Editorial: “Nuclear weapons are the ultimate evil” Setsuko Thurlow warns at Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

“Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Setsuko Thurlow, 85, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and now a resident of Canada, spoke these words at the award ceremony for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. When she made this appeal, many who were listening surely reaffirmed their determination to realize the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons.

Ms. Thurlow delivered a speech at the award ceremony along with the head of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The non-governmental organization (NGO) received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 for its efforts that led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in July.

The fact that an A-bomb survivor who experienced this tragedy first-hand was able to send out a message at an event that draws worldwide attention is highly significant.

Ms. Thurlow, who was 13 at the time of the atomic bombing, has long actively campaigned to stress the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons from her base in Canada. She has worked with ICAN since its establishment.

During her speech, Ms. Thurlow conveyed a vivid description of the devastation that was wrought beneath the mushroom cloud, telling how family members, schoolmates, and countless others lost their lives in the atomic bombing. While the nuclear-armed nations have maintained that nuclear weapons are a “necessary evil” in their role as a deterrent for security, Ms. Thurlow declared these weapons to be the “ultimate evil.”

The Nobel Committee may have chosen to award the Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN in the hope of motivating the international community to make further efforts to advance nuclear abolition.

International conditions involving nuclear weapons have become increasingly precarious. Although 56 countries and regions have now affixed their signatures to the U.N. treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, both the nuclear powers and those nations that rely on the nuclear umbrella, including Japan, have turned their backs on the treaty. While nuclear disarmament remains at an impasse, North Korea has accelerated its own nuclear and missile development program.

This year, A-bomb survivors whose hard work was fueled by the wish that “No one else should have to endure the same kind of terrible experience” have passed away, one after another. With little time left, aging survivors are unable to hide their mounting frustration over their abolition aim.

This frustration is particularly acute in connection with the Japanese government, which continues to cling to the U.S. nuclear umbrella for the nation’s security. As the only A-bombed nation, Japan should be playing a leadership role in abolishing nuclear arms. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has reiterated the government’s opposition to the nuclear weapons ban treaty, saying, “The Japanese government is taking a different approach to this goal.” It is not surprising that Ms. Thurlow criticized the leaders of both the nuclear-armed nations and the countries under the nuclear umbrella, calling them “accomplices.”

The ambassadors of the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France – were absent from the award ceremony. They were, in effect, boycotting the event. They are against the nuclear weapons ban treaty because they claim that it threatens to undermine the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime and the “strategic stability” needed for security. However, the NPT requires that the nuclear powers pursue efforts to reduce their nuclear arsenals and move toward the greater goal of nuclear abolition. Their desire to truly address this issue of nuclear disarmament is questionable.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue were also invited to the award ceremony. The A-bombed cities have repeatedly argued that nuclear deterrence, and the nuclear umbrella, are an unsustainable myth. Considering recent tensions between the United States and North Korea, the risk that nuclear weapons could be used accidentally or impulsively is, in fact, growing greater.

As long as nuclear arsenals exist, there is also the danger that nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorists. Meanwhile, “hibakusha,” or people who become exposed to radiation, are still being created through the process of developing and producing nuclear weapons. It is very clear that the only way to prevent the damage caused by nuclear arms is to eliminate them entirely.

ICAN’s campaign is the first step toward that ultimate goal of nuclear abolition. Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, said in her speech, “It is not idealistic to believe in life over fear and destruction.” She also posed this choice to us all: “The end of nuclear weapons or the end of us.”

As human beings, born into this world, the answer should be crystal clear.

(Originally published on December 12, 2017)