Members of the Springfield Campaign for Non-Violence gathered on the steps of Springfield City Hall Sunday to commemorate the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The committee has assembled in Court Square for the past seven years to recognize the people killed and to call for worldwide nuclear disarmament.
Within a mere flash, some 70,000 people were killed in the Japanese city the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, as the first atomic weapon was dropped in a bid to end World War II. It took a second atomic bomb to be dropped on the city of Nagasaki days later for the Japanese government to finally capitulate.
At City Hall, keynote speaker Dr. Ira Helfand told the Springfield crowd of 30 people that the use of nuclear weapons in an engagement between large-scale nuclear powers, such as the United States and Russia, might mean the immediate deaths of several hundred million people from the nuclear blasts and the eventual starvation of billions more.
“I think what we have learned in the past 15 years, in particular, is that if there is a nuclear war, it will end civilization as we know it. A large-scale war… would kill 300 million people directly, maybe 400 million people,” he said. “It would also cause a nuclear winter that would drop temperatures 18 degrees Fahrenheit. In the interior of the United States, it would go down 45 to 50 degrees. All food production would stop, and according to a study in the Journal of Nature Food last August, three-quarters of the human race, between five and six billion people, would starve to death in two years.”
Helfand has published studies on the eventual effects of nuclear conflict in the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, the Lancet and the World Medical Journal. He is the co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the immediate past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, and he is a member of the International Steering Committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons in its war with Ukraine, even though Ukraine has no nuclear capability. Helfand said that could draw the United States into the conflict.
“If Russia starts to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the danger is that escalating the war would draw the United States in,” he said.
Even a small-scale war, perhaps between Pakistan and India, would involve perhaps 250 warheads, a lot less than the estimated 13,000 in the world, Helfand said. That conflict would disrupt the ecosystem to the extent that perhaps 2 billion people would eventually perish, he said.
And the years between nuclear war and the starvation of whole populations would be socially catastrophic, he said.
“People don’t starve quietly,” Helfand said. “They start fighting for whatever is left. Those two years would be the most horrific in human history.”
The only way to avoid the post-apocalyptic hellscape he described would be to avoid the apocalypse of nuclear war in the first place. Helfand said legislation calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons has been introduced in the House by Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, and co-sponsored by Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield. He called on Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to file similar legislation to McGovern’s HR 77 in the Senate.
Too many people believe that nuclear war is survivable and that leads to thinking about the use of nuclear weapons.
“That’s the biggest problem we face right now,” he said. “Intellectually, I think most people understand, know what’s going to happen if there is a nuclear war. It will be really bad. But we don’t really believe it. That’s an important distinction. We need to know it will be bad and we need to believe we have to do something about it.”
He quoted Deuteronomy; wherein God said, “Behold, I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life that you and your children might live.”
Among the crowd Sunday, Sister Mary Caritas was singled out for her dedication to peace. Springfield City Council President Jesse Lederman presented the member of the Sisters of Providence with a resolution authorized by the full council congratulating her for quest for peace over the course of her lifetime. Sister Mary will turn 100 years old at the end of this month.