Editorial: 71 years after the A-bombing, realize a world without nuclear arms while the survivors are alive

“A lot of atomic bombs should be set off like fireworks, then all the people on this earth will have keloids on their faces, too,” Shiro Nakayama wrote 60 years ago. Mr. Nakayama, a writer born in Hiroshima, suffered keloids on his face as a result of the atomic bombing. Back then, he was constantly stared at, had difficulty finding work, and his heart grew hard.

One day, as he stood in front of a monument inscribed with a poem by Tamiki Hara, a writer well known for this works about the atomic bombing, Mr. Nakayama saw that the monument had been badly damaged. One corner was chipped off because someone had thrown rocks at it, and the surface of the monument was so defaced that the writing on it was almost illegible. In his shock, he felt that it would have been better if the whole city and its population had been erased. This episode is included in a collection of letters he exchanged with Chieko Seki, a writer who also experienced the atomic bombing. This book of letters was published last year.

After so many years, Mr. Nakayama looked back on his feelings of that time, expressed through the correspondence with Ms. Seki.

From a humanitarian standpoint

Seventy-one years have now passed since that fateful day. There were many who lost loved ones. Even among those who were in the same classroom or at the same workplace, some died while others survived. And many of the survivors felt guilty for having lived, thinking that they should have died, too. They have had to live with these burdensome feelings all their lives. This is why the recent visit to Hiroshima by U.S. President Barack Obama should not be evaluated simply in terms of whether or not an apology was needed for the atomic bombings.

Of course, from a humanitarian standpoint, it was unpardonable to detonate a nuclear bomb above an inhabited city without warning. Still, we wish to ask Mr. Obama what can be done together for the dead. We call on the leader of the nuclear superpower to define a path leading to the abolition of nuclear arms and explain how that plan will be put into action.

There were a number of disappointing aspects to the speech Mr. Obama gave in Hiroshima. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui will quote from this speech in his Peace Declaration, and understandably has selected the words “We must have the courage to pursue a world without nuclear weapons.” But why did Mr. Obama have to add, “We may not realize this goal in my lifetime”?

If Mr. Obama believes that nuclear arms cannot be eliminated from the world in his lifetime, then the A-bomb survivors will have no chance to witness this achievement, since their average age is now over 80. This attitude that lacks a sense of urgency is disappointing enough, but it also makes us question his ability, as a politician, to take effective action.

In the address he made in Prague in 2009, Mr. Obama advocated “a world without nuclear weapons.” Since then, however, he has not achieved anything significant toward this end apart from the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Declaration of “no first use”

Meanwhile, the risk of nuclear war continues to smolder. There are still more than 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world, despite a significant decline from the Cold War peak. Moreover, though the nuclear powers are obliged to work toward disarmament, as stipulated by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), these nations are in fact making efforts to modernize their nuclear capability. Another worry is the risk of terrorist groups obtaining nuclear materials.

There is a glimmer of hope, however. Mr. Obama is reportedly considering the idea of proposing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would ban nuclear testing as well as issuing a U.S. declaration of “no first use,” which restricts the use of nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

The United States and its allies have stronger conventional military forces than other nations. If they were to be attacked with conventional, biological, or chemical weapons, there would be no need for them to fight back with nuclear weapons, let alone stage a first strike. If the weapons of war escalate, all warring nations will lay in ruins.

A no-first-use declaration, which accepts the possession of nuclear arms, will not immediately lead to the elimination of such weapons. But it is clear that this declaration would gradually lower the level of dependency on nuclear arms. A majority in the Japanese government are reportedly against the idea of the United States issuing a no-first-use declaration, contending that it will undermine nuclear deterrence against North Korea and China. Organizations like the Japan Congress against A- and H-Bombs are calling on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to support the no-first-use declaration. Mr. Abe should respond positively to this initiative.

Japan will come to a crossroads when it is forced to alter its security policy away from reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. If the speech Mr. Obama gave in Hiroshima is used as the basis for reinforcing the nuclear alliance between Japan and the United States, this would be counter to Hiroshima’s will.

Urgent need for legal framework

Let us heed the growing international call for creating a legal framework for banning nuclear arms. Last November, a resolution supporting such a framework was adopted at the U.N. General Assembly’s committee on disarmament. The resolution was proposed by Austria and other nations and received the backing of 128 nations, which is more than 60 percent of U.N. member countries. The fact that Japan abstained from voting is unacceptable.

Japan, which learned the inhumanity of nuclear weapons the hard way, must do more than simply serving as a bridge between the nuclear power and non-nuclear powers. It should take a proactive stance in creating this legal framework for abolition.

Since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have not been used for 71 years. Only our good fortune has prevented another tragedy. During the volatile Cold War era involving the United States and the Soviet Union, the expression “No Euroshima” was widely cried in the 1980s as the antinuclear movement grew around the world. Even now, this sends a chill down our spines.

Over the course of these 71 years, the fear of nuclear weapons has held their use at bay. At the same time, there have long been cherished illusions of nuclear might. In this power struggle among nations, the A-bomb survivors have continuously appealed to the world never to repeat the tragedies of the past. Some have even displayed their keloid scars at the United Nations. We must not forget their fight against nuclear arms in this nuclear age.

Setting aside our dissatisfactions with Mr. Obama’s speech in Hiroshima, we believe that the visit itself will help eventually change the notion that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified, an idea still prevalent among the American public. We must work together with the people of the nuclear superpower for it is their awareness, which cannot be controlled by politicians, that will grow like water flowing from an underground spring.

We will now press on, continuing to call for the world to abolish nuclear weapons so that, in the not-so-distant future, the A-bomb survivors will truly be glad that they survived and grateful for the chance to live.

(Originally published on August 6, 2016)