HIROSHIMA, Japan– This weekend’s Group of Seven Industrialized Nations Summit in Hiroshima provides a rare – and possibly last – chance for survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to advocate for nuclear disarmament before a global audience.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has roots in Hiroshima, chose the city in part to draw attention to nuclear nonproliferation efforts that have been undermined by Russia’s nuclear threats against Ukraine and growing aggression from nuclear-armed China and North Korea.
On Friday, he greeted G7 leaders at the city’s Peace Memorial Park and accompanied them as they paid tribute to those killed in the attack, visited a museum dedicated to the victims and met with survivors. On Sunday, Kishida will do the same for non-G7 leaders.
Kishida has promised to act as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but some critics say his disarmament goals are empty. Japan relies on the United States nuclear umbrella for protection and is rapidly expanding its military forces.
Sueichi Kido, an 83-year-old survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, said he was skeptical whether the prime minister could persuade G-7 leaders, including nuclear powers such as the US, UK and France, to make real progress on disarmament.
“But since they are meeting in Hiroshima, I have a faint hope that they will have positive negotiations and take a tiny step towards nuclear disarmament,” Kido said.
Later on Friday, the G7 leaders released a joint statement on nuclear disarmament called “The Hiroshima Vision” that called for further non-use of nuclear weapons, transparency and reduction of nuclear arsenals. Critics argued that it contained no new real steps.
The United States carried out the world’s first atomic attack on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. Three days later, he dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000 people. Japan capitulated on August 15, ending World War II.
Kido said he hoped the leaders would spend more time than former US President Barack Obama during his hasty visit to the museum in 2016, which features displays of mutilated buildings and bodies from the attack.
Obama’s trip to Hiroshima was the first for a sitting US leader.
“I sincerely want leaders to have a firm understanding of what atomic bombs have done to people,” Kido said. “Many people think of mushroom clouds, but often don’t know what happened to the people below them.”
Some survivors expressed disappointment that the leaders only met with one survivor and did not comment on their visit to the museum.
Kunihiko Sakuma, who was exposed to radiation as a result of the bombing at 9 months of age, said he watched a report on TV on Friday about the leaders’ visit to the museum and found it short and superficial.
“I have no idea if they understood what we survivors were saying,” he said.
He urged leaders to explain to people in their countries what they have learned about the brutality of nuclear weapons. “Every leader must make sure that every citizen understands. Otherwise, the real threat of nuclear bombs cannot be understood,” he said.
Survivors criticized Kishida for his plan to double Japan’s defense budget in the next five years. He wants to fund a military buildup that will bolster the strike capabilities designed to contain the growing threat from China.
Japan wants to deepen trilateral ties with the United States and South Korea to strengthen its nuclear deterrence. But he also refuses to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, despite repeated requests from atomic bomb survivors to do so. Kishida says the 2021 nuclear ban treaty is unworkable because it lacks membership of nuclear states. Instead, he said, Japan needs to take a realistic approach to bridging the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states in a complex world.
As a child, Kishida heard about the horrors of the atomic bombing from his grandmother. She was from Hiroshima, and her stories left “an indelible mark” on him, inspiring him to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, said Noriyuki Shikata, cabinet secretary for public relations. He said that Kishida’s resolve was strengthened when he became a politician representing the people of Hiroshima.
“The path to a world without nuclear weapons has become even more difficult,” Kishida told foreign media outlets, including the Associated Press, in April, “but that is why we need to continue to raise the flag of our ideal and gain new momentum.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of 2022, there were about 12,705 warheads in nuclear stockpiles, most of which were in the United States and Russia.
Kido, a Nagasaki survivor, was 5 years old when he saw a flash in the sky and was hit by an explosion on the morning of August 9, 1945.
He had burns on his cheek but was reunited with his family at the orphanage. When he went outside the next day, there were charred bodies everywhere, and people were walking around begging for water with dangling flesh.
“Everything turned black,” he said. “The city is completely wiped off the face of the earth.”
Kido is among the survivors who can tell first-hand stories of the explosions.
“We won’t be anymore. There will be no more survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said. “We all share the firm resolve to never let anyone else be victimized and feel that pain. And the surest way to do this is to make a world without nuclear weapons, to destroy atomic weapons, and not to wage war, because nuclear weapons will not be used if there is no war.
Many survivors lived for decades with unrelenting sadness, anger, fear and shame in Japan, where victims and their children faced discrimination because people believed radiation sickness was contagious or hereditary.
After decades of silence, some survivors began to speak out with a desperate hope that younger generations would continue their unfinished work.
It took over 40 years for Kido to join the anti-nuclear movement in Gifu, where he taught history at a local university and learned that the prefecture did not have an organization to help survivors.
Youth support was the main driving force behind the achievement of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty, which led to the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, said Setsuko Thurlow, survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. and activist from Canada.
“For years, survivors of the atomic bombings have held up the torch for peace through denuclearization. We need younger and stronger hands to replace the torch and lift it even higher so that its light can be seen from all over the world,” said Thurlow, who was only 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) from the epicenter of Hiroshima in time of tragedy. bombardment
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