Aug. 6 and 9 are days of remembrance. On those days in 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 civilians. Those two days changed the world forever. We now know the face of annihilation.
Currently, the U.S. spends more than $4 million every hour, 24 hours per day, on nuclear weapons, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists. But with more than 4,000 available warheads, we have more than enough to keep us safe and deter any possible enemies from attacking us. The military has plans to rebuild our entire nuclear arsenal and spend another $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years. More is not better. More serves only to fuel a global arms race. It guarantees that if these weapons are used in war, the survivors, if any, will fight the next war with sticks and stones.
As a physician and an elected official focused on health care, my first priority is prevention. Prevention saves lives and money. Prevention of nuclear war takes precedence over all other preventions. Even a “small” nuclear exchange of 0.5 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons would lead to an unparalleled humanitarian crisis: a breakdown of our health system, disruptions of trade and our economy, destruction of our food delivery system, likely alteration of our climate such to cause widespread famine, an unknown cliff.
There is a way out of the grave danger we face today. In June, the Maine Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and other organizations supporting the “Back from the Brink” campaign. It urges our Congressional delegation to take five actions that will reduce spending on these weapons and the threat of nuclear war by:
— Renouncing the option of first use.
— Ending any president’s unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack.
— Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.
— Canceling the plan to replace U.S.’s entire arsenal with ‘enhanced’ weapons.
— Pursuing verifiable arms control agreements among nuclear armed states.
People in Maine share the ethic of frugality. Our military should follow our example when it comes to our nuclear arms budget. Building additional nuclear weapons is simply a waste of our hard-earned money. The costs to us as taxpayers are staggering. In 2017, Maine taxpayers paid an estimated $257 million in federal taxes toward the cost of producing, deploying and maintaining nuclear weapons. Of this Bangor’s taxpayers contributed more than $5 million. We could have used this money for our schools, roads and bridges, tax relief, health care, and other projects that would strengthen our core here at home.
A recent poll from ReThink Media found that 87 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans believe that we should spend only what we need to maintain a nuclear arsenal able to demonstrate credible strength and deter attacks. That is because we all know that the threats of today are different than those of yesterday. Cyberattacks, climate disruption and terrorism need different and more thoughtful approaches.
Historically, Republican presidents have reduced the number of nuclear weapons more than Democratic presidents, although all in both parties have done so. Today there are several bills in Congress that follow the prescriptions in Maine’s “Back from the Brink” recommendations. HR 921 S 272 call for “No First Use,” mandating that the U.S. not launch nuclear weapons unless under nuclear attack. They build on existing U.S. policy of no first use already in place for biological and chemical weapons. The U.S. House Committee on Armed Services recently blocked additional funding for provocative new low-yield nuclear weapons. Rep. Jared Golden deserves thanks for his vote. Likewise, Rep. Chellie Pingree for co-sponsoring HR 921. We need to urge Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins to co-sponsor the Senate bill S 272.
Congress should work, as it has in the past, to reduce the threat that nuclear weapons pose to all Americans. These bills are critical to bring Maine and the U.S. closer to what we all want — a prosperous and secure land in which to live and to pass on to our children.
Geoff Gratwick is a retired physician and represents Bangor and Hermon in the Maine Senate.