Comment: A-bomb horror as driving force for policy change

by Kanako Noda, Staff Writer

The state of the world, in terms of nuclear weapons, has changed swiftly over the past year. One major impetus was the awarding of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a non-governmental organization. ICAN was awarded the prize in December for its contribution to the establishment of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This turned a spotlight on the longtime efforts of the A-bomb survivors to abolish nuclear weapons.

At the December ceremony, Setsuko Thurlow, 86, an A-bomb survivor originally from Minami Ward, Hiroshima and now living in Toronto, Canada, delivered a speech. She described how her classmates and her four-year-old nephew died because of the bombing and said, “We must not tolerate this insanity any longer.” Her impassioned speech drew sympathy that crossed national borders.

Perhaps here is where we can see the possibility of creating shared values in the world for producing greater cooperation in civil society and a stronger desire for the elimination of nuclear weapons. With such shared values, the international community can be swayed to take action.

In June, the first-ever summit took place between the United States and North Korea, and the two leaders signed a joint statement which includes the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” despite the fact that they had exchanged sharp words over their nuclear arsenals under the flag of nuclear deterrence just prior to that meeting. There is no denying that the summit materialized because of political motives and the strategic interests of each side. But this is precisely where the wish of the A-bomb survivors, who have long sought to highlight the inhumane consequences of nuclear weapons, can be a driving force for change in altering the attitude of political leaders who continue to rely on nuclear arms. This is the role that Hiroshima can play in advancing nuclear abolition.

In his Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called on world leaders to make the treaty “a milestone along the path to a nuclear-weapon-free world.” For the treaty to take effect, 50 countries or regions must ratify it and, so far, only 14 have taken this step. Mr. Matsui also argued that it is important to shape public opinion toward valuing a form of security that does not rely on armed force in order to have more countries ratify the treaty.

But the Japanese government, which continues to cling to the U.S. nuclear umbrella, resists altering its stance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said once again that Japan will not join the nuclear weapons ban treaty under his leadership. Thus, the divide between the national government and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will persist.

The average age of the survivors is now over 82. In two years, the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will again take place. The NPT Review Conference is held every five years so that the nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear nations can discuss issues involving nuclear disarmament. There is no time to stand idly by.

How can we effectively convey what happened on that fateful day? Still lying beneath the ground of the Peace Memorial Park, where the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony was held on August 6, are the remains of the former Nakajima district. To show the devastation wrought by the atomic bomb, the City of Hiroshima has begun to develop a plan to exhibit these remains in another part of the park.

Seventy-three years ago, people began a new day in their lives on the morning of August 6. The scorched surface of the buried layer of ground and the A-bombed artifacts show that these lives were utterly destroyed just a short time later. Imagine that you were there or members of your family were there. Let us think about this issue together.

(Originally published on August 7, 2018)