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The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki mark the 70th anniversary of their atomic bombings today and three days later, respectively. On these days, people in Japan remember the suffering and agony of the victims of the only two nuclear attacks in history and pray for their souls and for peace. The anniversaries should also remind leaders and citizens of Japan and other nations of the need to renew their determination to make serious efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as to make peace prevail around the world.

It is important for leaders and citizens alike to remember that endeavors to abolish nuclear weapons cannot be separated from efforts to prevent war. For the seven decades after its defeat in World War II, Japan has tread a pacifist path under the war-renouncing Constitution.

Now the nation’s security policy is at a crossroads, with the Abe administration touting a “proactive contribution to peace” that entails Japan taking on greater roles in international security affairs. The security legislation pending in the Diet would pave the way for Japan to engage in collective self-defense with its allies and significantly expand the scope of Self-Defense Forces’ overseas missions. People should ponder what such developments would do to Japan’s pacifist posture.

At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay of the U.S. Army Air Force, which flew from Tinian of the Mariana Islands in the western North Pacific Ocean, dropped the Little Boy enriched uranium bomb over Hiroshima. Three days later at 11:01 a.m., the B-29 Bockscar, also from Tinian, released the Fat Man plutonium bomb over Nagasaki. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians, from infants to the elderly, were killed, and the estimated death toll totaled some 140,000 in Hiroshima and about 74,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945. Among the victims were Koreans and Chinese, as well as American prisoners of war.

A nuclear bomb is not merely a “big bomb” that just causes physical destruction. Radiation from a nuclear weapon can damage DNA, thus causing cancer and hereditary effects. Many of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors and their children suffer from ill health or fear of ill health even today. About 40 percent of the atomic bombing survivors now hospitalized at the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku (Atomic Bomb) Hospital — whose average age is 78.2 — suffer from cancer. As direct memories of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki experiences wane, the government should make detailed records of the damage caused by the atomic bombings to both people and to the cities themselves so the experiences can be passed on to future generations in Japan as well as the rest of the world.

The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings come at a difficult time for the efforts to make the world free of nuclear arms. In May, a four-week United Nations conference to improve compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended without adopting a final document. Still, the humanitarian impact of nuclear arms was an important part of the discussions at the conference. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have a strong desire to see nuclear weapons eliminated, should work with interested citizens and groups in Japan and other countries to disseminate information worldwide about the dreadfulness of nuclear weapons to help accelerate moves to seek their ban.

Today’s nuclear weapons are much more powerful and easier to deploy than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Given the current technological and political situation, the possibility of non-state actors such as a terrorist group acquiring nuclear arms cannot be ruled out. Some countries outside the NPT regime possess nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons states and countries like Japan, which relies on the nuclear umbrella of its ally, are reluctant to create a global treaty to ban nuclear arms. They should take the current situation seriously and make bold efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Japan has played a leading role in adopting a U.N. resolution calling for a joint action for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Accordingly, Japan should not hesitate to start making efforts to turn Northeast Asia into a nuclear weapons-free zone.

The United States was directly responsibility for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in 1945. But if Japanese leaders had decided earlier to accept the Potsdam Declaration to end the war, the U.S. would not have atomic-bombed the two cities. Thus their responsibility was also grave. The nuclear attacks on the two cities occurred in the context of a war that Japan had started. Japan’s anti-nuclear activists call nuclear weapons “absolute evil” in the sense that they should never be made, possessed and used. To make Japan’s call for abolition of nuclear weapons more persuasive, it is indispensable for Japanese politicians and citizens to make clear Japan’s responsibility for starting the war in the first place.

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