On the 75th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called on world leaders on Thursday to step up efforts to abolish atomic weapons and to boost international cooperation in containing the coronavirus pandemic.
Matsui also urged Japan’s government to honor the bombing survivors by joining the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is meant to ban their development, testing and use.
“As the only nation to suffer a nuclear attack, Japan must persuade the global public to unite with the spirit of Hiroshima,” he told a peace ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where survivors and their families prayed by a cenotaph and victims’ registry. “We must never allow this painful past to repeat itself. Civil society must reject self-centered nationalism and unite against all threats.”
More than 120 member nations of the United Nations General Assembly voted to approve the world’s first legal ban on nuclear weapons in 2017. Survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 hailed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Forty nations have since ratified the treaty, but it needs 10 more to take effect. Nine countries known or believed to have nuclear weapons — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States — have been withholding support.
Japan’s government says it does not want nuclear weapons but that it is protected by the U.S. nuclear arsenal, in a strange reversal of history from three-quarters of a century ago. Matsui, standing near the hypocenter of the August 6, 1945 atomic blast in the peace park, compared the “tragedies of the past” with the world’s struggles to unite against the pandemic. His speech came after a moment of silence at 8:15 a.m., when the bomb hit 75 years earlier.
“Hiroshima considers it our duty to build in civil society a consensus that the people of the world must unite to achieve nuclear weapons abolition and lasting world peace,” said Matsui.
“When the 1918 flu pandemic attacked a century ago, it took tens of millions of lives and terrorized the world because nations fighting World War I were unable to meet the threat together,” he said. “A subsequent upsurge in nationalism led to World War II and the atomic bombings.”
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who led off a major push to cut stockpiles of arms worldwide two years ago, said the only way to eliminate nuclear risk is to abolish nuclear weapons.
“Seventy-five years is far too long not to have learned that the possession of nuclear weapons diminishes, rather than reinforces, security,” Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and ex-head of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a video message. “Today, a world without nuclear weapons seems to be slipping further from our grasp.”
Never forget the victims, never forget History.
— UNESCO (@UNESCO) August 6, 2020
Multilateralism under attack
The United States’ atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed 140,000 people and destroyed the city. Three days later, its bombing of Nagasaki killed another 70,000 people. Japan’s half-century of nationalist aggression ended days later when it unconditionally surrendered, bringing about the end of World War II. The Charter of the United Nations, creating the world body, took effect one month later seeking to end the scourge of war.
Since then the survivors, known as hibakusha, have been outspoken about the damaging long-term health effects of radiation and the lagging progress in ridding the world of future nuclear arms risks.
The Cold War resulted in massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons and lethal testing by the United States and Russia. There have been more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions by the United States, Russia and at least six other nations, causing an estimated tens of thousands of deaths and long-lasting environment damage.
Despite efforts to ease tensions and risks in recent decades, a 21st century upsurge in nationalism, populism and authoritarianism has seriously undermined the world’s nuclear disarmament efforts.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and world powers that was intended to curb Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
Trump met twice with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, but the talks in 2018 and 2019 collapsed in disagreement over nine sanctions resolutions approved by the U.N. Security Council in a dozen years.
Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that drastically reduced U.S. and Russian missiles, and from the 2002 Open Skies Treaty that permits unarmed surveillance flights among dozens of nations.
Now, just one U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control pact remains: the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, which took effect in February 2011. Even that is now due to expire in February 2021.
Amid a global pandemic, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern said the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings serves as an important reminder of how devastating world events can be.
“In August 1945 the world saw for the first time what nuclear weapons could do. The consequences were catastrophic, involving unimaginable suffering for those who managed to survive the initial impact and radiation exposure,” Ardern said in a video message.
“Since then we have also seen the disastrous impact of nuclear testing, including in the Pacific. Each of the more than 13,000 nuclear weapons in existence today possesses an even greater destructive force than that seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” she said. “The use of just one bomb would be devastating, and nobody believes a nuclear conflict would end there. Millions would certainly die, and the damage to our environment would be irrevocable.”