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The greatest deterrent to world war

Anthony Gomes

Wednesday, September 05, 2012    

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August is the month when we reflect on the world's greatest deterrent, the atomic bomb, which has been developed into a contemporary weapon of mass destruction and whose explosive force is produced by thermonuclear reactions, with the incalculable power to destroy mankind.

It was on August 6, 1945 that the awesome power of the atomic bomb was first revealed when it was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, by the USA. A second bomb devastated Nagasaki three days later on August 9, 1945, killing an estimated number of between 210,000 and 340,000 people that established the Atomic Age in a world destined to live in fear and respect for nuclear power forevermore. The development of the hydrogen bomb, indisputably the most devastating weapon of mass destruction ever invented, heralded the advent of the Thermonuclear Age.

The foregoing recollection of the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is by way of a caution to the world today, again on the brink of hostilities in the Middle East that could possibly ignite yet another nuclear conflict. The eight members of today's Nuclear Club include the US, Britain, China, France, Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India, with North Korea and Iran both aspiring to join the club when they succeed in building a nuclear weapon; an aspiration which causes deep concern to North America, Europe and Israel.

Each day the tension between Teheran on one side, and Tel Aviv and the West on the other, becomes stronger with the refusal of the Iranian regime to discontinue their uranium enrichment programme, while threatening to blockade the Strait of Hormuz that is considered a "Red Line" by the USA which, if crossed, would be to Iran's peril. Various American naval battle groups have been stationed in proximity to the Strait of Hormuz to deal with any offensive action by Iran. Israel views Iran's enrichment programme as a potential source of aggression and reserves the right to neutralise the process should Israel be threatened, a move that would likely be supported by the US.

Greater damage to world unity is occasioned by Syria pitting its sympathetic supporters, Russia and China, against the West led by the US, France and Britain, splitting the UN Security Council into opposing sides, thereby preventing any unified remedial action to stop the bloodletting Syrian civil war, now aggravated by the reported involvement of Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist militia in support of President Assad's regime.

President Assad's recent threat to use chemical weapons against the rebel army in the event of any foreign intervention, has again prompted the US to declare any such action to be a "Red Line" that, if crossed, could trigger dire consequences for the Assad regime. With such an occurrence, would the support by Russia and China for the Assad regime continue?

The view is generally held that nuclear surgical strikes would be necessary to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment sites, housed in heavily fortified underground centres with hardened bunkers possibly to be penetrated by Israel. US support is nearby with its Triad response force consisting of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable heavy bombers, and with strategically located multi-disciplined ground forces stationed around the world, that constitutes the most powerful nation on earth! So far, there is no mention of thermonuclear advancement. Universally, there is a palpable fear that existing nuclear weapons might fall into terrorist hands or certain rogue states. The security of such weapons is now and always has been of paramount importance together with the prevention of Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear capability.

With the end of WWII, "heroes of the 20th century" was the term applied to Paul Tibbets who flew the "Enola Gay" B29 Super Fortress that dropped the atomic bomb called "Little Boy", his co-pilot Robert Lewis and bombardier Tom Ferebee, who said they were astounded at the sight of the explosion which occurred at 1800 feet above the Aoioi Bridge in Hiroshima. On seeing the mushroom cloud, Robert Lewis exclaimed: "My God, what have we done?" Tibbets said: "We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud ... boiling up, mushrooming".

Earlier, the "Enola Gay", named after Tibbets' mother, flew from the Pacific island of Tinian at 2:00 am, stripped down to accommodate the 4.5 tonnes of "Little Boy", that was 10'4" long and 2'.4" in diameter, with the explosive power of 20,000 tonnes of TNT. The crew carried cyanide capsules in case they had to parachute into enemy territory, as their aircraft had just sufficient fuel to reach the Chinese mainland after completing the mission.

As might be expected, there is still controversy about the use of the atomic bomb, a powerful but inhumane weapon of mass destruction that saved the anticipated carnage of 20,000 dead and 75,000 wounded in the first 90 days, which would have been sustained by invading American forces. Japanese civilians and armed forces would have been devastated and the Pacific war would have continued for an untold time.

Today, already burdened with the war in Afghanistan, the unstable situation in Iraq, the continued anarchy in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain to mention other trouble-spots, the world waits with trepidation, hoping for a peaceful resolution to the burgeoning Middle East crisis involving Syria and Iran with the West. This crisis is brewing in the shadow of the mushroom clouds that blanketed Hiroshima and Nagasaki 67 years ago.

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