EDITO: Let Hiroshima, Nagasaki remain etched in our common memory

The mistake will not be repeated, reads an epitaph from Hiroshima. This summer, as we mark the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world faces an increased risk of the mistake being repeated.

This year we have witnessed an unforgivable violation of the international order by a major nuclear power, Russia, which invaded neighboring Ukraine and threatened to use nuclear weapons.

We are facing “a period of nuclear danger unprecedented since the height of the Cold War,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently warned. “Humanity risks forgetting the lessons forged in the terrifying fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said in a speech to the 10th Review Conference of the Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. nuclear weapons.

Japan is not immune to forgetting the lessons. Some people in this country talk about “nuclear sharing,” which means harboring American nuclear weapons, without clearly understanding the realities of nuclear war. This policy would not only go against an international agreement on nuclear disarmament, but could also increase the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. It is a troubling situation.

THE “NUCLEAR TABOO” CHALLENGED

Since the end of World War II, the world has supported a standard born out of the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima Nagasaki in 1945. This standard does not only apply to treaties and systems. It is a global consensus that nuclear weapons are so destructive and heinous that it would be “intrinsically wrong” to use them. It is an unwritten law that is central to nuclear restraint standards and institutions.

American political scientist Nina Tannenwald calls this notion “the nuclear taboo”.

Citizens’ calls for a nuclear-free world, along with the United Nations’ role in calling for nuclear disarmament and imagery of destruction, have combined to foster a sense of taboo. This taboo was shared as a line never to be crossed. But the nuclear taboo is now “weakening”, warns Tannenwald.

Behind this worrying trend lies the reality that the rules and frameworks for protecting peace and order have been seriously undermined. One example is the UN Security Council, which has become dysfunctional due to the authoritarian behavior of the major powers.

As the world is plagued by a proliferation of policies that preach the gospel of destroying norms, rather than protecting them, we wonder how many political leaders today are determined to apply the checks of reason to madness to destroy standards.

And the problem of forgetting. Referring to the current generation of politicians, most of whom were born after the end of World War II, “Hiroshima sits just outside their collective memory,” wrote Daniel Immerwahr, an American historian, in an article by opinion published in a British newspaper.

The United States and Russia are competing to develop smaller, “usable” nuclear weapons. This new nuclear arms race indicates an inability to imagine how even a small nuclear weapon could cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

The war of aggression and the threat of nuclear attacks from Russia must be seen as the consequences of the weakening of standards. All nuclear powers and all countries under the US nuclear umbrella must take responsibility for the situation.

THE RUSSIAN WAR A MAJOR TURNING POINT

This year, the world has also seen a historic step of hope. The first meeting of countries that have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was held in Vienna.

In an online meeting that linked the Vienna conference to Hiroshima, Hiroe Kawashimo, 76, said she wanted to see a world without war. As she spoke in front of the A-Bomb Dome, a solemn silence fell over those in attendance.

Kawashimo, like many children of her generation, was exposed to A-bomb radiation when she was still a fetus in her mother’s womb. As a result, children are born with abnormally small heads, a disorder known as “A-bomb microcephaly.” Many of these victims tend to remain silent about their disability for fear of prejudice. Kawashimo decided to start speaking publicly about his misfortune for the first time because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Is the horror of nuclear weapons, which inflict such agony on people even before they are born, truly understood?” asks Naomasa Hirao, who heads the secretariat of “Kinokokai” (Mushroom Association), a group of A-bomb microcephaly victims and their families.

During April, 136 cities from 13 countries joined Mayors for Peace, an international organization of cities based in Hiroshima dedicated to promoting the elimination of nuclear weapons. The unusual increase in the body’s membership was prompted by a rush by European cities to get involved in the cause.

The mayor of the German city of Hannover, one of the vice-presidential cities, said in written responses to questions from the Asahi Shimbun that the mayors, in solidarity with Ukraine, are sending clear signals calling for efforts for nuclear disarmament and a legal ban on nuclear weapons.

A new war has led to a turning point that prompts a new call for nuclear disarmament. The question is how political leaders will respond to this call and translate it into specific policies.

POWERFUL ANTI-NUCLEAR COMMITMENT

While the nuclear ban treaty has become a new pillar of norms, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has underpinned rules aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. These two treaties are the cogs in the vehicle of the international effort to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The Japanese government was not represented at the first meeting of signatories to the nuclear ban treaty. Indeed, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has turned his back on the treaty, as have his two predecessors, former Prime Ministers Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe.

The NPT Review Conference which began on August 1 is still continuing in New York. Kishida became the first Japanese leader to attend a NPT review conference and delivered a speech there. He took a positive first step by promising to “promote an accurate understanding of the realities of the use of nuclear weapons”.

But two important elements were missing from his speech. One was praise for the nuclear ban treaty. The other was Japan’s role as a “bridge” between nuclear powers and non-nuclear countries.

Because standards are falling, it was all the more important for the Japanese leader to send a strong message to the world that the very existence of nuclear weapons is wrong, instead of limiting his efforts to ‘realistic policies’. .

The average age of A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha, has exceeded 84. Time is running out to learn directly from their memories, there are some notable youth ventures to spread anti-nuclear messages.

Many young Japanese people attended the nuclear ban conference.

Kako Okuno, a 20-year-old native of Hiroshima, drew inspiration from Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist, to promote the idea that nuclear war would destroy the global climate. Okuno, like many others of his generation, has a keen interest in environmental issues. “There is a global society of people who share the same opinions and feelings,” she says.

We should support those young norm supporters who can easily transcend national boundaries and spread global sympathy with the cause while maintaining solidarity among like-minded people.

–The Asahi Shimbun, August 6

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