Hiroshima Memo: More efforts must begin for nuclear abolition

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

Permit me to begin this essay with a personal story. I was recently hospitalized for the first time in my life for surgery on one eye. After the operation, I was forced to lie in the hospital bed on my stomach for over a week because I had to maintain a face-down position. As a result, I felt pain in my lower back and a feeling of suffocation. It was like being tortured.

During this time, I thought of one A-bomb survivor. His name is Sumiteru Taniguchi and he is now 81 years old. He was exposed to the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki and received severe burns on his back and elbows and other parts of his body from the bomb's searing heat. He was forced to lie on his stomach in terrible pain and yet was unable to move for a year and nine months. Ultimately, he was hospitalized for a total of three years and seven months.

At United Nations Headquarters in New York, where the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is being held, Mr. Taniguchi lifted a photo of himself taken in the aftermath of the atomic bombing which shows his burned back and exposed red flesh. He appealed for nuclear abolition to nearly 300 people, including state representatives and U.N. staff members.

When he was in the hospital, said Mr. Taniguchi, he was in "excruciating pain and agony" and cried out many times, "Kill me!" For Mr. Taniguchi, who had miraculously survived the bombing, "to live was to endure the agony." Mr. Taniguchi and other A-bomb survivors forced to battle suffering caused by the atomic bombs must have experienced inconceivable pain. My own experience in the hospital might help me grasp just the tiniest percentage of the physical pain the survivors endured.

After my release from the hospital, I obtained speeches made by state delegates and NGO representatives at the NPT Review Conference via the Internet and read them carefully, including the speech delivered by Mr. Taniguchi, who represented the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations. The Chugoku Shimbun reported after Mr. Taniguchi's speech: "After his 13-minute address, the people in the audience stood, one after another, and offered an ovation that lasted nearly a minute."

I can certainly understand the audience's response.

The A-bomb survivors have overcome their suffering and grief to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, for reconciliation and peace. This call from the very depths of their hearts impresses people throughout the world. Many survivors, who traveled to the United States in a trip timed to coincide with the NPT Review Conference, visited schools and other facilities in and around New York City to recount their experiences for listeners. Each survivor must have felt a sense of fulfillment from the positive responses they received from the local people.

Apart from Japan's speech, few of the speeches made by state delegates touched on A-bomb survivors or Hiroshima and Nagasaki directly. Still, an overwhelming majority of non-nuclear weapon states, both developed and developing nations, have strongly urged the nuclear weapon states, including the United States and Russia, to eliminate their nuclear weapons. At the same time, they call for strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime and making the Middle East a region free of nuclear arms.

NGOs are not alone in insisting that negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention start soon. Many nations are calling for the same step.

The possibility that regional concerns may impact the NPT Review Conference as a whole cannot be dismissed. Issues involving such countries as Iran, a suspected nuclear power; India and Pakistan, both non-signatories to the NPT, like Israel, continuing their quarrels while holding nuclear arms; and North Korea, with its nuclear weapons program, are potential trouble spots.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed in his opening address on the first day of the review conference, "hopes and expectations are high" for "realizing the aspirations of human beings to make this world free of nuclear weapons."

Mayors for Peace, with a membership of nearly 4,000 cities in 143 countries and regions, is evidence of the fact that the number of people around the world who now grasp the historical significance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and are calling for nuclear abolition is growing.

To build further momentum for the elimination of nuclear arms, it is important to take advantage of this chance to pursue even closer cooperation among non-nuclear weapon states and NGOs. Japan, the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack, failed to make an impression in its speech at the review conference. However, it is worth noting that Japan stressed its "moral responsibility to act at the forefront of efforts towards the elimination of nuclear weapons…" Japan, as well, mentioned the importance of handing down the accounts of A-bomb survivors to future generations, promoting disarmament and non-proliferation education, and working in partnership with other countries and civil society.

The true, devastating consequences of the atomic bombings must be disseminated widely through such means as conveying the accounts of the A-bomb survivors in Japan and overseas, particularly in the nuclear weapon states. The most effective route toward razing "faith in nuclear deterrence," as the case of Mr. Taniguchi shows, is by communicating the true terror of nuclear war and the heartfelt wish of the A-bomb survivors that other human beings will never experience the same cruel fate suffered by the victims of the atomic bombings.

The outcome of the NPT Review Conference is naturally of concern. But for the citizens of Japan, the A-bombed nation, and the citizens of the world, the efforts that begin now for nuclear abolition are far more important. As journalists in Hiroshima, we will continue to disseminate informative reports from this city.

(Originally published on May 17, 2010)

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