63 years after the atomic bombing: A chance to pave the way to nuclear disarmament


The atomic bomb that was dropped by an American B-29 63 years ago on the morning of August 6, exploded over Hiroshima just as an ordinary day’s activities were beginning. Since then enough time has passed for two generations of children to have grown up.

How were human beings harmed by the use of the first weapon for indiscriminate mass murder? Much remains unknown.

Lawsuits have been filed around the country by survivors who suffer from cancer and other after-effects of radiation and who seek government certification of their symptoms as A-bomb diseases. As a result of psychological trauma, bright light, loud noises and certain smells take many survivors back to the day of the bombing, and they are tormented by terrible memories. The precise nature of the lingering mental and physical effects of the bombing on the victims remains unclear. The use of the atomic bomb was such an inhumane and sinful act.

Kensuke Ueki, 63, who retired from his post as a professor at Hiroshima University this spring, said that when he was a child he became frozen with fear with the approach of August 6. He was terrified by posters describing films about the atomic bombing and would go out of his way to avoid seeing them. In elementary school he stared at the floor throughout films about the bombing. Ueki was 10 months old at the time of the bombing. He lost the sight in his left eye when it was pierced by shards of glass from a window in his home. After hearing accounts of the bombing from his mother and neighbors, frightful images from that day were etched upon his mind.

An uncontrollable fear persisted into his adult years. In the summer of 1995, 50 years after the bombing, he ventured into the Peace Memorial Museum for the first time, and that proved to be a turning point. He began lecturing about peace at the university. He talked about the suffering he experienced as a result of his psychological scars and read A-bomb-related literature aloud. Afterwards one student said, “I could well understand the sadness and suffering survivors experienced as a result of the atomic bombing.”

The average age of the atomic bomb survivors is over 75. Some of them have begun telling of their experiences for the first time to leave as their legacy. There are more than 20,000 nuclear warheads in the world today, and the threat of nuclear proliferation is growing. There is a basic inconsistency in the stance of the Japanese government, which calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons while enjoying the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. We have been nearly overcome with a sense of futility, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Ueki said, “We are entering the age of the global environment. We must point up the folly of the continued possession of nuclear weapons.”

The tide is definitely turning. The Cold War between East and West has ended, and we are entering a new environmental age in which the human race is threatened by global warming and a global food crisis. A nuclear war would lead to the ultimate environmental destruction: the annihilation of the human race. If we consider this from the standpoint of “global interest” rather than national interest, it is only natural that we seek a world free of nuclear weapons.

Those who supported nuclear deterrence theory in the past have begun to have a change of heart. Both last year and this year, Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, and three other former high-ranking officials issued statements in a U.S. newspaper calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. Their assertion that the only way to prevent nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation is to eliminate nuclear weapons has had wide-ranging repercussions. The former foreign minister of the United Kingdom and three others expressed their agreement in an opinion piece saying, “The ultimate aspiration should be to have a world free of nuclear weapons. It will take time, but with political will and improvements in monitoring, the goal is achievable.” The former foreign and defense ministers of Italy along with three others have also expressed their support.

The theory of nuclear deterrence no longer holds water. Rather, the threat of nuclear proliferation is growing. This awareness seems to be reflected in the U.S. presidential election as well. Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have both said they support the concept of a world without nuclear weapons and have indicated their willingness to make drastic cuts in the nuclear arsenal. Depending on the actions of other nuclear nations and the citizens of the world, nuclear disarmament, which is at a standstill, may take a major step forward.

But there is cause for concern. The Japanese people have been slow to respond. A survey conducted by the Chugoku Shimbun’s Hiroshima Peace Media Center on its website found that while 83% of respondents overseas said the abolition of nuclear arms was possible, only 53% of respondents in Japan said so. While Japan is an A-bombed nation, many Japanese people have never believed that it was possible to alter the situation regarding nuclear weapons.

The security framework upon which Japan relies and which is symbolized by the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. has remained in place since the end of the war. It must be said that the Japanese government, which has regarded staying within this framework as of utmost importance, bears great responsibility for this. The government is now taking the opportunity of the reorganization of U.S. forces in Japan to further extend military cooperation. Isn’t there a better alternative for a peaceful nation? A chance for nuclear disarmament is coming. If we don’t change our way of thinking, it will be difficult to take advantage of this opportunity.

Despite some bumps in the road, the denuclearization of North Korea is moving forward. We would like to turn our attention to the concept of a nuclear-weapon free zone in Northeast Asia, a concept that has been promoted by researchers into the disarmament issue and citizens’ groups. This would entail the creation of a nuclear-free zone encompassing Japan, South Korea and North Korea and a pledge by the United States, China and Russia not to use nuclear weapons against these three nations. This can also be regarded as a realistic way for Japan to live up to its three non-nuclear principles and get out from under the nuclear umbrella of the U.S.

Mayors for Peace, an organization led by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is working to get governments around the world to adopt its Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol, which incorporates a process for the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020. Along with promoting greater cooperation between cities, it is important for cities and their citizens to work together to see that the Japanese government changes its policies.

The messages of Hiroshima and Nagasaki play a large role in promoting this concept and the movement to support it. We must convey to the nation and to the world the reality of the ongoing suffering of the survivors, which is the ultimate human tragedy. This must be done in a way that will resonate with as many people as possible and that will incite their sympathy. Underlying this is the spirit of pacifism of Article 9 of the constitution, which arose from the horror of war and the atomic bombings. We would like to make the proposition that “nuclear weapons and the human race cannot coexist” stronger and more flexible.

The preface to Sankichi Toge’s "Poems of the Atomic Bomb," which Ueki read during his lectures, begins with the following lines:
 Give back my father, give back my mother
and closes with these lines:
 As long as this life lasts, this life
 Give back peace
 That will never end.
Taking their sadness and anger as a starting point, we would like the atomic bomb survivors to tell of their experiences of 63 years ago, no matter how hard it may be for them to do so, as a first step toward achieving “peace that will never end.” We would like others to encourage them to tell their stories. We would like as many people as possible to learn of the reality of the atomic bombing and then think about what each of us can do.

(Originally published on August 6, 2008)