It is no exaggeration that August 6th 1945 saw one of the most horrific days in human history. At 8:15 in Hiroshima, Japan, a crew on the plane Enola Gay dropped the first-ever nuclear weapon, called ‘the Little Boy’. They watched as a whole city, thriving and bustling, disintegrated in seconds. Tens of thousands of civilians ceased to exist with no trace of them left behind. As the crew looked down at the remains of the city, Captain Robert Lewis (the co-pilot hit) cried out,
‘My God, what have we done?’
What the crew witnessed was only the tip of the iceberg. Many more civilians were not killed on impact but suffered radiation poisoning, burns and cancer from the blast. To this day, it is difficult to understand how the infliction of such cruel devastation in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could possibly be justified.
Despite the horror of the scene, those on the plane and American politicians defended the mission. Major Thomas Ferebee (the Bombardier) believed that the deployment of the bombs saved many thousands of lives by ending the Second World War. Harry Truman, the US president at the time, said that the bombs were dropped to avoid killing citizens. Robert Oppenheimer, the person in charge of creating the first nuclear weapon, opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb (a far more powerful version of the bombs dropped on Japan) and spent the rest of his life advocating for proper controls on nuclear weapons.
Despite the first nuclear weapon being dropped over 75 years ago, the problem of nuclear weapons has not disappeared. In fact, it has arguably got worse. The arms race led to the creation of thousands of nuclear warheads that could end all of humanity. With increasing global aggression, particularly the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it appears we are all on a knife edge of nuclear destruction. It is more important then ever to dive into the ethics of nuclear warfare.
This series aims to provide the reader with the foundations of the philosophy of nuclear warfare. It will look at questions such as whether it is ever ethical to use nuclear weapons or if nuclear deterrence is different to active use. This first post will provide the background context to nuclear warfare, give the basics of applied ethics and the possible positions to its ethics.
Part 1: A Brief History
Part 2: An Introduction to the Applied Ethics of Nuclear Warfare
Others parts coming soon.