Hibakusha and hope in the nuclear age
By Robert F. Dodge, MD
This week marks 73 years since the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, ultimately resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. With the dawn of the nuclear age, the term “hibakusha” formally entered our lexicon. Atomic bomb survivors are referred to in Japanese as hibakusha, which translates literally as “bomb-affected-people.” The bombings and aftermath changed the world forever and threaten the very future of man-kind to this day.
According to the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, there are three hibakusha categories. These include people exposed directly to the bomb and its immediate aftermath, those people exposed within a 2-kilometer radius who entered the sphere of destruction within two weeks of the explosion, and people exposed to radioactive fallout generally from assisting victims and handling bodies. These also include those exposed in utero, whose mothers were pregnant and belonging to any of these defined categories.
Hibakusha have provided a living legacy to the horrors and threat of nuclear war. The threat continues to this day, fueled by a new nuclear arms race initiated by the United States proposal to spend upwards of $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to rebuild our entire nuclear arsenal. Every other nuclear nation is following suit in modernizing their arsenals as well, giving rise to the myth of nuclear deterrence that has driven the arms race since its inception.
This renewed arms race threatens us and everything we care about every moment of every day. As tensions have grown between the nuclear superpowers, the threat of nuclear war by intent or miscalculation or increasingly by cyber-attack threatens us and everything we care about.
This is not a reality that has to be. Recognizing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences from any use of nuclear weapons, civil society and NGOs around the world—working with hibakusha—initiated an international effort over the past decade to abolish nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, led this international effort. On July 7, 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by 122 nations, representing a majority of the world’s people at the United Nations. Opened for signature on September 20, 2017, the International Day of Peace, the treaty makes nuclear weapons illegal under international law just as all other weapons of mass destruction have been declared. Once 50 nations have ratified the treaty it goes into effect 90 days later. Thus far there have been 15 nations who have ratified the treaty with New Zealand signing this past week (signing is step one, ratifying is the final step).
Under Article 1 of the treaty, nations are prohibited from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, deploying, stationing, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, under any circumstances.
The nine nations who possess nuclear weapons have officially boycotted the efforts to abolish these weapons. However, there are significant efforts by the people in these countries to move their governments to come in line with the international community working to eliminate nuclear weapons. Most of these countries are legally bound to do so with their 48-year obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, committing them to “work in good faith to eliminate nuclear weapons.”
In the United States, there is a rapidly growing movement called “Back from the Brink” that is gaining momentum as individuals, organizations, cities and communities across the nation are endorsing this resolutions that allows them to take action now.
This resolution, emanating from the efforts of many different organizations, can be endorsed by all. It calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:
- Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first
- Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any US president to launch a nuclear attack
- Taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
- Canceling the plan to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons
- Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
This effort empowers us to take action to end this insanity and realize the opportunities that our democracy provides. As the people lead, the leaders will follow.
This week, solemn memorials commemorating the nuclear attacks of August 6th and 9th, 1945 around the world will be attended by a decreasing number of the hibakusha bomb survivors. These individuals have never lost hope. Hope demonstrated from their courage, compassion, conviction and witness that no one will ever suffer or confront the horror they experienced. We owe it to them and to all future generations to do everything in our power to eliminate this immoral and now illegal
manmade threat to humanity. The time is now to add your voice to the growing chorus calling for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.