Editorial: August 6 marks first anniversary of A-bombing since adoption of nuclear ban treaty

Nuclear weapons are an “absolute evil” and they must never be used. This wish of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bomb survivors bore fruit in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the United Nations in July. On August 6, Hiroshima observed the first anniversary of the atomic bombing since the treaty’s adoption.

But did those who attended the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony feel a sense of elation over the fact that the world has taken this large step toward nuclear abolition? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made no mention of the treaty at all. How did the elderly A-bomb survivors feel about Mr. Abe’s speech as they sat in the oppressive summer heat?

When he spoke during the ceremony, Mr. Abe reiterated his point of view by saying that both the nuclear and non-nuclear nations need to participate in the efforts to realize a world without nuclear weapons. This could be interpreted as indirect criticism of the treaty, which the nuclear weapon states are not expected to join.

Even more surprising was the remark he made during a press conference after the ceremony when he stated clearly, for the first time, that the government has decided not to sign or ratify the treaty. Did he really comprehend how the A-bomb survivors and the relatives of the A-bomb victims would feel about this remark, made on the day intended to console the spirits of the dead?

The government has repeatedly referred to Japan as the only nation to have experienced nuclear attack during wartime. Is it truly aware of the seriousness of turning its back on the nuclear weapons ban treaty? We have painstakingly reached the point where many countries want the world to have an international law which says that nuclear arms are illegal, and they have taken action toward this aim. The nation that experienced the atomic bombings must give momentum to this movement.

Representatives of A-bomb survivors’ groups met with Mr. Abe and directly criticized Japan’s decision not to support the treaty. It is only natural that they would lodge an angry protest against the Japanese government’s attitude. In a survey of A-bomb survivors’ organizations around the country conducted by the Chugoku Shimbun, more than 90 percent of those surveyed responded that Japan should join the treaty. Mr. Abe should give more weight to their ardent desire.

In Mr. Abe’s view, it may be a matter of course that Japan, which relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security, has concluded that it cannot support the treaty in the face of the growing threat from North Korea, which has been engaged in nuclear tests and missile launches. However, since Japan’s national policy rests on the three non-nuclear principles found in its Constitution, it is wrong for the A-bombed country to view nuclear weapons as a means of resolving conflicts.

In his Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui clearly expressed his support for the treaty that prohibits the development, production, possession, and use of nuclear weapons.

“Governments of all countries must strive to advance further toward a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he urged. “Any use of such weapons would plunge the entire world into hell, the user as well as the enemy.” He went on to say, “Possessing nuclear weapons means nothing more than spending enormous sums of money to endanger all humanity.” His words reflect the voices of the people living in the A-bombed city.

But Mr. Matsui should have also urged the government to sign the treaty. He could have proposed that the country’s security policy shift to a strategy that does not depend on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Instead, he only called on the government to do “everything in its power to bridge the gap between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states.” That, of course, is important, but his speech could have been more explicit in its demands.

With the adoption of the treaty, a large step has been taken toward a world without nuclear weapons. One of the main ways to bridge the divide between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations is to spread the idea of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons even more widely. We must press on with the goal of nuclear abolition and continue raising our voices from the A-bombed city.

(Originally published on August 7, 2017)