Readers of John Hersey’s 31,000-word article "Hiroshima," which was published in the Aug. 31, 1946, issue of The New Yorker, will never forget the horrible effects of the first atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially the faces of those who had looked into the blast and whose melting eyeballs were dripping down their cheeks. Our first use of the weapon killed an estimated 200,000 human beings. Today, a single nuclear weapon dropped on a major city would immediately kill hundreds of thousands and injure many more.
In June 1998, 75 U.S. Catholic bishops declared, “Nuclear weapons must never be used, no matter what the provocation, no matter what the military objective.” In Prague in 2009, President Obama announced his drive to reduce the role—even rid the world—of nuclear weapons. But recently Mr. Obama dropped his consideration of a no-first-use policy, by which the United States would use the weapon only in response to an enemy’s nuclear attack, in the face of heavy resistance to the idea. Reportedly, key advisers have warned the president that to men like Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, our reluctance to annihilate several hundred thousand innocent people makes the United States look weak.
In his visit last May to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, President Obama reaffirmed his vision of a nuclear-free world. “We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear…. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime. But persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe.” President Obama must muster the courage of his original commitment to a disarmed peace.