear bombs on Japan, masses of people were in fact vaporized like water on a hot frying pan. They left so-called shadows on the ground that in some cases are still there today. But some didn't die at once. Some walked or crawled. Some made it to hospitals where others could hear their exposed bones clacking on the floor like high heels. At the hospitals, maggots crawled into their wounds and their noses and ears. The maggots ate the patients alive from the inside out. The dead sounded metallic when thrown into trashcans and trucks, sometimes with their young children crying and moaning for them nearby. The black rain fell for days, raining death and horror. Those who drank water died instantly. Those who thirsted dared not drink. Those untouched by illness sometimes developed red spots and died so quickly that you could watch the death seep over them. The living lived in terror. The dead were added to mountains of bones now viewed as lovely grass hills from which the smell has finally departed.

Some of those who were able to walk were unable to cease moaning and holding their arms out in front of them with the skin and flesh hanging off. To our overly entertained and underly educated society this is an image derived from zombies. But the truth may be just the other way around. Some media critics believe that movies about zombies and other non-human humans are a means of avoiding the guilt or even the knowledge of real-life mass-murder.

When it comes to mass-murder already committed through war, nuclear weapons use is the least of it, and is probably out-paced by the deaths caused by nuclear weapons production and testing and waste and the use of depleted uranium weapons. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as locations to demonstrate the power of nuclear bombs because no high official in Washington had been there and found the place lovely, which is what saved Kyoto, and because the two cities had not yet been firebombed, as had Tokyo and many other places. The firebombing of Tokyo is not less horrible than the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The later bombings of Korea and Vietnam and Iraq, among other places, were far worse.

But when it comes to mass-murder in the future being risked by current actions, nuclear weapons are rivaled only by the climate and environmental collapse to which militarism is such a major contributor. At the pace at which people in the United States are beginning to come to terms with the genocide of the native nations and the horrors of slavery, we might expect an honest reckoning with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki around about the year 2090. By honest reckoning, I don't mean a non-apology from President Obama. I mean a focus in our schools and our civic life on accepting the responsibility for having created the keys to the apocalypse and the taking of appropriate steps to make amends. But 2090 will be too late.

People don't seem to take climate collapse seriously enough to begin moving their corrupt governments on it until it is actually impacting them in the present moment, which is probably too late. If people don't act on nuclear weapons until they experience their use it is definitely too late. A nuclear weapon is not like art or pornography where you can only know it when you see it. And by the time you see it you may cease knowing anything. But even seeing it may not be enough for some people. Sweden recently declined to ban nuclear weapons on the grounds that the treaty doesn't define what they are. Seriously, Sweden, do you imagine that if a nuclear weapon were used on Stockholm there would be a debate as to whether it was a nuclear weapon or not?

Smart observers perhaps a shade too smart for their own good doubt the veracity of Sweden's excuse. According to them, Sweden lacks nuclear weapons itself and thus is obliged to do the bidding of those who have them even though dozens of other countries have refused to do that bidding and have signed onto a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. But this is to attribute logic to madness. And the error is readily exposed by ceasing to attribute representativeness to our governments. If you held a public referendum in Sweden I believe the ban on nukes would gain another nation. We are up against popular support of nuclear weapons, it is true, and more so in some countries than in others. But huge majorities in nuclear and non-nuclear countries, including the United States, have told pollsters they support a negotiated agreement to eliminate all nukes. However, we are also up against corrupt government. And these two problems overlap in the corruption of our communications systems.

I believe we are confronted by myths that must be debunked, by silence that must be broken, and by propaganda that must be resisted and replaced. Let's start with the myths.


We are told that war is natural, normal, somehow inherent within us. We're told this and we believe it, even while knowing full well that most of us never have anything directly to do with war. The U.S. military is struggling to recruit members and worrying that only a small percentage of kids have any family members who've been in the military. And if you are among that small percentage who have been in the military, you are statistically more likely to suffer from moral guilt or post-traumatic stress, to commit suicide, or to shoot up a public place. How can something that most people avoid, and that most of those who don't avoid suffer from, get labeled natural and inevitable? Well, through endless repetition by government, by media, and by entertainment. Have you ever tried scrolling through Netflix trying to find a movie without any violence? It can be done, but if the real world resembled our entertainment we'd have all been killed a thousand times over.

If we're not told that war is inevitable, we're told that it is necessary, that the United States needs war because of other more backward people. President Obama said nukes couldn't be eliminated in his lifetime, due to the evils of foreigners. But no entity on earth does more to promote war than the U.S. government, which could launch a reverse arms race if it chose. Generating hostility and threats through endless aggressive wars and occupations can only justify more weapons building if we pretend it isn't happening or can't be stopped. If the U.S. government chose to do so, it could join and support (and stop violating and ending) international human rights treaties and courts, disarmament agreements, and inspection procedures. It could provide the world with food, medicine, and energy for a fraction of what it spends making itself hated. War is a choice.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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