Editorial: 70 years after the A-bombing; inhumanity of nuclear weapons ongoing issue

In Nuclear Might: Accusations from Hiroshima (1970), a book written in his later years, Hiroshima journalist Toshihiro Kanai said, “The anti-nuclear movement is opposed not only to the weapons themselves but to the ‘nuclear might’ organization.”

In other words, the aim of the anti-atomic and hydrogen bomb movement is to eliminate the work of those who turn nuclear materials into nuclear might. A special exhibition at the Hiroshima University Archives this summer looks back over the work of Mr. Kanai, who led the effort in the 1960s to prepare a white paper on the suffering caused by nuclear weapons. Taking a cue from this exhibition, we are pondering the meaning of the term “nuclear might.”

Whereas “nuclear capability” refers to military capability, “nuclear might” refers to the tremendous power that governs nuclear energy, whether for military or “peaceful” uses. Of course, the very existence of nuclear might is incompatible with democracy.

Seventy years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. We wonder once again: If people could do that, why haven’t people been able to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons?

Cold War thinking

Time has passed since the end of the Cold War, but the risk of nuclear war remains. Although the number of nuclear weapons has greatly declined from its peak, there are still 16,000 nuclear warheads in the world. And the reality is that, despite the obligation to disarm set forth in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), all of the nuclear nations are working to modernize their nuclear capability.

This year we heard something from the leader of a major power that was hard to believe. Russian President Vladimir Putin said coolly that his nation had readied nuclear weapons at the time of the political turmoil in Ukraine in February of last year. This can only be described as undisguised Cold War thinking.

But the nuclear nations shouldn’t be too cocky. They need to look squarely at the tide of international public opinion, which is asking tough questions about their nuclear might.

One example is the movement calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons from the standpoint of their inhumanity. Although talks at this spring’s review conference for the NPT broke down, more than 100 countries supported a “humanitarian pledge” introduced by Austria that calls for the outlawing of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction that are not clearly banned under international law.

Another example is that of a nation that suffered from the effects of nuclear weapons and that has stood up and made its voice heard. In April of last year the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a small country in the mid-Pacific, filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in which it sued all nine nuclear nations, saying that their possession of nuclear weapons was a violation of their obligation to disarm. This plea of former residents of the Marshall Islands, who have been unable to return to their homes for more than 50 years as the result of repeated tests of hydrogen bombs by the U.S., is heartbreaking.

Look at the A-bomb Dome

Come to think of it, next year will mark 20 years since the ICJ issued an advisory opinion stating that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.” This opinion was issued in response to a statement by then Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka and Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito. Fresh impetus must be given to this trend.

Why are nuclear weapons inhumane? The people of the world need to take a look at the A-bomb Dome, which opened 100 years ago as the Hiroshima Commercial Exhibition Hall. It bears witness to the nuclear attack carried out without warning on a city where many people were living.

Nuclear weapons lead to years of physical and mental suffering by the survivors. Uranium mines, including those in nuclear nations, nuclear test sites and other nuclear facilities around the world cause serious environmental contamination in the surrounding area. In addition to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hibakusha of all ages are suffering.

Japan, which has experienced the inhumanity of nuclear weapons firsthand, must not neglect its role. Japan must not only serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear nations but also exercise stronger leadership.

The current situation makes us uneasy. The Japanese government has taken a backward-looking position on a nuclear weapons convention and has not expressed support for the humanitarian pledge. While declaring that nuclear weapons must be eliminated, the government approves of the nuclear deterrence of the U.S., making for an inconsistent stance.

In his Peace Declaration today, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said, “Surely, you will be impelled to start discussing a legal framework, including a nuclear weapons convention.” We hope that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, who were in attendance at the Peace Memorial Ceremony, will take this to heart.

Threat to Article 9

For Hiroshima, there is another issue that cannot be overlooked. Japan has stored up a tremendous amount of plutonium that was extracted from the spent fuel of nuclear power plants, representing about 7,850 times the amount used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. This runs counter to the desires of the people of Japan and leads to speculation that Japan plans to arm itself with nuclear weapons. It could also encourage nuclear proliferation.

It is the same with the recent security bills, which many constitutional scholars and former directors-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau have said are unconstitutional. By rights, the government should shift its foreign policy toward the creation of a nuclear-free zone in northeast Asia that includes North Korea. Instead, in his address to the U.S. Congress in April, Prime Minister Abe focused on proclaiming the strengthening of the Japan-U.S. alliance, and he is in a rush to get a verbal commitment on passage of the bills by this summer. None of this is acceptable to Hiroshima, which seeks peace.

In a survey by Kyodo News of atomic bomb survivors throughout Japan on the abolition of nuclear weapons and Japan’s security, nearly 70 percent of the respondents expressed opposition to any revision to Article 9 of the Constitution. The security bills are an attempt to push through a reinterpretation of the Constitution authorizing the exercise of the right of collective defense, which has been prohibited in the past and could lead to the hollowing-out of Article 9. The atomic bomb survivors and Hiroshima have both the right and the responsibility to speak out firmly.

In 1950, the year before he died, poet Tamiki Hara delivered a speech in which he said, “It is only too natural that the peace movement should originate in Hiroshima.” This speech was not included in his collected works but appeared in a literary journal this summer.

In one of his poems, Hara described the devastated Hiroshima he wandered through this way: “Another world / after everything was stripped / so suddenly.” This scene may be recreated somewhere else in the world someday. Ways must be found to pass on the memories of those who experienced the atomic bombings firsthand even after they are gone. That is one more way to confront nuclear might.

(Originally published on August 6, 2015)