Hiroshima Memo: A-bombed cities assume a more important role in the quest for nuclear abolition and peace

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

Wishing for “a century of peace,” we entered the 21st century with lessons learned from the human travails of the 20th century, dubbed “the century of warfare.” However, the wish disintegrated all too soon when the United States led air strikes against Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks that occurred on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. Today, nearly ten years after those first air strikes were launched, the region has been in a persistent state of war.

The 20th century was also called “the nuclear century.” Despite the horrific A-bomb experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States and Russia plunged headlong into the nuclear arms race with several other nations following suit. Since then, humanity has been perpetually exposed to the threat of nuclear war. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War between East and West, the risks associated with the increase in nuclear weapon states, the possibility of nuclear terrorism, and the accidental use of nuclear weapons, have, ironically, grown even more grave.

At the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May of this year, which was held for the first time in five years, the member states, against the backdrop of these risks, vowed to make efforts to realize “a world without nuclear weapons” and unanimously adopted the final document, which contained an action plan of 64 items. The words “consider negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention” were also included in the final document for the first time. These are significant achievements and they were made possible because the non-nuclear weapon states, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and A-bomb survivors, among others, came together to exert pressure on the nuclear weapon states.

Hiroshima received a large number of guests from abroad this year, including such Nobel Peace Prize laureates as Jody Williams, a peace activist in the United States, and former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, as well as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, politicians, senior government officials, and teenagers. Many of them pointed out the prominent role of citizens in eliminating nuclear weapons and the importance of spreading the reality of the damage wrought by the atomic bombing. They also expressed their resolve to join hands with the A-bombed city of Hiroshima and take action together.

A-bomb survivors, too, despite their advancing age and struggles with disease, visited a variety of places in the world, including the United States, to relate their A-bomb experiences and express their wish for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The appeals of the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are conveyed by A-bomb survivors or through the efforts of Mayors for Peace, among other means, have no doubt been rippling out into the world.

At the same time, there are problems involving nuclear arms in the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia, and the further development of nuclear weapons in these regions could have a severe impact on the fate of nuclear disarmament in the world. In Northeast Asia, in particular, tensions have been quickly mounting due to North Korea’s recent provocative military action as well as its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

It is said that such provocations, by increasing international tensions, seek to shore up the North Korean regime and strengthen the position of Kim Jong-un as the nation’s next leader, in the run-up to the gradual transfer of power from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s third son. It cannot be denied that North Korea’s budding nuclear arsenal has provided that nation with “nuclear deterrence” to a certain degree, and permitted its dangerous military action.

Whatever the reason may be, we have no other option but to recognize the continuation of the state of North Korea and remove its concerns with regard to national security in order to persuade the nation to abandon its nuclear ambitions. To that end, we must press not only for strong words from China with respect to North Korean behavior, but also direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea, between South Korea and North Korea, and between Japan and North Korea, as well as the resumption of the six-party talks.

North Korea’s dangerous brinksmanship must not be condoned. However, what is required now of the nations concerned are calm diplomatic efforts rather than undue military responses that could unexpectedly escalate into war. The tragedy of the Korean War 60 years ago, in which people from the same ethnic group fought against one another and produced a score of casualties, must not be repeated.

“Japan should take the initiative by holding the six-party talks in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.” I have heard this opinion from a large number of people, including Korean scholars and peace activists overseas. They believe that when people hold discussions in the A-bombed city, which experienced the horrific reality wrought by nuclear war, the participants come to the conversation with more humility and they see the irrationality and error of relying on nuclear weapons to maintain a state of peace. This mood helps to bring about fruitful negotiations.

The issue of nuclear weapons has come to be perceived not merely as a security issue involving a single nation, but as a universal security issue. To realize holding the six-party talks in Hiroshima, a variety of difficulties would have to be addressed, including ill will in connection with past history.

Still, the Japanese government should take advantage of the international recognition afforded the A-bomb cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which could play a role in the pursuit of “disarmament and peace,” and make concrete proposals in this regard, including the idea of holding the six-party talks in the A-bombed cities. In the future, these cities could be used as a venue for bilateral negotiations between the United States and Russia or multinational negotiations on nuclear disarmament. In the face of such moves, the contradictory behavior of Japan, which relies on the nuclear deterrence provided by the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” would be forced to change.

A government can gain the support of a great number of nations and citizens by developing an active, peaceful diplomacy. For Japan, making use of such “soft power,” based on its Peace Constitution, will be far more useful for its security than strengthening its military might.

We will soon enter the 66th year since the atomic bombings. The A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which reject war and long for nuclear abolition, are coming to assume a more important role both at home and abroad.

(Originally published on December 20, 2010)

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Remarks by visitors to Hiroshima in 2010, the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing (Dec. 25, 2010)

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