On this day in 1945, the USA dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. On the same day 29 years later, a sitting US President was prevailed upon to do the right thing and resign, rather than face certain impeachment. Today, both those memories are coming ominously together as a President who is woefully inept attempts to take the heat off himself by talking the nuclear talk once again.
Those who think this an exaggeration may find comparing the rhetoric of 1945, and that of the present day, instructive. After the bombing of Hiroshima, Harry Truman warned the Japanese that if they did not accept the terms set out in the Potsdam declaration - unconditional surrender - “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. That rain was another atomic bomb.
After the latest exhibition of sabre-rattling from the North Korean régime, Combover Crybaby Donald Trump told anyone who would listen that Pyongyang should desist from making any more threats against the USA, or “They will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen”. The idea that this was some accidental choice of words should be dismissed as fanciful. It was a deliberate allusion to Truman.
The idea of an under-fire leader using some kind of military action as a distraction from problems at home is not a new one, and has been used with varying degrees of success in recent years. It didn’t work for Saddam Hussein when he attempted to annex Kuwait, and nor did it work for Leopoldo Galtieri and the rest of the Argentine Junta over the Falkland Islands. But it did work for Margaret Thatcher.
But here a problem enters: in Kim Jong-un, the US is dealing with a leader yet more egotistical and unstable than Trump, and as the Guardian has put it, with no small restraint, “Experts on North Korea have warned that aggressive rhetoric could backfire on Trump, convincing Kim Jong-un that his regime is in imminent jeopardy and triggering what he sees as a pre-emptive attack”. Kim may not have the capability to send a missile with a functioning, miniaturised nuclear warhead. But on the other hand, he might.
That there are sensible people in the US military standing between Trump and the launching of a nuclear strike may give only limited comfort to those concerned about the escalation of this war of words: there may be no-one able to stand before Kim Jung-un and do likewise, not without being summarily taken away and executed.
So may arrive a moment more likely to result in a nuclear exchange that that which heralded the Cuban missile crisis more than half a century ago. And the power of a modern-day nuclear device would be far, far greater than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have two inept egomaniacs facing one another down. And neither of them has the first idea just how foolish the result of their threatened actions might be.
Still, for now the world keeps turning and life goes on. Let’s hope it stays as boring as that for the foreseeable future.