Wednesday marks the 63rd anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima by an American atomic bomb. For most of us, if we think of that occasion at all, it will be a passing thought - a distant historical fact, probably noted with sympathy for those killed or wounded in the attack. Perhaps we will recollect - as we should - that the unprecedented destruction wrought by a single weapon helped bring World War II quickly to a close, obviating the need for an invasion of the Japanese home islands that would have been infinitely more destructive, for both the inhabitants and for our forces.
Others intend to observe that anniversary very differently. The event and its victims will be exploited as props in an international anti-nuclear weapons campaign. Ironically, under present and foreseeable circumstances, those who seek to "ban the bomb" would likely clear the way for the next terrible global conflagration.
Apparently, the Japanese television network NHK has enlisted in this campaign, whose stated goal is to achieve the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. A case in point was the propaganda-fest filmed by NHK for broadcast in Japan on August 6, in which I recently found myself featured.
For three hours on a Saturday evening last month, 16 other Americans and I and 17 residents of Hiroshima were asked to discuss how to rid the world of nuclear arms. Most of the American participants and all of those beamed in from Japan (including a resident American anti-nuclear activist) hoped it would be possible to ban such weapons.
It fell to me and a handful of my commonsensical countrymen to make the case that it was impossible to create a nuclear-free world. I argued it would actually be ill-advised even to seek such a goal.
For one thing, the proverbial nuclear genie is out of the bottle. The technology for making crude atomic weapons at least as destructive as the ones dropped 63 years ago, first on Hiroshima and subsequently on Nagasaki, is widely available. That is due not only to the likes of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan and his North Korean clients - the world's "Nukes-R-Us."
Unfortunately, the dissemination of nuclear weapons-relevant technology has been the result of an international agreement meant to prevent it: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT offered non-nuclear weapon states all the know-how and most of the materials they needed to become nuclear-armed, if only they promised not to do so.
Secondly, as that experience suggests, there is no basis for believing all nuclear weapon states would abide by a new undertaking to abolish their nuclear arsenals. The Russians and Chinese - inveterate cheaters on their international obligations - are busily modernizing their nuclear forces. Pakistan and North Korea are among the problematic lesser nuclear powers expanding theirs, while still others - notably, Iran - are covertly trying to acquire the Bomb. A number of these states have ties to terrorists that could result in the latter "going nuclear," too.
Thirdly, even if a global ban on nuclear weapons were universally embraced and, somehow, were honored verifiably, where would that leave us? History suggests that, in the absence of nuclear deterrence, the world would eventually be plunged yet again into the sort of cataclysm that twice scarred the 20th century. Making the world safe for conventional war should not be either our goal or an acceptable outcome.
Sadly, as the NHK program made clear, the campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons - heretofore a hobbyhorse of the radical left and its Soviet handlers - has now taken on a unprecedented degree of respectability. Prominently featured in the taping was a clip lionizing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Thanks to two op-ed articles he co-authored in the Wall Street Journal urging a nuclear-free world, Mr. Kissinger has been transformed in the eyes of the anti-nuke crowd from a "war criminal" into a sage and inspiration.
As a result, many who do - or certainly should - know better, have begun to embrace the idea that we can safely and responsibly effect the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Some, like Barack Obama, appear intent on doing so forthwith. In what passes for prudence, John McCain says it is a long-term goal.
Like it or not, the truth is that we cannot rid the world of nuclear arms. But we can eliminate ours. And the dirty little secret is that we are well on the way to doing just that - unbeknownst to most Americans who would rightly be appalled at the prospect.
Thanks to 16 years of inattention, purposeful neglect and willful unilateral disarmament measures under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the United States' nuclear arsenal is steadily obsolescing, becoming evermore problematic to maintain and increasingly losing its deterrent credibility. We alone among nuclear powers - declared and undeclared - are going out of the business by failing properly to preserve, let alone modernize, our aging stockpile.
The 63rd anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima should serve as an opportunity for urgent stock-taking. We can persist in the pretense that our inexorable, solo denuclearization is of no strategic consequence by pretending to rid the world of all nuclear arms.
Or we can recognize reality: A world without effective, safe, reliable and credible U.S. nuclear weapons will not be one in which there will be no more Hiroshimas. It will, instead, be one in which others can continue to inflict such destruction on us. And the contribution our deterrent has made to world peace - to say nothing of the security and freedom of this country and its allies (including post-war Japan) - will be no more.