Con­fronting our nu­clear shadow

Con­fronting our nu­clear shadow

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - SEAN HOWARD news@cb­post.com @Cape­Bre­ton­Post Sean Howard is ad­junct pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity and cam­paign co­or­di­na­tor for Peace Quest Cape Bre­ton. He lives in Main-a-Dieu.

At Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity last Oc­to­ber, dur­ing a fed­eral elec­tion panel on cli­mate change, Peace Quest Cape Bre­ton asked the three can­di­dates present from the Sydney-Vic­to­ria rid­ing whether, given the ex­is­ten­tial threat to the planet posed by nu­clear weapons, Canada should sign the Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nu­clear Weapons (TPNW), pop­u­larly known as the ‘Ban Treaty' adopted by 122 states at the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in 2017.

As we ex­pected, the Green and NDP can­di­dates (Lois Fos­ter and Jodi McDavid) en­thu­si­as­ti­cally said Yes. So, to our sur­prise, did the Lib­eral can­di­date, now-MP Jaime Bat­tiste, de­spite the Trudeau Gov­ern­ment's op­po­si­tion to the Treaty. Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date Ed­die Or­rell did not at­tend the meet­ing.

There was, in truth, an el­e­ment of con­fu­sion in the au­di­ence. What did the defin­ing is­sue of the 21st cen­tury, global warm­ing, have to do with Cold War threats of Ar­maged­don? And what dif­fer­ence would Canada's sig­na­ture make?

“Don't they know,” as some­one whis­pered to a Peace Quest sup­porter, “we don't have any nu­clear weapons?”

Well, we did know that; as we knew that as a mem­ber of the world's only nu­clear-armed al­liance, NATO, Canada con­tin­ues to claim de­pen­dence on nu­clear weapons for its se­cu­rity, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a Nu­clear Plan­ning Group (how many Cana­di­ans know that?) re­view­ing op­tions for a first-strike at­tack.

We also knew that, in ad­di­tion to killing mil­lions in min­utes, and mil­lions more from ra­di­a­tion sick­ness, such a strike would cause, to quote philoso­pher Elaine Scarry, a “far more con­densed catas­tro­phe” than global warm­ing: ‘global cool­ing', in fact, loft­ing soot from ir­ra­di­ated cities to block the sun, trig­ger­ing famine more lethal than fall-out.

As re­cent ma­jor stud­ies de­tail, even a ‘lim­ited' nu­clear ex­change, in­volv­ing 100 or less of the 14,000 ‘nukes' on Earth to­day, would cause “cli­mate change at a su­per­sonic rate,” in the vivid phrase of former United States nu­clear ne­go­tia­tor Thomas Coun­try­man. And as the world's lead­ing med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties have been warn­ing for years, no mit­i­ga­tion of a ‘nu­clear pan­demic' is pos­si­ble, no quar­an­tine or lock­down any help, no re­cov­ery con­ceiv­able.

And af­ter TPNW was adopted, the last word went to Set­suko Thur­low, a 13-year-old wit­ness to the be­gin­ning of the end of the world in Hiroshima, who joy­fully de­scribed the ban as “the be­gin­ning of the end of nu­clear weapons.”

Thur­low's de­light was tem­pered with dis­may that Canada, her adopted home­land since the 1950s, boy­cotted the ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der pres­sure (as leaked doc­u­ments show) from Wash­ing­ton. And for the last four years, her prime min­is­ter has re­fused to meet her, per­haps fear­ful of hear­ing first­hand not just her har­row­ing ac­count but her ar­gu­ment that, as she wrote in The Toronto Star in 2017, “given Canada's direct in­volve­ment in de­vel­op­ment of the atomic bomb,” its re­jec­tion of the ban was “a crime against hu­man­ity.”

So ‘direct' was this ‘in­volve­ment,' in fact, that the atomic bombs dropped on Ja­pan 75 years ago should be ac­knowl­edged as the prog­eny of an un­holy colo­nial trin­ity: Amer­ica, Canada, and (‘mother' to both) Bri­tain. Canada sup­plied not only sci­en­tists and fa­cil­i­ties, but heavy water for re­ac­tors and, most cru­cially, 900 tons of ura­nium from the ‘Port Ra­dium' mine on Dene ter­ri­tory in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, en­riched to ‘weapons grade'– to­gether with 1,000+ tons of ura­nium from the Bel­gian Congo – at Port Hope, Ont.

Un­til the 1980s, the Dene had no idea the ore taken from their ter­ri­tory – at ter­ri­ble cost to their health and en­vi­ron­ment – was used to pul­ver­ize Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. When they found out, they sent a del­e­ga­tion to Hiroshima to apol­o­gize for their un­wit­ting role in the atroc­i­ties.

On July 9 this year, Thur­low again knocked at the PM's locked door, “re­spect­fully re­quest­ing” he “ac­knowl­edge Canada's in­volve­ment in and con­tri­bu­tions to the two atomic bomb­ings and is­sue a state­ment of re­gret on be­half of the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment for the im­mense deaths and suf­fer­ing caused by the atom bombs.” Af­ter which, she sug­gests, he should an­nounce – per­haps af­ter apol­o­giz­ing to the Dene as well? – his in­ten­tion to sign the Ban Treaty.

On July 14, the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity – a mem­ber of the global ‘May­ors for Peace' coali­tion since 2013 – is­sued a Procla­ma­tion declar­ing Aug. 6 ‘Hiroshima Memo­rial Day,' a solemn op­por­tu­nity “to re­new our com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing free­dom from the threat posed by nu­clear weapons, here and ev­ery­where.”

With­out per­haps know­ing the full, sor­did his­tory of Canada's atomic age, mayor and coun­cil un­der­stand that sim­ply ‘not hav­ing' the Bomb is no de­fence against its men­ace. All coun­tries, at ev­ery level of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, must ac­tively strive for a nu­clear-free world. But in do­ing so, this coun­try would be work­ing to elim­i­nate an evil it helped to cre­ate.

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