One of the exhibits at the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, Japan, is a case full of charred school uniforms. These uniforms were worn by young schoolchildren who perished when the atomic bomb was dropped on the morning of August 6, 1945. The exhibits are heartrending — a lunchbox still filled with the burnt remains of a lunch that was never eaten; a schoolbag still with its contents; a pair of glasses and even a watch stopped at the precise moment that the bomb was dropped. The bodies of many of the schoolchildren who were among the 135,000 that died in Hiroshima that day have never been found; the objects being the last testimony of their final moments.
The eloquence of the inanimate objects is heartrending and bears particular resonance for Pakistanis at a time when the country seems poised at the brink of nuclear cataclysm. While much is being said about first strikes and second strikes, the ignominy of appearing “submissive” and the readiness of Pakistan to resort to using nuclear force, there seems to be a disturbing dearth of discussion regarding the nature of the catastrophe that could confront the country were such strikes to actually take place.
In the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, for example, nearly twenty-five thousand people were killed per square mile at the centre of impact; in Nagasaki, which was bombed a few days later, there were 64,000 casualties, 93 percent of them from radiation burns sustained from the impact of the blast.
A nuclear attack with today’s technology is likely to be even more horrific. According to a report on the health effects of a nuclear attack, the primary blast injury will cause nearly everyone in a 1-mile radius to rupture their eardrums, fatally rupture all hollow organs and experience severe pulmonary damage. Those experiencing secondary and tertiary blast injuries will experience penetrating trauma, fragmentation injuries, crash injuries and open and closed blunt trauma. Thermal or heat injuries caused by the blast are likely to include flash burns which will cause immediate death in close proximity and many burn injuries to people even miles away from the blast.
Most frightening are eye injuries, or “flash blindness”, caused by the effect on the retina of the initial brilliant flash of light produced by the initial blast, even if victims may not be looking at the blast site. Radiation injuries will include contamination from the direct fallout, affecting the physical environment as well as the clothes, skin etc. of those exposed. Those that manage to evade death from extreme physical injuries caused by the blast, will be claimed by the high rates of cancer in the long term.
Despite the surreal devastation promised by nuclear warfare, much of the Pakistani public seems uninterested in developing an anti-nuclear movement within the country. The frivolity and ignorant bravado with which many national political leaders speak about the necessity of taking the first nuclear strike against India is a testament to this disturbing sense of denial regarding the true horror of nuclear warfare.
When President Asif Zardari issued his statement asserting that Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons against India, many politicians criticised his position as one signifying a submissive posture. News reports from around the country showed mobs determined to “teach India a lesson” by using nuclear weapons.
Two factors are undeniable here. The first is that India too possesses nuclear weapons and has been just as much to blame in escalating rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons. The other factor is that there is truth to the assertion that Pakistan may owe its current geopolitical survival to the very fact that it possesses nuclear weapons.
But recognition of these two realities should not blind Pakistanis to the unimaginable horror that would result if they were to be used. The operative rhetoric within Pakistan that argues that nationalism equals the readiness to unleash indescribable destruction is one that is unequivocally false.
There is truth to the fact that self-assertion and survival against India is part of our national identity. Every child raised in Pakistan learns early thus to revere the military. In recent years, our very sense of national pride is constructed on our possession of a lethal technology that can unleash unimaginable suffering and destruction.
What we have not developed is a level of introspection that should accompany the possession of such technology. In a country of over 160 million people, we do not have a single NGO devoted to the issue of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Even more disturbing, the general public has little or no idea of the magnitude of suffering that can be released by the weapons that are such a cornerstone of our national pride.
Finally, little or no questioning exists of what it means to construct our national sense of pride and identity on our ability to cause cataclysmic destruction. True, it allows us some collateral against foreign incursions, and perhaps even some modicum of bargaining capacity in a world where might often does make right, but what else does it do in terms of how we see ourselves as human beings? So unapologetically proud of our ability to destroy, have we forgotten entirely our duty to create and construct?
The territorial objectives of survival and maintaining sovereignty are cited as the unchallengeable imperatives that make the use of nuclear capability a necessity. Yet when one looks at the pictures and objects that remain testimonies of the terror unleashed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one cannot help but wonder whether even these imperatives are worth the near indescribable levels of human suffering that were unleashed in August 1945.
Does being Indian or Pakistani brand human beings with a history of hatred that cannot be transcended even when it is witness to the legacy of such suffering? The answer in these dismal days is unknown, and this uncertainty points to the necessity of unearthing the human beneath the Indian and the Pakistani.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at
Article reproduced by permission of the author and the Daily Times