Hiroshima and the World: The Hope of Hiroshima

by Douglas Roche

Douglas Roche
The Hon. Douglas Roche was born in Canada in 1929. He was a Senator, Member of Parliament, Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, and Visiting Professor at the University of Alberta. He was elected Chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Committee at the 43rd General Assembly in 1988 and was the founding Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative, an international network of eight non-governmental organizations specializing in nuclear disarmament issues. Mr. Roche has received numerous awards for his work for peace and non-violence, including the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation for World Peace Award (Canada) and the United Nations Association’s Medal of Honour. The author of 19 books, his latest is his memoir, Creative Dissent: A Politician’s Struggle for Peace, published by Novalis in 2008.

The Hope of Hiroshima

Hiroshima taught me hope. That may seem incongruous, given the devastation and suffering the city endured, but Hiroshima has pushed ahead into a new life, not wallowed in despair. This hopeful spirit struck me forcibly on my first visit there in 1983.

With some friends, I spent a day visiting the museum in the city’s Peace Memorial Park, with its vivid, even electrifying, depictions of atomic horror. I interviewed some hibakusha and heard tales of unimaginable personal suffering. The day was one of unremitting gloom.

In the evening for diversion, my friends and I went to a baseball game--Hiroshima versus Tokyo. There we got caught up in the excitement of the game (it ended in a tie!) and cheered for the home town team. Afterwards, we reflected on the good time we’d had. The evening allowed our minds to focus on the future. Hiroshima had re-built itself: life went on. Hope for a better future was in the air.

If the people of Hiroshima can have hope, I’ve often told myself, so can I. This thought has sustained me over the past quarter-century in my roles as a parliamentarian, diplomat and civil society leader dealing with the intractable nuclear weapons problem.

Ethicists have proclaimed that nuclear weapons are devoid of any moral legitimacy. Great legal minds have declared that they are illegal. Military leaders have conceded that they have no military value. Yet the world is plagued with the continued existence of 25,000 nuclear weapons, most of them with a destructive power much greater than the Hiroshima bomb.

Why does the world tolerate this? How is it that public policy-makers ignore that nuclear weapons are the greatest problem of the 21st century? It is because nuclear weapons have become entrenched in the political systems of the powerful. Public opinion around the world favours the elimination of nuclear weapons, yet the political systems are not responsive. Nuclear proponents, driven by the military-industrial complex, claim that the abolitionists are naive.

Thus for many years there has been a stalemate between those who want to free the world of this threat of Armageddon and those who claim that we will always have to live with the bomb. This paralysis has produced a state of ennui, of apathy, even of despair.

But in the past few years, a change of thinking has started in important circles. World figures such as Henry Kissinger and George Schultz have begun to talk about the need for the United States to lead the way in taking steps toward a nuclear weapons-free world. European leaders have taken up this cry. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has called for progress toward a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would ban the production as well as deployment of nuclear weapons.

This shift in thinking has risen to a new level with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, who has said that a nuclear weapons-free world will be the centerpiece of his nuclear policy. Renewed negotiations between the U.S. and Russia are planned to drive down the number of nuclear weapons held by each side. Comprehensive negotiations with the U.K., France and China are contemplated. India, Pakistan and Israel, the other nuclear weapons holders, will be examined in this new light.

So, rather suddenly, the hope of the abolitionists has been revived. Instead of being the principal obstacle to nuclear disarmament, the United States, under Obama, is now looked on as a possible new leader. Will this hope last?

We have not heard the last of the nuclear proponents. They will not easily succumb to a new wave of public and government opinion. The first signs of renewal of global terrorism will bring back cries for nuclear “protection.”

It is now necessary for like-minded governments to renew their call for the nuclear powers to show that they are serious in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons by taking active and concrete steps to divest themselves. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty cannot stop the spread of nuclear weapons as long as the major states continue to hold their own arsenals. Important non-nuclear weapons countries like Germany, Japan and Canada must now speak out and tell the nuclear powers that they are not credible in trying to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as long as they themselves continue to hold them.

In this new debate now unfolding, the role of civil society is ever more important. People everywhere must decide that our future is too important to be left in the hands of those who are engulfed in the culture of war. A new age of enlightenment with the ideas of a culture of peace at its core is dawning. We must translate this vision of peace into practical policies that contain and then eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Recently, Judge Christopher Weeramantry, an outstanding international jurist who served on the International Court of Justice, said: “Anti-nuclear civil resistance is the right of every citizen of this planet. For the nuclear threat, attacking as it does every core concept of human rights, calls for urgent and universal action for its prevention.”

The policies of the past have brought us untold wars and suffering, massive poverty, environmental destruction and repression of human beings, and have taken us, with the invention of weapons of mass destruction, to the edge of annihilation. Isn’t it time to try something better, to raise the standards of civilization for the sake of survival? That is the meaning of the Obama moment. But the Obama moment will only bear fruit if civil society speaks out strongly to call for and support new policies.

We must enter this new moment with a determination to finally secure the entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, take all nuclear weapons off alert status, produce a treaty to cut off fissile material production, and share nuclear technologies so that states will be helped to maintain international standards against converting nuclear fuels to bombs. All this will prepare the way for the signing of a Nuclear Weapons Convention by 2020.

Nuclear disarmament is, as Mohamed El Baradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said, “key to our survival.” He said: “We now have another chance to create a saner, safer world by working to eliminate the nuclear sword of Damocles that hangs over all our heads. Let us not waste this opportunity.”

With such a course of determined action to eliminate all nuclear weapons, a new spirit of hope can energize the world. Such a hope will have its basis in Hiroshima, where people rose above adversity to teach the world. The world can live free because Hiroshima triumphed.

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