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In the shadow of Fat Man and Little Boy: how the stigma of nuclear war was unravelled via The Guardian

Atomic bombs ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’ exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima 72 years ago creating a lasting nuclear taboo – until now. What has changed?

Until recently, a significant taboo has existed around the use of nuclear weaponsin war. However, we are now in a position where that taboo is being flagrantly disregarded by the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world, and a totalitarian dictatorship

 

Taboos offer a way for us to create overarching rules of societal acceptability that transcend our social and cultural norms. Taboos prohibit behaviours that are not appropriate within and beyond the moral or ethical framework of an individual community – scenarios that are so dangerous or perverse that they are almost unspeakable. Traditionally, those who engage in taboo activities, such as incest, are stigmatised and ostracised by their society, as their breach or defiance of taboo could have significant and unacceptable repercussions. We had a taboo surrounding deploying nuclear weapons – out of respect for the devastation they can wreak – but it seems more and more fragile.

Fat Man and Little Boy exploded in the skies over Nagasaki and Hiroshima 72 years ago. The immediate consequences of the bombingswere dramatic and survivors of this attack are still physically, culturallyand psychologically affected by their experiences to this day. This is the source of the nuclear taboo.

It evolved during the cold war, as our international arsenal transitioned from atomic bombs to larger and more devastating thermonuclear weapons. These were tested in seemingly endless competitive escalation by the first five nuclear states, Russia, France, the USA, China and the UK.

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Thanks to President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, our generation’s own volatile Fat Man and Little Boy, the sensible norms of restraint and careful diplomacy that have previously surrounded nuclear deterrence proliferation and use are now under stress. President Donald Trump seems indifferent to social norms, and behaves without rationality. He made several public statements, via Twitter and traditional media, that glamorise the use and increased production of nuclear weapons. All while his administration slashes budgets and slashes programs designed to protect communities from the well-documented risks that come from producing nuclear weapons. Trump has ostracized himself from international leadership nearly every turn, including NATO and G-20 summits, isolating himself from democratic world leaders, and aligning himself more with leaders of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. He has divided America, twisting the knife into historical wounds of racism and civil rights abuses, as well as upending environmental protection, denying climate change and proposing a tax regime that will create persistent poverty – to name a few examples.

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Trump needs to cut the sass, to scale back his inflammatory and impulsive rants, and to start engaging in the nuclear debate with much greater sensitivity. We want the most peaceful resolution that is now possible, to prevent further escalation of conflict. We do not want stumble into nuclear war, a risk that exists beyond bellicose displays of power. The current hot-threat engagement is not just a security issue, but a massive humanitarian one too. Kim starves his own people in the pursuit of nuclear defence technology. Trump and Kim’s verbally violent exchange is as serious as North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. It could have devastating future implications if the stigma of nuclear weapons is not restored. The people of the supposed democracy of the USA and the totalitarian state of North Korea both seem powerless to change the behaviour of their leaders.

However, international attitudes are more progressive. The stigma of nuclear deterrence has not been lost on the majority of nations, 122 of whom endorsed a nuclear weapon ban treaty that seeks to prohibit the development, production, possession, testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. The BAN treaty is likely to enter into force on 20 September 2017, when it opens for signatures at the United Nations in New York. Although no nuclear possessor nation supports this treaty, they understand that the BAN will re-stigmatize nuclear weapons and re-invigorate public debate and action for nuclear abolition.

Our taboos are a greater reflection of our global society and ethics.. What does it say about us at this point in history, if we let the taboo of the unspeakable horror of nuclear warfare disappear? We cannot uninvent the bomb, so we need to rethink and redesign the rules of de-escalation and disarmament, if we are to avoid the fallout of nuclear conflict.

Read more at In the shadow of Fat Man and Little Boy: how the stigma of nuclear war was unravelled

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