Today, Aug. 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nagasaki will also commemorate the milestone year on Aug. 9 on its nuclear attack anniversary.
A total of 210,000 people perished within a space of five months after the bombings in those western Japan cities, in which they were exposed to fierce blazes, blasts and radiation from the nuclear weapons. After World War II, Japan pursued a path toward becoming a pacifist nation based on those experiences.
Japan is now asking itself if the world has gotten closer to existing without nuclear weapons, as desired by hibakusha, or survivors of the atomic bombings, and which has become a common ideal shared by the international community.
In the wake of the U.S. military’s first use of an atomic bomb in war, an American scientist who was involved in the development project for the nuclear weapons said in a comment distributed by a U.S. news agency that Hiroshima would be “a devastated area not unlike our conception of the moon” for nearly 75 years and that rainfall would “pick up the deadly rays.”
Those two cities were devastated by the atomic bombs. Yet in Hiroshima, street trams resumed operations a mere three days after the bombing and canna lilies reportedly bloomed about a month later.
Today, Hiroshima is lush with greenery, a sight far from what the U.S. scientist predicted, making us feel the powerful vitality with which the city has risen from the ashes of atomic devastation.
In the meantime, inhumane suffering brought by the two nuclear weapons has continued into the present.
In the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombings, rain brought by an updraft from the blast fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki along with radioactive materials, in what later became known as radioactive “black rain.” Those who were affected by the black rain have suffered a wide range of health issues and their agony still continues today.
In order not to repeat the same tragedy ever again, it is essential to remember the memories from the past and face up to the pain suffered by hibakusha. However, the world instead faces gloomy realities when it ought to be taking hibakusha’s sufferings seriously.
The nuclear powers have been modernizing their atomic weapons. The United States and Russia are competing to produce small yield nuclear warheads and, along with China, are competing fiercely for the development of hypersonic glide vehicles.
North Korea has yet to give up its nuclear development programs even after an accord reached with the United States. India and Pakistan are reportedly increasing production of nuclear warheads as tensions between the neighboring countries rise.
Nuclear disarmament has indeed suffered a setback. Both the U.S. and Russia withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty originating in the Cold War era.
Another treaty, which limits the number of nuclear warheads possessed by the U.S. and Russia, is set to expire in about six months. If Washington and Moscow fail in negotiations to extend the treaty, their mutual trust could be lost, accelerating the arms race and throwing the world into an even more perilous state than ever.
During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow were embroiled in a nuclear arms race. After it peaked in the 1980s, both countries turned to nuclear disarmament. Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan stated that no one can win a nuclear war.
Once a nuclear attack starts, major cities in the world would be destroyed and radioactive materials scattered across the globe, triggering a nuclear winter and annihilating humankind as a consequence.
Such a horrendous scenario was apparently behind the moves toward nuclear disarmament. Fortunately, no leader in the world has ever put their finger on a nuclear button since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But behind the subsequent setback in nuclear disarmament lies U.S. President Donald Trump’s peculiar lack of awareness about nuclear weapons, among other factors.
Trump in the past made statements in favor of Japan and South Korea going nuclear, and asked an aide why the U.S. can’t use nuclear weapons. More recently, the president has been considering conducting a nuclear test explosion, according to media reports.
His remarks and actions prompt us to think Trump is taking nuclear arms too lightly. Even low yield nuclear warheads, whose explosive power is relatively small, could trigger devastation on par with that suffered by Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The world must once again turn its eyes to the tragedy and inhumanity brought by nuclear war.
Sumiteru Taniguchi, a survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bombing who passed away three years ago, once delivered a speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Holding a photo of himself as a young boy with burns all over his back due to the bombing, he told the audience to look at the picture without turning their eyes away, and said, “No more hibakusha.” His speech sparked a round of applause from attendants.
Anti-nuclear activities by hibakusha after the war eventually led to the adoption of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Nobel Peace Prize for an international nongovernmental organization calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, spurring on the global drive for a world with no more nuclear weapons.
What is vital today is to pass down the survivors’ experiences of the atomic bombings. The average age of hibakusha has surpassed 83. In the near future, the world will be without any living hibakusha.
As a matter of course, it is important to collect hibakusha’s written recollections of their bombing experiences, footage of their testimonies and other such records. It is also imperative to cultivate storytellers who can pass down hibakusha’s experiences to the next generations. Sharing survivors’ testimonies with the world via the internet is also a new way of passing down those firsthand memories.
To coincide with the atomic bombing anniversaries this year, online meetings are to be held at various venues in Japan and the U.S. These interactions would be of help to bridge the gap between the two countries in their awareness about the atomic bombings.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which puts a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons from their development to use, will come into effect if it is ratified by 10 more countries and regions, making nuclear weapons officially illegal.
Japan is against the historic treaty as it remains under the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. and other nuclear powers. However, Japan cannot fulfill its responsibility as the world’s only country to have suffered nuclear attacks in war if it is to keep turning its back on the new norm in the international community.
We must not make nuclear weapons burdens to be carried over to future generations. Former U.S. President Barack Obama, upon his visit to Hiroshima four years ago as the first sitting U.S. president ever to do so, stated in his speech delivered in the city, “… That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”
Let us share the same wishes together so the world can get closer to one without nuclear weapons.