On the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing: Strive to expand the "non-nuclear umbrella"

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

White smoke from incense drifted in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. People waited in endless lines to lay flowers. Among them were aging atomic bomb survivors. But this year it seemed a larger number of young people and non-Japanese were visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Engraved on the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in the heart of the park are these words: “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil.”

The makeup of people praying for the souls of the victims before the cenotaph, as they wish for a world free of nuclear weapons, is clearly undergoing a change both generational and international.

In addition to a large number of ordinary citizens from abroad, the representatives of national governments from a record 59 nations attended the Peace Memorial Ceremony this year. Both the Peace Declaration by Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, delivered in front of the cenotaph, and the message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, among others, conveyed a strong hope for nuclear disarmament and abolition.

The chief cause of this hope is the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration this past January in the nuclear superpower. Even before he took office, he had expressed his intention to strive for a world without nuclear weapons. In a speech in Prague this past April, Mr. Obama went so far as to say that, with his nation being the only nuclear power to have used nuclear weapons, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.

President Obama’s words, which had never been uttered by his predecessors, are a source of high hopes and expectations for survivors, who, though suffering from various diseases, have been expending great effort in appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons and war.

Just one month ago, on July 6, Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reached an agreement on reducing strategic nuclear warheads and missile delivery systems.

However, there are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world, held mainly by the U.S. and Russia, and 10,000 of these warheads are deployed for war. North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons and missiles. Iran is allegedly developing nuclear arms to counter Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. And Islamic militants have raised the specter of nuclear terrorism.

Though hopes for nuclear disarmament and abolition are rising, these conditions constitute the stark reality facing humanity. In these circumstances, what role should Japan play as a country that has experienced nuclear attack?

If the Japanese government does not change its posture of calling on the United Nations to adopt a resolution to abolish nuclear weapons, while simultaneously relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its own security, Japan will continue to be criticized by the international community for maintaining a nuclear policy that is marred by a double standard. As a consequence, Japan will be unable to initiate strong leadership in the cause of eliminating nuclear weapons. On the contrary, this inconsistent posture in fact hinders the implementation of President Obama’s nuclear policy.

In his speech in Prague, President Obama referred to the immense number of nuclear weapons as the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. They were created based on the idea of nuclear deterrence. But if we continue to act on the basis of mistrust and fear toward one another, there will be little hope for nuclear disarmament and abolition.

The Japanese government must now pull away from its Cold War mentality and make diplomatic efforts to expand the non-nuclear umbrella, instead of the nuclear umbrella, in Northeast Asia and other parts of the world. At the same time, in cooperation with the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it should hold atomic bomb exhibitions, both at home and abroad, to convey the true horror of nuclear warfare to more and more people in the world.

Negotiations with North Korea will never be easy. Japan, though, can act not only within the framework of the six-nation talks but outside it as well by taking a more active approach, such as joining in efforts with China and South Korea. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea as a special envoy is a case in point.

If North Korea can feel assured that it will not be attacked and find benefit in disarming, the possibility that it would choose to dismantle its nuclear weapons program seems high. We have no choice but to patiently continue our confidence-building efforts.

On August 6, many young people were engaged in various peace activities in and around Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Some junior high and senior high school students appealed for donations for a campaign to invite President Obama to Hiroshima. Others explained the wish for peace that Sadako Sasaki embraced while folding paper cranes before she died of leukemia induced by the atomic bombing.

At the Peace Memorial Ceremony, two children spoke to the many thousands of people assembled in the park. “We will seek the truth so that we can have the courage to resolve our differences with words and the strength to do away with nuclear weapons,” they said. The new Japanese administration, to emerge after the general election of August 30, must actualize this spirit expressed by the children. In this way, the only A-bombed nation on earth will fulfill its own “moral responsibility” to humanity and future generations.

(Originally published on August 7, 2009)