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What ‘Game of Thrones’ Taught Us About Nuclear Devastation via The Daily Beast

The destruction that happened in King’s Landing can happen in our world, too, writes Beatrice Fihn, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

“Atomic bombs are primarily a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities.”

Famed physicist Leo Szilard wrote those words in 1945, entreating President Harry Truman to give Japan a chance to surrender before using the nuclear weapons Szilard had been instrumental in developing. His words rang in my head as Tyrion tried and failed to convince Daenerys to spare the surrendering King’s Landing from her dragon’s fire in the latest Game of Thrones episode, “The Bells.”

There is a significant difference between weapons of war and nuclear weapons. The former target their opponent’s military force. The latter yield absolute and indiscriminate power to kill civilians. Harry Truman admitted that nuclear weapons were created for the destruction of cities when he said, “You have got to understand that this isn’t a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses.”


modern nuclear weapon would also, essentially, breathe fire: it would cause a fireball burning 10,000 times stronger than the surface of the sun, incinerating everyone and everything within nearly a mile. That heat would cause third-degree burns in a radius of 50 square miles and the shock wave would flatten most buildings within 10 miles of ground zero. In Nagasaki, ground temperatures reached 7,000°F and radioactive rain poured down. 70 percent of all buildings were razed in Hiroshima including 42 out of the city’s 45 hospitals. These facts have led the UN and ICRC to state that in the event of a nuclear bombing, no help is coming.

It’s worth noting that although Trump has been criticized for spending large sums on new nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Modernization Program was actually started by the Obama administration, with support from both secretaries of state, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and it’s unlikely a Hillary Clinton presidency would look much different on the issue of nuclear weapons than a Trump one.


And yet, ironically, abolishing nuclear weapons is a feminist issue, because nuclear fallout disproportionately affects women. Women in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had nearly double the risk of developing and dying from solid cancer due to ionizing radiation exposure. Girls are considerably more likely than boys to develop thyroid cancer from nuclear fallout. Pregnant women exposed to nuclear radiation face a greater likelihood of delivering children with physical malformations and stillbirths, leading to increased maternal mortality. And the list goes on.


We already have a plan to eliminate our dragons. 122 states voted in favor of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the UN in 2017. 23 states have already ratified the treaty and it will become international law once 50 do. When asked why they supported the treaty, the diplomats and leaders all said the same thing: they were compelled to sign after learning about the ruthless devastation that nuclear weapons cause. A real hero doesn’t unleash a dragon. A real hero picks up a pen. The truly radical action is just that: a signature.

In our world and in the world of Game of Thrones, there are characters in the shadows, negotiating behind the scenes for a peace that will save innocent lives. That’s what bravery looks like. Those are the heroes we need. Rest in Peace, Lord Varys.

Beatrice Fihn is the Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2017.

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