Atomic bombs ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’ exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima 72 years ago creating a lasting nuclear taboo – until now. What has changed?

Until recently, a significant taboo has existed around the use of nuclear weapons in war. However, we are now in a position where that taboo is being flagrantly disregarded by the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world, and a totalitarian dictatorship.

Taboos offer a way for us to create overarching rules of societal acceptability that transcend our social and cultural norms. Taboos prohibit behaviours that are not appropriate within and beyond the moral or ethical framework of an individual community – scenarios that are so dangerous or perverse that they are almost unspeakable. Traditionally, those who engage in taboo activities, such as incest, are stigmatised and ostracised by their society, as their breach or defiance of taboo could have significant and unacceptable repercussions. We had a taboo surrounding deploying nuclear weapons – out of respect for the devastation they can wreak – but it seems more and more fragile.

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