The writer is a member of an Islamabad based think-tank, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) and can be reached at email@example.com
The world first observed the devastation of mass destruction during the last days of World War II in August 1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Two Japanese cities) were hit by two different nuclear bombs. The nuclear bomb was never tested before and for the first time it was tested during World War II. Human beings and infrastructure at Ground Zero immediately vanished away. After these nuclear bombings, the word ‘nuclear’ stirred up with alarming fright.
On August 6, 1945, first nuclear bomb named as ‘Little Boy’ was dropped on Hiroshima by the US aircraft. President Harry S Truman announced next day that the bomb was more powerful than 20,000 tons of TNT. The nuclear bomb was dropped at an altitude of about 600 meters above the ground to assure maximum devastation. The city was having military centers and industries in abundance. The destruction was unthinkable; almost 80% of the city vanished away. Every house in the city was rather demolished or burned. It was a uranium bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and at the time of blast, the temperature at the hub of fireball was 50,000 degrees. The temperature on the ground (below 600m from the fireball) was approximately 4000 degrees centigrade. It is estimated that about 350,000 were residing in Hiroshima and there were near about 76,000 buildings at that time. When the bomb was dropped 80,000 people instantly died while 140,000 subsequently died in next few months. Everything within the radius of 2,000 meters entirely wiped out while the damaged area reached to 13,250,000 square meters.
On August 9, 1945, the second bomb named ‘Fat Boy’ was dropped on Nagasaki. The Nagasaki was an industrialized city with some important ports. The bomb was dropped at an altitude of about 500 meters above the ground and it was more powerful than 22 kilotons of TNT. The bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki was plutonium bomb. In Nagasaki, about 270,000 people were living at the time of explosion. When the nuclear bomb was dropped, about 74,000 people died immediately.
The instant casualties in both cities were around 200 thousand while more people lost their lives due to wounds or various diseases, while many other lived with lifetime disabilities. As due to immediate and short term causes of radiations, 15–20 percent lost lives due to radiation sickness; 20–30 percent died because of fire burns and 50–60 percent was killed from other injuries. In total, about 300 thousand people were exposed to radiation. Moreover, other loss includes high damage to infrastructure and environment while long term sequels are still continued.
The subject of nuclear war has changed in recent years as compared to cold war because the technological and political environment has changed. The nuclear danger has shifted from the quantity to quality. During the recent times nuclear bombs are more powerful than those dropped on Japan in 1945. The nuclear war or danger of dropping a nuclear weapon on other state is interrelated to the number of countries having nuclear arsenals, which are increasing in 21st century. In addition to P5, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea became a nuclear weapon state. Iran is also likely to enter into the nuclear club in a decade or more. Moreover, it is opined that those having civil nuclear program posses a potential to produce nuclear bomb in the future. The increase in number of countries possessing nuclear technology reinforced debate about the dangers of nuclear war.
McGeorge Bundy, President John F. Kennedy’s national security advisor, said in 1969, "Any decision that results in even a single hydrogen bomb explosion on one city of one’s own country would be declared as a calamitous mistake; while explosion of ten bombs on ten cities will be resulted as a tragedy far beyond history, whereas a hundred bombs on a hundred cities are beyond imagination.” The interdependency of intentions and capability between nuclear states makes the nuclear crisis harder to handle than a conventional war and this is what happened in Cuban Missile Crisis.
In WW-I, about 20 million people were killed and the killings in WW-II doubled and tripled this number. After both world wars, the humanity restored but the horrors of wars still prevails. General Douglas MacArthur said in 1960s, "World war will wipe out both sides, if you lose you will be destroyed and if you win you stand to lose. In either case it is double suicide.” Similar views were expressed by a Former US Defense Secretary that "If deterrence fails and crisis emerge, the whole western civilization will be annihilated.” Many researches presumes that the deaths in WWIII are unthinkable, it is estimated that such a conflict can be resulted in 80 to 160 million deaths in US in first month and additional deaths of 20-30 million if the targeting strategy changes (hitting urbanized areas, nuclear power plant and military installations will cause more deaths). In addition to it, millions will die due to injuries, radiation effects and lack of medical assistance. Other than human killings, the ecological concerns are high in such a scenario, scientists believe that firestorm caused by the nuclear explosion can lead to nuclear winter which can erase ‘homo sapiens’ from earth forever.
The recent studies says that even a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be threatened for all mankind and will result in devastating ecological aftereffects due to ash and fire storms on urbanized cities. Another study by few analysts on this scenario articulated that if Pakistan and India drop about fifty nuclear warheads on each other which is approximately 0.4% of the total warheads than the destruction would be unpredictable for us. At least 20 million people can die in first week moreover the environmental effects globally would be more calamitous because the firestorm would strike 5 million tones of dust in air which will be resulted in blockade of sunlight and substantial drop in temperature for many years to come. The sudden decline in temperature would highly effect the food production across South Asia. It will also wipe out the corn production in China and US. Hence in case of war the temperature around the world will drop by 10-20 degrees Celsius which means that food production will stop to starve the humans globally.
The history is full of wars but the aftermath of a nuclear war (accidental or escalating) or dropping nuclear bomb (advertent or inadvertent) would be unthinkably catastrophic. Thus, the states threatening each other with dropping nuclear weapon (especially Pakistan and India) and spending big junk of their budgets on nuclear arms race need to think the unthinkable on the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-Bombings.