The Responsibility of a Nuclear Age

The Responsibility of a Nuclear Age
June 23, 2020 No Comments Brave New World Apara Sharma

The Effects of the Mushroom: The Responsibility of a Nuclear Age

By Sophia Paris

On August 6th, 1945, the United States changed the world forever– an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. In this paper, an ethical discussion surrounding the implications of nuclear warfare will be addressed. Themes of responsibility and accountability will emerge from a historical analysis of the bombing of Hiroshima, while an examination of the benefits and harms of nuclear technology will present multiple sides of the debate. Supported by evidence from both the past and the present, this paper will highlight the significance in addressing the role of nuclear power and technology in current society. 

Table of Contents


At eight-fifteen in the morning, on August 6th, 1945, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura was watching her next-door neighbor tear down his house (to make room on the street for fire lanes), when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. For the past few weeks, she and her children (she was a widow to a fallen Japanese soldier) had been kept awake by the screams of warning sirens, and had traveled numerous times to their designated evacuation grounds. Each time the sirens had sounded, the alerts had been false. She did not think that this particular time, the sirens would be real.

When the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was a pivotal moment in world history. But the consequences of nuclear war extend beyond the bomb itself: what are the repercussions of false alarms and a lack of readiness? Who has the responsibility to prepare for nuclear war, and how should we prepare for nuclear warfare? What are our responsibilities to both present and future generations as we continue to develop and manage nuclear weapons? Who should be held accountable for the deployment of nuclear weapons? And, where do we draw the line when it comes to utilizing nuclear power, if it all? 


On August 6, 1945, the world collectively experienced the greatest instantaneous demonstration of extreme power and destruction in civilized history. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and then again on the city of Nagasaki three days later on August 9, 1945. This was the first time in history that nuclear weapons had been utilized, and the effects of the deployment of these bombs were beyond severe. As time progressed, despite the mass devastation experienced in 1945, nuclear weapons continued to be developed and became more technologically advanced (and therefore inevitably more destructive). And now, the American nuclear arsenal is at its height: as of July 8, 2017, the United States held 6,000 nuclear warheads, 4,000 of which are stockpiled and 1,800 of which were deployed. (Abramson) Many scientists, scholars, and even politicians caution of an approaching new nuclear age. However, it appears that we are already in the midst of it. The level of destruction that nuclear weapons are capable of in current society seems almost impossible to imagine.

There are currently enough nuclear bombs distributed throughout the world to completely “destroy the planet at least five times over.”

(Eric Margolis; an American-born journalist and writer, who wrote for the Toronto Sun chain for 27 years) 

Because of such, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the bombing of Hiroshima as an example of potential nuclear war capabilities in current society, while examining the consequences associated with a society accustomed to nuclear threats. This paper will also address the following ethical question: Where do we draw the line when it comes to utilizing nuclear power, if it all? 

The main ethical values that are essential to an accurate analysis of the dilemma are responsibility and accountability. It is important to explicitly define each term as it will be used in this essay, for the sake of completely comprehending the ethical argument being discussed. 

The ethical definition of responsibility is, “a concept that refers to the fact that individuals and groups have morally based obligations and duties to others and to larger ethical and moral codes, standards, and traditions.”

(“Ethical Principles of Responsibility and Accountability”) 

It includes more than just the general purpose of a role, but also the processes and the outcomes, specifically the consequences that arise from a part of the set of obligations. 

Accountability, in regards to the ethical definition being used, “is a readiness to have one’s actions judged by others and, where appropriate, accept responsibility for errors, misjudgments and negligence and recognition for competence, conscientiousness, excellence and wisdom.”

(“Ethical Principles of Responsibility and Accountability”) 

Accountability is often confused with “blame;” however, there is an explicit difference between the two. Accountability is the ownership of an action whether or not the consequences of the action were good or bad (it also has an underlying implication that something will be completed to remedy the consequence, if needed, in the future). Blame, on the other hand, has almost completely negative connotations, that suggest total wrongdoing for an action, and the person that committed the action should reap the consequences that they caused. 

It is also important to emphasize the difference between accountability and responsibility. Responsibility is the obligations that come with possessing a certain role or position of power, while accountability is the ownership of the consequences of an action made by a person.

  Every individual can be responsible for any action, regardless of their position in society. However, in this case, regarding the ethical dilemma, it is the ownership of the consequences of an action made by a person in power. This is an important distinction to make, because the rest of this essay discusses the role and obligations that a leader has, and the responsibility and accountability that follows; it is someone in power in this situation who has to accept responsibility, not the ordinary citizen, and the distinction must be clearly defined, because the consequences of an ordinary citizen’s actions are less severe than that of a president, because the number of people that are affected differ.

Historical Background

The following portion is dedicated to establishing the conventions of the American antebellum world, focusing on a variety of factors that led to the decision to drop an atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to view nuclear warfare and the implications of such through a historical lens to further the ethical argument. Because nuclear warfare is not captive to the past, and because the effects of current nuclear weapons are relatively unfathomable, examining the dilemma through a historical lens is beneficial, because it presents the argument in such a way that it is easy to understand.

On March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into office after taking the presidential oath of office. As Roosevelt worked swiftly to improve the economy after his inauguration (which was in disarray after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression), Hitler managed to create an effective military machine that he used to gradually disrupt the power dynamic in Europe and shift it in his favor. Three years into Roosevelt’s first term, Germany ended its period of diplomatic isolation by joining an alliance with Japan and Italy (they became known as the Axis Powers). It was this particular maneuver that prompted Roosevelt to recognize that Hitler had the potential to become a threat to the United States (and democracy). 

Additionally, in the 1940s, scientists and academia were dedicated to conducting experiments and research that would advance military strength: the United States, for example, poured millions of dollars into research projects that they believed would help them win wars, such as developing advancements in technology, transportation, communication, and intelligence-gathering weapons. This was spurred on by the discovery of x-rays, which only spotlighted the promise of the atom, and developments in theoretical physics helped further the development of the atomic bomb. The race to create a nuclear weapon was encouraged by the settlement of the famous German (and Jewish) physicist Albert Einstein, who settled in the United States in 1933 after escaping from Nazi-Germany– his experience with the Nazi party convinced him to reach out to President Roosevelt to advise him to create an atomic bomb before the Germans did. Roosevelt became fearful of the power and the control that the Germans would hold over the United States if they were able to create an atomic weapon first. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Roosevelt established the Office of Scientific Research and Development on June 28, 1941. He also promptly declared war on Japan, thus declaring war on the Axis Powers. Then, in 1942, Roosevelt authorized the creation of the Manhattan Project, which was exclusively dedicated to researching and developing a nuclear weapon. 

Throughout the spring of 1945, the Axis powers were suffering major defeats. They surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945, a week after Hitler committed suicide (April 30, 1945). Now, the United States was able to turn its undivided attention to the war in the Pacific against Japan. 

Soon, by 1945, the nuclear power plants dedicated to nuclear research had managed to produce enough materials to produce and create a bomb. On July 16, 1945, during the “Trinity Test,” plutonium was detonated from a 100-foot tower in southern New Mexico, with the force of about 20,000 tons of TNT.  The bomb, nicknamed Gadget, was a success. 

Historical Perspective

On August 5, 1945, at midnight, an announcement on the radio system ordered the population of Hiroshima to evacuate and head towards their designated evacuation grounds, because two hundred B-29s (a type of heavy bomber typically flown by the United States during World War II and the Korean War) were approaching southern Hansu. (Hersey 6) Mrs. Hatsuto Nakamura, a widowed tailor’s wife (her husband was deployed to serve in the Japanese military, and was killed in battle), gathered her three children and together they walked to the East Parade Grounds in the dark, their “safety area.” They slept together at the park until the all-clear sounded at two-thirty in the morning, and they walked back home. For weeks, the air-raid sirens had been sounding at all times of the day and night, alerting citizens to make their way to their evacuation site, despite every single alert being false. 

Another siren sounded at seven in the morning. Mrs. Nakamura saw how tired her children were, and could not bring herself to wake them up and walk miles to the evacuation site again. She decided to let them sleep and stay home, hoping that this alert was also false. Luckily, soon after the siren went off, the all-clear sounded. As her children went back to bed, Mrs. Nakamura looked out her kitchen window, watching her next-door neighbor tear down his house to make room for a fire lane, because the government had recently begun to require the completion of fire lanes to be created. (Hersey 8) 

As she watched, “everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen.”

(John Hersey 8; an American writer, journalist, and war correspondent).

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, the United States dropped a modified B-29 uranium bomb (named the “Little Boy”) on the city of Hiroshima. No air-raid siren had sounded.

Scientific Effects of Nuclear Warfare (as seen by Hiroshima)

Approximately 200,000 people died from both bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mainly from the explosive blast itself, the resulting firestorm, and the radiation poisoning that followed. An estimate made by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (a cooperative Japan-U.S. organization) said that between 90,000 and 166,000 died in Hiroshima, while another 60,000 to 80,000 died in Nagasaki. (Listwa) In Hiroshima, approximately 60% of the immediate deaths were from burns, 30% from falling debris, and 10% of other causes. (“The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Total Casualties”). 

When a nuclear bomb is detonated, a fireball is created, with temperatures similar to that of the interior of the Sun (temperatures can reach 100,000,000° Celsius, which is hot enough to boil and vaporize people in the immediate vicinity). (“Thermal Radiation”) The fireball rapidly expands into the surrounding air, thus creating a blast wave, which moves initially outward at thousands of miles per hour, but eventually slows as it continues to spread. While doing so, it carries about half of the bomb’s explosive energy and is responsible for most of the physical destruction. (Wolfson and Wilson). As a result, the intense light and heat can cause spontaneous fires to occur, and they are accompanied by the release of large amounts of potentially lethal toxic smoke and combustion gases, creating an environment of extreme heat, high winds, and toxic agents. (Solomon and Marston) 

For those that were near the hypocenter (which is the point where the bomb exploded), they absorbed some of the highest doses of radiation to ever be delivered to humans. The effects of radiation directly correspond to the location of the person in comparison to the hypocenter: the further away a person is from the site of detonation, the effects are less severe. Regardless, exposure to radiation can cause near-immediate effects by killing cells and directly damaging tissue. (Listwa) The ionizing radiation deposits molecular bond-breaking energy, which can damage the existing DNA (thus editing and altering the genes). The cell can either repair the gene, die, or retain the resulting mutation. For the mutation to cause cancer, a series of mutations must accumulate in a specific cell. This means that the mutations themselves can occur years after exposure to radiation. (Listwa)

A month after the bomb was dropped, a rumor began to go around in the areas directly affected by the bomb that said that people who still felt sick, and were near the immediate vicinity of the site of detonation were poisoned by the atomic bomb. Those who did not die right away came down with nausea, headaches, diarrhea, malaise, and fever (this was known as the first stage); diarrhea and fever would follow (the second stage); and blood disorders, bleeding gums, loss of white blood cells, anemia, open wounds, infections in the chest cavity, and keloid tumors were all apart of the third stage. There was a significant number of deaths due to tumors, leukemia, lung cancers, breast cancers, and stomach cancers after the bomb was dropped as well. RERF scientists have found that the higher the dose of radiation that a bomb survivor received, the higher the chance that a person would get cancer at some point. (Douple)

In 1978, the total incidence of leukemia-related deaths as a result of radiation was 95%, meaning that the overall rate was nearly twice as high as it would have been without atomic radiation exposure.

(Solomon and Marston)

In short, the deployment of nuclear weapons have severe consequences on both the environment and the people that occupy that environment. The environment is drastically affected, and will be for generations. Intense illness relating to radiation poisoning, as well as cancers and severe mutations can have permanent effects that show themselves in future generations.

Desensitization Towards Nuclear Warfare

There is no question that nuclear warfare is a conscious threat in current society. However, this “consciousness” varies — for some people in certain countries, such as those in the Middle East, the threat of nuclear warfare is omnipresent. For many Americans, however, despite the consistent threat, it is not a general cause of worry. Most Americans are not significantly bothered by the growing nuclear arsenal. Americans do not worry that they may be bombed by another country, because there is a general understanding that the American nuclear arsenal is so large and advanced, that other countries must be more afraid to utilize their nuclear weapons against the United States than the United States is to use it against them. This brings into question the role of desensitization: is the world gradually starting to become desensitized to the horrible consequences of nuclear warfare, thus dehumanizing the value of human life? And, what is the consequence of a miscommunication?

Unlike the Hawaiian missile crisis (discussed in the following paragraph), the miscommunications of approaching missiles can not be totally attributed to human error. There must have been some level of human error, but it also important to consider the fact that the technology was nowhere as advanced as it is now. This introduces another ethical dilemma (that is not central to the main idea of this paper): was the miscommunication of the approaching missiles because of the lack of advanced technology, or was it because of human error? However, it is also important to recognize that there was some level of desensitization in Japan. The desensitization would not have prevented the dropping of the bomb, but if the sirens were not constantly sounding, perhaps Japanese citizens, such as Mrs. Nakamura, would have taken the threat much more seriously.

On January 13, 2018, for less than an hour, Hawaii residents thought that they were facing nuclear war because they received an alert that falsely warned them of an imminent ballistic missile strike. Panic immediately ensued: no one knew what to do. According to the New York Times, reports described Hawaiian citizens seeking shelter by parking their cars in highway tunnels built into mountains. Hawaii is generally prone to hurricanes and tsunamis, and all citizens are aware of the proper protocols for staying as safe as possible during major storms. However, the threat of nuclear weapons was completely unfamiliar. No one knew what to do. 

“There’s nothing to prep for a missile coming in. We have no bomb shelters or anything like that. There’s nowhere to go.”

-Natalie Haena, a 38-year old who lives in Honolulu, in a statement to the New York Times

Previously, North Korea had conducted several intercontinental ballistic missile tests over the past year, most recently in November 2017, so many Hawaiians were wary of the possibility that North Korea may have the capability to deliver nuclear missiles to Hawaii. The escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, including threats by both countries that they could use nuclear weapons against one another, prompted a heightened desire for an increased state of readiness in Hawaii. Because of such, Hawaii officials had been working for some time to refresh the state’s emergency plans in case of a nuclear attack from North Korea. On December 1, 2017, a nuclear threat siren was tested in Hawaii for the first time in more than 30 years, the first of what state officials said would be monthly drills. Officials also told citizens what would happen if there was a missile (regarding how the alerts would be received by citizens): a push alert would be sent to smartphones and a message would interrupt television and radio broadcasts. And, the day before the incident, government officials attended an event in Honolulu (sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce) to discuss the growing nuclear threat to the island. (Nagourney)

After 38 minutes of panic, Hawaii citizens then learned the alert was an error. During a shift change, a supervisor ran an unscheduled drill during which he contacted emergency management workers, pretending to be an officer. The employee then sent a ballistic missile warning via the state’s emergency warning computer program.

  It is interesting to note that officials released a statement saying that the employee had a reported history of confusing “real life events and drills,” and genuinely believed that there was an actual emergency. In an interview with NBC, the employee stated that he was “100 percent sure it was the right decision and that it was real,” while later blaming the state for a system failure, claiming that he did what he was trained to do.


State officials had posted notices on social media to announce the error, but a flaw in the alert system prevented messages from correcting the error being sent to citizens’ cell phones. Afterward, prompted by widespread outrage from Hawaiian citizens, officials said that a “cancellation template” would be implemented to fix mistaken alerts, and a new procedure was created that required the approval of two officials before any alert was broadcasted to the general public. (Nagourney)

And yet, on September 18, 2019, an alert was sent out again to Hawaiian citizens, alerting them of another approaching ballistic missile. This alert was also false. 

On January 12, 2020, thousands of people in Ontario, Canada, received an alert on their phones about an “incident” at one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants (located in Pickering, Ontario). The alert was received across two different time zones. About 90 minutes later, an additional alert was sent out to rectify the mistake. Unlike the mass panic experienced during the miscommunication crisis in 2018, most Canadian citizens experienced immense frustration with the government. The emergency warning system was only recently expanded to phone from broadcast warnings a year and a half ago since previously, the federal government had struggled with technical issues that failed to reach all necessary phones. The system has been largely criticized for sending out frequent, disturbing messages in the middle of the night that was not specific to the citizen’s location (and may not have been relevant), despite the ability for the system to be broadcasted locally. Additionally, the alarm overrides any silencing of phones, meaning that the system cannot be shut off or ignored. (Austen)

The concept of miscommunication, especially relating to nuclear warfare, is interesting. Miscommunication (although different) was prevalent during World War II: in 1945, while attempted diplomatic negotiations were occurring between the United States and Japan, no compromises had been reached. News reporters pressured Prime Minister Suzuki to say something about Japan’s status, but since no decision was reached, he replied “mokusatsu,” which meant that he was “withholding comment.” However, American translators interpreted his statement to mean that Japan was “taking into silent contempt.” The atomic bomb was launched on Japan ten days later. 

It is interesting to consider if the United States would have dropped the bomb on Japan if they believed that the war was coming to a close. Maybe President Truman would have dropped the bomb anyway because he wanted to demonstrate America’s military power, or maybe because he distrusted the Japanese. But, it is also important to consider that the United States did not want to engage in World War II unless directly provoked; so, if the threat of ongoing war was no longer there, President Truman may have decided to call a ceasefire. 

There are a variety of consequences that arise from a miscommunication relating to nuclear warfare, however, two important issues arise from the previous examples. During the Hawaiian missile crisis, because of the lack of proper systematic functioning of the emergency alert software, there is a lack of preparedness for any sort of nuclear crisis. And, as proven by the Ontario nuclear miscommunication alert, no one would know what to do if there was a real threat. If one assumes that the government has a direct obligation to protect its citizens at all costs, there is no ethical argument here: there is no excuse, and the governments should enhance their technology to guarantee the safety of their citizens.

It does, however, bring up the issue of desensitization. For instance, in Hiroshima, Ms. Nakamura notes in her narrative that she was constantly bombarded by sirens alerting incoming missiles, all of them false. She did not evacuate properly during the last alert, because she became so accustomed to the alerts being inaccurate.

It could be said that the Japanese governments were advising their citizens to the best extent of their knowledge, and purposely sounded the alarms as often as they did because they believed that approaching missiles were truly upon them: this is not the point. The technology at the time does not compare to the technology that we have now. Perhaps, arguably, the Japanese government was alerting their citizens so many times because they truly believed that they were in danger, but our technology far surpasses the technology then. There should be no excuse as to why false alerts and miscommunications are still prevalent regarding nuclear warfare. As the threat of nuclear warfare becomes more and more prevalent as political tensions grow, society cannot become used to alerts that are not real, because the consequences of nuclear warfare will be magnified significantly now in comparison to what they were then in the 1940s. If governments allow nuclear warfare to become the norm, then the values of safety and security are violated by the governments themselves. However, at the same time, if governments constantly updated their citizens about progressions in political tensions (which may lead to nuclear war), would this also violate the safety and the security of the citizens? The governments would be causing (what may be) unnecessary anxiety and worry that may serve more harm than good in a variety of ways. Naturally, hysteria would increase, and the threat of war would disrupt daily life. Additionally, it is common that during pre-war phases, stock prices tend to decrease, while the actual outbreak of war will increase stock prices. If the economy is negatively affected, so is the general public, because their lives are dependent on the success of the economy. If the government chooses to keep the larger public completely and informed about diplomatic (or not-so diplomatic) political relationships and the potential of nuclear war, arguably, citizens’ safety may be just as violated as it would be if they were not aware and alert. 

To summarize, the concept of miscommunications (thus leading to desensitization), is extremely prevalent in modern society. The effects of a miscommunication about nuclear warfare can lead to severe consequences, which may contradict the initial intent of the communication itself. As nuclear weapons continue to become a “normalized” aspect of society, the possibility of miscommunication (and then desensitization) is an enormous risk that society cannot afford. 

Benefits and Harms of Using Nuclear Technology

There is a general assumption that nuclear power is all destruction and no benefit. However, there is a lot of good that can come from nuclear power that can positively impact society. Before the dilemma can be made explicit, it is essential to discuss the benefits and the harms of utilizing nuclear technology, to determine where the line of using the technology should be drawn (if at all). 

Nuclear technology is utilized daily, even in civilian life. Modern society has become reliant on electricity, especially nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants generate about 14% of the world’s electricity. (Cole, Godoy, and Hunt)

However, each country has a varying dependency on this power. For example, France relies on 75.2%  of nuclear power as its main source of energy, while China sources only 1.9% of its energy from nuclear reactors. (Cole, Godoy, and Hunt)

The 98 operating nuclear power reactors in over 30 states make up 20% of the energy consumed by Americans. In many parts of the world, nuclear technology plays a critical role in agriculture. Farmers use radiation to kill harmful insects and bacteria, retain moisture in the soil, and improve the crop overall (irradiation is the only effective method to remove harmful organisms without making the food itself radioactive or significantly alter and affect the nutritional value of the crop). (“Other Uses of Nuclear Technology”) 

Doctors and researchers also capitalize on nuclear technology to diagnose and treat illnesses. Nuclear power can generate images used to create x-rays to identify broken bones and other injuries/diseases, and radiation itself can precisely kill off cancer tumors without damaging the surrounding healthy cells. Additionally, hospitals use gamma rays to efficiently sterilize equipment, such as syringes, gloves, heart valves, and burn dressings. (“Other Uses of Nuclear Technology”)

Nuclear technology is essential to space exploration: the generators in spacecrafts use heated plutonium to generate electricity. The fuel is so reliable the spacecrafts can be left unattended for years, even as they venture into deep space. (“Other Uses of Nuclear Technology”)

The World Nuclear Association stated that one-fifth of the world’s population does not have access to safe, clean water. Nuclear technology plays a role in water desalination (the process of removing salt from salt water to make the water drinkable). Because the process requires immense amounts of energy, nuclear power is commonly used to power the desalination power plants. (“Other Uses of Nuclear Technology”)

There are also a variety of disadvantages to nuclear technology beyond both the extremely controversial and detrimental use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power plants can have explosive accidents, and for those that work and live near the power plants, they are at a high risk of being exposed to radiation. Additionally, radioactive energy is not a renewable resource. Once uranium is completely extracted, it cannot be reused nor can it be recycled. It can take approximately 10,000 years for radioactive waste to neutralize and lose its harmful capabilities. (Rinkesh) And, this lingering radioactive waste can affect the environment, specifically aquatic life. Radioactive waste can trigger eutrophication, which is the extensive enrichment of lakes and other bodies of water, which increases the density of aquatic life (however, it is more harmful than beneficial, because of the lack of oxygen and resources available for all organisms). (Rinkesh) 

Creating nuclear technology costs millions of dollars to research and implement. Because nuclear power plants can create enormous consequences, they have to be well-constructed and well- protected (for example, nuclear meltdowns can occur). 

Nuclear meltdown occurs when the nuclear reactor core and the steel containment vessel begin to melt down, releasing radiation into the environment as a result. The consequences, although not as severe, as similar to that of releasing an atomic bomb.


It costs anywhere from 2 billion to 10 billion dollars to construct an operating nuclear power plant, and it takes five to ten years of construction and maintenance until it becomes fully operational. (Rinkesh) And even though nuclear technology has many benefits in medical, astronomical, and agricultural fields, it takes similar large sums of money to research, build, and test new developing technologies. 


This portion of the essay is dedicated to examining the ethicalities of the usage of nuclear weapons in extreme detail, referencing all of the aforementioned background details provided. Through Ms. Nakamura’s narrative, the ethicalities of the implications of nuclear warfare are highlighted from the perspective of the recipient of a nuclear bomb. For the recipient of a nuclear weapon, there are arguably no benefits, there is only destruction. It could be said that the bomb potentially saved more Japanese lives who would inevitably lose their lives in direct combat against the Americans. But the consequences of gun warfare are nowhere near as extreme.

Ms. Nakamura’s story illustrates one of the thousands of people who experienced the negative repercussions of nuclear warfare. For the Japanese citizens of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their safety and security were sacrificed for the guaranteed safety and security of the American people.

Why were thousands of innocent Japanese citizens held accountable by the American government? Collectively, both World War I and World War II had taken an enormous toll on all nations and cost millions of soldiers to lose their lives. Many countries, including both the United States and Japan, had invested large amounts of resources into the wars and had risked too much to simply surrender. The United States was forced to consider their options: continue to keep fighting in the same, traditional manner that caused millions of both Japanese and American citizens to lose their lives, while their resources continued to be depleted, or attempt to end the war (in a way that appeared to be the least harmful long-term). The United States felt that they had an obligation to protect American citizens after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because the Roosevelt administration felt that there was no obligation to engage in warfare unless American lives were directly at stake. Additionally, after the conclusion of the war in Europe and the United States focused their attention on the war in the Pacific, approximately 12,000 Americans died and more than 50,000 were wounded. If the United States pursued “traditional” warfare methods, more Americans could lose their lives, and then, the American government would not be considered “responsible.” 

Arguably, there is an assumed role that the federal government must do whatever it takes to protect the safety and the security of its citizens. If the United States continued to allow American lives to be constantly sacrificed, should they be held accountable, because they did not fulfill their role as a “protector” and associated obligations and responsibility? Assuming that by dropping the bomb was the only way to maintain responsibility, if the American government did not detonate both bombs, they would have not fulfilled their obligations– as a result, by choosing to drop the bombs, there are inevitable consequences that follow, but who and how should be held accountable for these consequences?

Regardless, the United States did choose to bomb both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brings another issue of accountability into question. The United States actively imposed severe harm and conflict on the Japanese, and harm almost always involves accountability in some way. How accountable should the United States have been held by the Japanese people? And, should have the Japanese government be held accountable by the Japanese people, for leading them to the brink of destruction?

There were, of course, other options for which the United States could have fulfilled its responsibility to their citizens. They could have continued to fight in a more traditional method, as mentioned before. The American government could also have made the decision to surrender to the Japanese, so that no more American lives or resources were lost (however, in turn, the United States would have to sacrifice not only its pride, but also what it believed in). The United States could have continued to attempt to negotiate diplomatically to prevent any lives from being lost, although it is important to point out that this method would have appeared to be largely unsuccessful, because of the kamikaze and the complete Japanese devotion to the war. In the American government’s eyes, this was the only way for them to uphold their responsibility. 

First, let us be reminded by the ethical definition of responsibility, which are the two values that will be shaping the course of the ethical argument. Responsibility is the idea that individuals have moral obligations and duties to others (which can take a variety of forms), and because of such, specific consequences can arise from the set of obligations. 

The first question that will be addressed in this analysis is the following: who has the responsibility to prepare for nuclear war (under the assumption that it is necessary)? Should this job fall to international peacekeeping organizations, such as the United Nations or NATO? In 2005, the United Nations adopted a policy that said that the organization has a responsibility to protect civilians who are harmed by their government or by other people. However, this does not specifically address the question of nuclear warfare.

 It is interesting to note that in 1996, the International Court of Justice stated that possessing any form of nuclear weapon is a criminal offense under international law. It is still technically illegal for any nation to possess nuclear weapons, but most disregard this law.

Since these organizations exist to provide peace, it does not seem likely that these international organizations will advocate for the distribution of nuclear weapons to all countries, especially to those that are already considered a strong militaristic power. However, it would also be foolish to avoid doing so as well. Some countries, such as North Korea or Iran, have aggressive militaristic tendencies, and may not always comply with established disarmament policies. North Korea, Iran, and Russia are all countries that are known for imprisoning, mistreating, torturing, and subjecting their people to the most inhumane treatment. Some may argue that these countries should not have access to nuclear weapons, because they are much more likely to utilize them than a democratic republic, such as the United States. However, this would be unethical. If we were to value each country’s autonomy (which, one could say is the very essence of a country: not all can agree, so borders are drawn to highlight similar customs, cultures, and beliefs), this would be a clear violation of the country’s autonomy.

Who would deem if a country could possess nuclear weapons, hypothetically speaking? A large peace-keeping organization, such as the United Nations? Even this aspect demonstrates how ineffective it would be for some countries to have access to nuclear weapons and to deprive it of others: not all countries respect the United Nations, and would abide by their laws. It would be difficult to reinforce these rules.

Additionally, it makes these nations especially vulnerable to those countries that do have access to nuclear power. Deterrence arises from a nuclear arsenal, and nuclear war between nations can be prevented. But again, nuclear war could also be prevented through disarmament policies. However, if all countries do not collectively participate in disarmament, then those that do will remain especially vulnerable to those that do not; again, nuclear weapons are often an effective method of deterrence against engaging in nuclear warfare, because of the inevitable simultaneous retaliation. 

Assuming that most countries dislike the deployment of nuclear weapons, it could be argued that international lawmakers should prepare citizens of corresponding nations for war. The greatest number of people would be protected under one large organization, which could increase security and safety. Additionally, not all countries have the same views on foreign policy, military defense, and the ethicalities of nuclear warfare. It does not seem like it would be possible for a large scope of diverse countries to all agree on the same legislation regarding nuclear warfare. Even if this was the case, the autonomy of each country to make their own decision based on their own beliefs and values would be sacrificed. Additionally, it is important to consider that it would be very difficult to reinforce such a policy. Each country has its own governmental system and methods of policing. It would be nearly impossible to guarantee that all countries are completely abiding by any rules and restrictions imposed. Instead, perhaps the governments should be held responsible for preparing their citizens for a war on a national level. This is much more probable: the level of differing opinions is greatly diminished, and policies can be easily enforced. Autonomy for each country would not be violated, because each country would now have the decision to arm their countries with nuclear weapons to whatever extent they deem is necessary (or not necessary). Many think that governments should be responsible for preparing for engaging in a potential nuclear war with another country. The main purpose of a government is non-negotiable: the government must provide order and all necessary resources to uphold the well-being of society and its citizens. Naturally, this includes militaristic capabilities, which nuclear war is a subset of. Once again, this “preparedness” can look different for each country. But, as we see now in current society, most, if not all countries, will seek to enhance their nuclear arsenal for deterrence (again, this puts some countries at a disadvantage: smaller countries who do not have the economic resources to build and enhance their own nuclear arsenal rely on other larger countries for defense, but this, in turn, makes them especially vulnerable, both militarily and diplomatically, regarding negotiations). 

This introduces another essential question to the ethical dilemma: how should we prepare, and should it involve large-scale preparation or small-scale preparation? 

“The United States is probably less prepared for any kind of nuclear detonation than it has been at any time since the Cold War.”

— Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and technology at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey,

Although people may be aware of North Korea’s threats to incinerate American cities or Russia’s new hypersonic weapons, most people, especially those who did not live through the Cold War, have no idea how to respond to the warning of an actual nuclear emergency. Many experts blame the general unawareness of preparation for nuclear warfare on the government and its inability to communicate properly. (Sander) As seen through the discussion of both Hawaii miscommunication crises and in Ontario, no matter the threat– nuclear missile or nuclear leak — our current governments cannot handle the possession of such materials. Does this mean that we should not have them if we cannot use them without consequence against our own people? Assuming that one values federal responsibility and that the governments have a paternalistic obligation and duty to protect their citizens at all costs, the lack of education and awareness about nuclear weapons does not translate well. Again, the argument about the effect on the citizen’s immediate life or long-term life comes into play: protect the “greater good” and establish effective large-scale security but increase stress and anxiety for citizens, or risk obliteration.

What are our responsibilities to both present and future generations as we continue to develop and seek/manage nuclear weapons? One could argue that the governments (because it is currently the governments that possess and determine the fate of nuclear weapons) have an obligation to preserve and protect their citizens. If a threat exists so that future generations of citizens cannot exist, then the government may argue that they must sacrifice the fate of another country in order to preserve their own. However, the environmental, social, economic, and psychological effects of both the “Little Boy” and the “Fat Man” lingered for extended periods of time, and with the increased potential of new nuclear technology, the effects could be beyond devastating and could last much longer than just a couple of decades. There are currently enough nuclear weapons to blow up our Earth: do we have a responsibility to preserve the Earth for future generations? Do we have an obligation to protect the environment and the people from the radioactive particles that are so detrimental? Or, do we have a responsibility to guarantee the safety (and the existence) of future American citizens by utilizing nuclear weapons against other countries that threaten society and peace?

There are a variety of ways that the value of responsibility is prevalent in the ethical argument over nuclear warfare: regardless of whether or not international organizations or federal governments prepare society for nuclear war, there has to be some level of preparation regardless. The level of preparation is critical to deciding the precedent of nuclear weapons, and how that will affect future generations.

Who would deem if a country could possess nuclear weapons, hypothetically speaking? A large peace-keeping organization, such as the United Nations? Even this aspect demonstrates how ineffective it would be for some countries to have access to nuclear weapons and to deprive it of others: not all countries respect the United Nations, and would abide by their laws. It would be difficult to reinforce these rules.

The first ethical question that comes into play when discussing accountability is: have we become accustomed to nuclear threats? Are we willing and unable to engage in meaningful disarmament negotiations? Now, in society, nuclear weapons are “common.” It no longer comes as a surprise to hear that countries are increasing their nuclear arsenal, or practice launching newly developed missiles. It is important to note that there are some disarmament and arms reduction policies currently in place, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), and the Open Skies Treaty (OST); however, it is also important to recognize that not all countries follow and respect these treaties (for example, President Trump recently made the decision to pull the United States out of the OST). Because only a few countries actually sign and abide by these treaties, it is clear that they are largely ineffective. The threat of nuclear war is ever-present, but it is not until there is a direct threat for citizens to stress the importance of disarming (or war) and for governments to frantically seek solutions, either militaristically or diplomatically. Because nuclear weapons have arguably become the “norm” (to some degree) in international society and relations, is disarmament ever a possibility? Is it something that countries should seek, especially if deterrence is reliant on enhanced and advanced nuclear arsenals? 

This naturally leads us to ask who should be accountable for the use of atomic weapons. Ethical issues may not appear to arise from this question, but in fact, they are only heightened. There are a variety of ethical stakeholders when it concerns the deployment of nuclear weapons: the governments, the recipient nation, the general public and society, the economy, the scientists and researchers who develop these weapons, and the environment. All of these stakeholders are closely intertwined– if one of them is directly affected, the rest are as well. What about those who created the technology itself, who produced and built the bomb? Should the creator be held responsible? Yet, it is the governments that budget funding and money towards research for new nuclear technologies, that enhance our nuclear arsenal, that argue and debate and declare war against other governments.

 This is another ethical question that could inspire rigorous discussion. Should we place the blame on those who created the weapon? I am personally inclined to think that the creation of this technology would happen regardless– for example, even if the United States did not manage to create the first atomic weapon in the 1900s, just based on human nature alone and our immense curiosity, I think that it would have eventually been discovered and created. Additionally, it is also important to recognize how the discovery of the atomic weapon actually has many benefits, as discussed beforehand. Because of such, I personally cannot place the blame on the creator; the creator and scientific community did not make the decision to drop the weapon, but only to discover more about a topic that was relatively unknown in the scientific field, which, as we see, actually has many positive applications. 

It is also the president who ultimately has the power to make the decision to utilize a nuclear weapon. They are also, some may argue, completely responsible for the well-being of their citizens and the morals and ideologies that they value and must maintain, for the sake of their people and of their society. So, potentially, the country that chooses to deploy the weapon could be held responsible, because it was they who chose to drop a weapon capable of unimaginable destruction. However, there are a variety of other factors involved: what about the country that may have started the war? If the country was killing thousands and thousands of people, to protect (and to be responsible), the other country should have no choice but to interfere.

Would it be fair to hold them accountable, since they resorted to nuclear warfare as a last resort? It is interesting to note that most countries do not shy away from accountability when it comes to new technological developments in the field of nuclear warfare, but accepting accountability of utilizing (or even creating) weapons that have devastating potential is not something that a given country wants to do.

In short, countries are willing to be accountable if they deploy practice missiles into the ocean, or if they get caught trying to stockpile weapons: this is because society is gradually starting to become desensitized towards nuclear threat and war. Additionally, the questions of who should be held accountable for the deployment of a bomb still remain unanswered.

To summarize, there are a variety of ethical issues that stem from the usage of nuclear warfare. First, who should be responsible for nuclear weapons (the presidents/leaders of countries, peace-keeping organizations, etc.)? Then, what should this preparation for nuclear warfare look like? The responsibilities to present and future generations through our usage of nuclear technology, and whether or not we have become accustomed to the threat of nuclear warfare was also discussed in this portion of the essay. And lastly, who should be held accountable for the usage of these destructive technologies? 


This portion of the essay is a discussion of my own opinions relating to nuclear warfare, after researching and analyzing all of the presented information to enhance my own ethical argument. I personally believe that ideally, disarmament should be something that all nations seek. The threat of nuclear warfare increases drastically as political tensions continue to escalate, meaning that the threat increases each day. I support a consequentialist perspective: I believe that the repercussions do not justify, by any means, the use of nuclear weapons.

The level of total devastation that nuclear weapons are capable of overriding any potential justifications. However, this perspective of disarmament may not be entirely realistic.

I think that the only way that disarmament is possible if all countries seek collective disarmament. If political powerhouses such as the United States, for example, chose to eradicate their nuclear weapons while other countries do not, such as North Korea and Russia, the United States would be risking their citizens’ lives. There is no denying that one of the benefits of nuclear warfare is natural deterrence. It is one of the most effective–if not the only–defense mechanism against other nuclear weapons. The country that chooses to eliminate its nuclear arsenal instantly becomes highly vulnerable, and political tensions grow, this could increase the likelihood of nuclear war. Collective disarmament is a must. It is important to note that the autonomy of each country is not something that I believe holds a lot of weight in this dilemma: collective disarmament is probably not something that all countries would want, because countries such as North Korea, the United States and Russia firmly value their militaristic capabilities.

That is not to say that I do not believe in the importance of a country’s right to autonomy. However, I think that in this situation, the lack of autonomy collectively benefits, instead of it only benefiting some countries– all countries will be equal in their possession of nuclear weapons.

That is something that I value in this dilemma; the equality of the lack of distribution of nuclear weapons, so that not one country remains militaristically (and thus politically) superior to another country, who may be more vulnerable because they lack nuclear weapons. I also believe that by sacrificing autonomy, responsibility and accountability are maintained. If no nuclear weapons are at the disposal of a president, for example, there is no responsibility in dropping the bomb, and the inevitable accountability that follows. However, the leader of each country would have a responsibility to be accountable that they will not develop, create, or deploy nuclear weapons while other countries do not. 

There are a variety of ways to achieve collective disarmament, the first being a historical analysis. If we continue to analyze the implications of nuclear war and the consequences that arise, only then can we truly understand what these weapons are capable of. Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) should never be forgotten, and as we continue to move into a world that is increasingly reliant on nuclear weapons, we must remember all of the devastations from Hiroshima to serve as a reminder as to why nuclear weapons result in more harm than good. We can still see the role of responsibility and accountability has been passed down to other generations: just as an example, the doctors that treat the Japanese citizens affected by germ-line mutations caused by the radiation of bomb, to some extent, bear the responsibility of President Truman (who made the decision to drop the weapon) and Prime Minister Suzuki (who chose to ignore the American ultimatum). Although one could argue that nuclear weapons helped to conclude World War II, thus potentially saving thousands of lives, the lasting and lingering implications of nuclear warfare are, in my opinion, far more devastating.

As mentioned before, not only do nuclear weapons devastate the instant generation, but also additional generations to come. So, I believe that we must continue to seek peace. This can be done through one of two ways: by strengthening political ties with all countries, and by seeking diplomatic approaches to all disagreements, no matter the extremity of the situation.

In my opinion, this is the most ethical method to deal with nuclear warfare. In this way, each country has some level of autonomy in deciding what their country values and requires in negotiation for peace. Additionally, each leader is able to be responsible for bettering their own society, but also become consciously responsible for the other country’s society (and recognize how significant their actions are on both societies) While it is important to note that eliminating nuclear weapons from society does not prevent politicians from being corrupt, or even in engaging in traditional warfare methods, it does successfully prevent the total eradication of a society (or even the world). While the leader of each country has to be responsible and accountable, they do not have to worry about being responsible and accountable after dropping (or receiving) a nuclear bomb. 

To answer the question that I pose at the beginning of this essay about where to draw the line regarding the utilization of nuclear power, I understand that nuclear technology is essential in modern society, especially in North America. Nuclear technology has been extremely beneficial in agriculture and medicine, as well as in providing electricity and fuel. I draw the line there: in my opinion, the benefits of using nuclear power for uses other than as a weapon is ethical.

It is important to note that while the usage of nuclear technology for medicinal purposes, for example, is much more ethical than the usage of nuclear weapons, nuclear technology is still not completely ethical.

As discussed previously in this essay, nuclear energy is not a renewable resource, and the effects of radiation on the environment and on society can be harmful. However, in my opinion, there is much more benefit than harm. We are also slowly starting to become much more conscious of our effects on the environment, partly because we are starting to become accountable of our actions. We are witnessing the effects of climate change and pollution, which humans are completely responsible for. And now, as we are no longer indirectly affected by these changes, we as a society are now starting to become accountable to our actions, and seek solutions to these environmental problems that we have caused. I have hope that society will no longer need to rely on nuclear energy as a fuel source. But in the meantime, I understand how essential nuclear technology is to our society, so as long as it is not used as a weapon, and it is used for good, I believe that it is ethical to utilize nuclear technology. 

In conclusion, as nuclear technology becomes increasingly more advanced (and threatening), we should not forget Hiroshima and all of the destruction and devastation that followed. We should approach this new nuclear age with extreme caution. I believe that we must engage in diplomatic negotiations and we must keep the conversation going, because I argue that we as citizens of the world must continue to question and debate the ethicalities of the usage of nuclear warfare, to protect and preserve the peace, for the greater sake of society and of the world. 

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