Editorial: To prevent humanity from destroying itself

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing that destroyed the city of Hiroshima. At that time, there was jubilation among the Allied Powers, including the United States, Britain, and France. In anticipation of Japan’s surrender, the media in those countries put out reports hailing the destructive power of the atomic bomb. One person quickly saw through the excitement, however, and identified the danger inherent in nuclear weapons.

Albert Camus, a novelist and editor-in-chief of the French Resistance newspaper Combat, was that person. His novel The Plague regained attention this year because the story seems to have foreseen the coronavirus pandemic that now bedevils humanity.

A passage in one of his editorials, dated August 8, 1945, said the world had learned that “any average city can be wiped out by a bomb the size of a football... Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery.”

Considering that that comment was written at a time when there were no details available about the damage caused by the atomic bombing, especially the effects of radiation on the human body, his insight into the essence of things is nothing short of remarkable.

Doomsday Clock now stands at 100 seconds to midnight

He was concerned about the use of science for systematic murder and whether continuation of human beings was even possible, saying “we will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests.”

Seventy-five years have passed since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Mr. Camus pointed out, the world still faces a situation in which the existence of humanity is in danger so long as there are nuclear weapons. As a matter of fact, the seriousness of the crisis has only deepened.

Our current situation can be expressed in the form of the Doomsday Clock, the status of which is announced by a U.S. scientific publication to indicate metaphorically the time remaining until the end of the world. In January this year, the clock stood at 100 seconds to midnight, closer than ever in history, partly because the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia lapsed last summer. The INF was the first treaty in history to aim at the abolition of a specific category of nuclear weapons, paving the way for an end to the Cold War.

Now, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is the only remaining nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia that limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and other weapons. If negotiations to extend the treaty were to end without an agreement being reached, it would expire in February next year.

The world is on the verge of losing a crucial brake with which nuclear war can be prevented. Despite this situation, the United States and Russia, two nuclear superpowers that possess 90 percent of the nuclear weapons on earth, are working to develop low-yield nuclear weapons aimed at production of “usable warheads.” China is also busy building up its own military forces. That country’s provocative actions in the South China Sea and the Senkaku Islands are intolerable.

So many world leaders, lacking a global perspective, are poisoned by the idea of “my country first, come what may.” If they were allowed to take the helm of the world, humanity could very well destroy itself.

Citizens’ actions restricted by COVID-19 pandemic

Moreover, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens’ actions, which ordinarily would act to correct the selfish words and actions of the nuclear powers, have been unexpectedly limited.

The Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held every five years, was scheduled for this spring but ultimately postponed until early next year. Many A-bomb survivors were expected to make the trip to the United Nations Headquarters and make appeals to conference participants about the horrors of the atomic bombings and the need to abolish nuclear weapons.

The A-bombed city of Hiroshima is also affected by the pandemic. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which had been receiving increasing number of visitors after the reopening of its renovated main building last spring, has been forced to close its doors or limit the number of visitors. The numbers of students who visit Hiroshima on school trips and visitors from overseas have dropped sharply. Although virtual museum tours and online A-bomb testimonies to pass on experiences to the next generations are being offered, the lost opportunity for people to come and learn what happened in Hiroshima is regrettable.

The Hiroshima City government was forced to drastically downsize this year’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, which is scheduled to be held today. Even so, the city must state clearly what needs to be demanded of the Japanese national government.

First, we must urge Japan’s government to approve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted three years ago with the support of many who do not believe that nuclear weapons and human beings can coexist. The wish of the A-bombed cities has taken on shape, as the treaty comprehensively bans the use, threat of use, and possession of nuclear weapons. With the ratification by 10 more countries and regions, the treaty will come into effect.

When that happens, nuclear weapons will be prohibited by law. Nuclear states would have difficulty ignoring the treaty, on which to this point they have been turning their back. The Japanese government will no longer be able to rely on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.”

Some might believe it will not be easy to change inflexible attitudes about this issue, but that stance will change if the voices of many people are joined. The nuclear weapons ban treaty would represent the product of such unity, but there are other examples as well.

Between hell and reason

The Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group revised its guidelines regarding investments and loans in May of this year, explicitly banning financing of the production of nuclear weapons. Before the revision, the institution prohibited investments only in businesses involved in cluster munitions, which are recognized as inhumane weapons.

According to a Kyodo News survey conducted from February to March this year, 16 Japanese financial institutions responded that they have set guidelines to refrain from investing in and extending loans to companies involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Four of the companies indicated that their disclosed guidelines explicitly mention nuclear weapons.

The reason for this is the spread throughout the world of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment standards for investment decisions. More and more investors are taking into consideration a company’s commitment to environmental and social issues when they make determinations about investments. With the increased number of customers and consumers conscious of such issues, financial institutions seem to be trying to meet those expectations.

Such change can be taken as a sign that more and more people have a sense of crisis about the current state of humanity: the spread of inhumane weapons, exacerbated global warming, and on and on. If the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons were to be effectuated, people would take ever greater interest in the issue of nuclear weapons.

Hell or reason. Mr. Camus concluded his editorial by asking us to choose one or the other, putting the onus on each of us regarding whether or not the human race survives. Clearly, the abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to prevent any repeat of the A-bombing catastrophe.

(Originally published on August 6, 2020)