Jacob Heilbrunn

Going nuclear

Unless the President is prepared to back up his red line, the great deterrent could stop deterring

Wednesday marked the 72nd anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki prompted Emperor Hirohito to announce Japan’s surrender in a radio address, though fanatical war hawks tried to stop him. After 1945, Japan developed a pacifist movement and a so-called peace constitution. No country has deployed these fearsome weapons since.

Can it really be a coincidence that the day before this eerie anniversary, Donald Trump issued his implicit threat to unleash an unprecedentedly devastating nuclear attack on North Korea that would apparently eclipse Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

‘North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,’ said the President. ‘They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.’ Trump did not use the word ‘nuclear’, but his words curiously echoed those Harry Truman’s statement after the first atomic bomb was dropped. ‘It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe,’ said Truman. ‘Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen.’

Nuclear weapons are the great taboo —or at least they have been since the second world war. Neither the Soviet Union nor China has ever used them in combat; nor have India or Pakistan. With Trump and Kim Jong-un, a bad hombre if ever there was one, now at loggerheads with each other, is that about to change?

Trump’s entourage says no. The old man, we are told, was in a lousy mood. Maybe he had a bad day on the links at Bedminster, where he issued his warning during a photo op at the Trump National Golf Club. Trump likes to generate world-shaking news while promoting his brand, and perhaps the ‘fire, fury and, frankly, power’ that he threatened to unleash on Pyongyang really was meant for his 7-iron.

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