Hiroshima on Aug. 6 marked the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city by the United States in 1945. Nagasaki will follow to commemorate its A-bomb anniversary on Aug. 9.
In the summer of 1945, U.S. forces dropped atomic bombs on those two cities, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 people. Many of the survivors who were exposed to radiation from the bombs still suffer from a host of health issues today.
For Japan, Aug. 6 and Aug. 9 are days when we renew our thoughts and wishes for creating a world that will never again witness the use of nuclear weapons, by passing down the memories of the calamities to future generations.
Amid the waning sense of horror toward nuclear arms with the passing of the time, there have been endeavors to inherit the memories of the atomic bombings. Students of the Hiroshima Municipal Motomachi Senior High School interview survivors of the atomic bombing of the city and paint imaginary sights inspired by their testimonials.
One of those paintings, titled, “Cremation of father by brother and sister,” is based on testimony by Sadae Kasaoka. After her father died due to the bombing, she and her elder brother placed his body in a coffin and cremated it with chunks of wood they collected.
The painting shows a flame glowing in pitch-black darkness, evoking an image of the hellfire brought by the atomic blast. The hollow looks on the faces of the young siblings in the depths of despair leave a strong impression on viewers.
The painter of the work, Monami Tanabe, is a second-year student at the high school. “I wanted to portray the unfairness of the war, in which children were not even given the time to grieve over the death of their father,” she said.
Through her artwork, Tanabe, 17, has managed to make events from the distant past visible to people today, inspired by the experience that 88-year-old Kasaoka shared with her. Kasaoka is grateful for the young student’s efforts, saying, “She earnestly gave thought to what people today wouldn’t even be able to imagine.”
The painting will be donated to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. So far, a total of 190 paintings have been produced since the high school launched the project in 2007.
In contrast to these efforts to pass down the harsh experiences of A-bomb survivors to generations to come, a bleak landscape spreads across the world.
The United States and Russia, together in possession of 90% of roughly 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world, are scrambling to outpace one another in the nuclear arms race that also involves China. North Korea has newly forayed into the nuclear club, and Iran has been pushing ahead with its nuclear development program in rivalry with Israel.
“The risk posed by nuclear weapons has reached its highest level in 40 years,” warned Izumi Nakamitsu, high representative for disarmament affairs at the United Nations. She says the crisis we face at the moment is the first of its kind since the 1980s, when the arms race intensified between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union.
There are moves to raise the alarm against such a state of affairs. A group of scientists from the University of Colorado and other institutions calculated the possible effects in case India and Pakistan descended into nuclear warfare. The two neighboring nuclear powers have long faced a border dispute.
According to that scenario, a major nuclear attack on urban areas will leave tens of millions of people dead in the blast, and massive volumes of soot shooting up into the air would shut the sunlight out. The global average temperature would drop by 1.8 degrees Celsius, pushing down the production volumes of certain types of grain crops by almost 20% and spreading famine.
Even if a conflict is a regional one between countries owning nuclear weapons with limited capabilities, its repercussions will affect the entire globe. The world economy will also be thrown into major turmoil. The estimate, which has made the potential crisis visible, was given in the hope that it will help world leaders to think twice about waging any nuclear war.
U.S. President Joe Biden has declared July 16 this year “National Atomic Veterans Day.” It is the day when the world’s first atomic bomb experiment, better known by its code name “Trinity,” was conducted in 1945. We wonder if this could be one small step toward eliminating nuclear conflict.
Since then, a total of more than 200 atmospheric nuclear tests have been carried out, with the participation of over 200,000 American soldiers. Due to a gag order, many soldiers died without being able to reveal their experiences even to their families. A compensation system for veterans involved in those nuclear tests, introduced in 1990, is set to be abolished in the summer of 2022, raising concerns over the memories of the soldiers’ hardships being pushed into oblivion.
It was the first time in 38 years for an American president to proclaim a national day since 1983 during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Although the atomic veterans’ day will be in effect only for a year, a bill calling for turning it permanent has been submitted to the Congress. The U.S. is urged to make the day an opportunity to remember its own responsibility as a state over the nuclear atrocities.
Whether it be made by citizens or states, sober and steady efforts can make a difference. Even then, it is necessary to initiate yet farther and wider activities to bring the world closer to one without nuclear weapons.
It is essential to recognize once again the significance of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons coming into effect. The treaty advocates nuclear weapons abolition as an international norm. Yet nuclear powers, as well as Japan, whose national security is dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, have turned their back on the treaty under the pretext that it would undermine nuclear deterrence.
Amid the heightening risk of nuclear warfare, however, one is compelled to question how far nuclear weapons can actually work as a deterrent. It is rather significant to exhaust diplomatic efforts toward nuclear disarmament by avoiding a nuclear war crisis. The nuclear weapons ban treaty can serve as the starting point for such efforts, and Japan, too, must set out a stance to share those ideals.
At the beginning of the 1980s, there were approximately 370,000 A-bomb survivors in Japan. The figure has dropped to around 127,000 today. Nearly 9,000 survivors passed away over the past year. A day will come when no hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, are alive on Earth.
Let us imagine what will happen to us and our families if a nuclear war ever breaks out. Each and every one of us needs to exercise our imaginations. That would lead to a path toward never once repeating the tragedy of the nuclear attacks 76 years ago.