65 Years: It's Time to Retire the Bomb!

Some 200 of us gathered at the Peace Garden facing Toronto’s City Hall on August 6th to remember Hiroshima … the blue-white atomic flash unleashing fiery hell on earth, with people vapourized into a mushroom cloud – burned like charred logs … or, in agony, fleeing the destroyed city. That day 65 years ago changed the world.

As MC of the event, organized annually by the Hiroshima Day Coalition,1 I noted that people in Toronto and in Canada’s cities are still at risk. With some 22,300 nuclear weapons, most in the arsenals of the US and Russia,2 2,000 in Russian and American hands are on launch-on-warning, ready to be dispatched in four to eight minutes and to reach their targets in half an hour. Citizens are the targets, pawns in the nuclear exercise, according to Romeo Dallaire, who had 30 years’ experience as a NATO Cold Warrior.3 Furthermore, scientists assert that even a small-scale nuclear exchange of 100 Hiroshima-size bombs, say between India and Pakistan, would cause severe climatic consequences, cooling and darkening for a decade or more, slashed food production, and starvation of possibly a billion people across the globe.4 More countries with nuclear energy – 30 or 40 – could acquire nuclear weapons, as might non-state actors. Yet nuclear weapons cannot protect us from enemies – they are the enemy. Their abolition is critical for the human future, as the hibakusha – the bomb survivors – warn!

After Councillor Janet Davis read Mayor David Miller’s Declaration of Hiroshima Day, affirming citizens’ commitment to abolition, the Peace Declaration of Hiroshima’s Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba was read by Joe Ohori, a hibakusha. Fifty thousand people – and, for the first time, the US ambassador to Japan and officials from France and the UK – had, I noted, heard it at Hiroshima’s August 6th commemoration. Akiba asserted that the unanimous intent expressed at the May Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon) to seek nuclear weapons abolition, and its highlighting of the need for a nuclear weapons convention or new legal framework, testify to the guiding influence of hibakusha (some 1600 of them had travelled to New York to be present). “Clearly, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience …To seize this unprecedented opportunity and actually achieve a world without nuclear weapons, we need above all to communicate to every corner of our planet the intense yearning of the hibakusha,” he urged. And he promised to work with like-minded nations, NGOs, and the UN to “generate an ever-larger tidal wave of demand for a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020.”5 This is the goal of Mayors for Peace, with 4,144 members (including our mayor) from 144 countries and regions.

We held a minute’s silence of remembrance, and at the end of the evening we followed the haunting melodies of a flutist through the Peace Garden to the pool, where coloured lanterns with peace messages were released to drift across the waters in the dusk, as they do in Hiroshima, on the river.

During the evening, we heard about hopeful initiatives. A York University student briefly told us about Global Zero, its petition and its efforts to educate and mobilize Canadians, especially students in this strand of the abolition movement (launched at a Paris conference in 2008). Grade 12 student Sophie Feltes, terming the atomic bombings unspeakable, urged: “Youth are the most important people to provide with knowledge about the danger of nuclear war because they have the audacity and strength to take on such a massive issue… “Help our youth realize that they are not alone, and that the more people come together, the more power we have.”

Longtime peace activist Murray Thomson spoke about the project that he, former Senator Douglas Roche, and John Polanyi initiated 18 months ago to enlist members of the Order of Canada in calling the government of Canada, and those of other nations, to endorse negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention (NWC), as proposed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Murray told us 518 members of the Order had endorsed the appeal for a NWC and a 35-minute meeting had been held with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in April. Then on June 2 the Canadian Senate unanimously endorsed the NWC and sent the motion to the House of Commons seeking adoption by the two houses of parliament.

As I noted, nuclear weapon-free zones (NWFZ) are already denuclearizing the world – eight of them include, in total, 119 states with 1.9 billion people. Adele Buckley, past chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group, spoke about the new Arctic NWFZ initiative being pursued by the Canadian Arctic Security project. With melting Arctic sea ice, the region’s opening to a resource race, the government’s interest in reinforcing Canada’s sovereignty in the North, and the presence of two nuclear-armed nations, the US and Russia, among the eight Arctic states, this initiative is timely and promising.6

Our keynote speaker, Liberal parliamentary foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, said “This game of nuclear proliferation is a game that humanity cannot win … that itself creates an insecurity which is ever growing and ever increasing. And that is why there is a compelling and overwhelming logic to the need for a treaty in which the world comes together and agrees we are going to first reduce these weapons, then we are going to eliminate these weapons, and we are going to create the institutions which will give everyone the confidence that the weapons are gone: they are no longer being tested, they are no longer being developed; they are no longer been seen as potential for use. That is a need, a necessity, a requirement for a sensible world politics going forward over the next 20 years. This is a cause to which we must all become attached.”7 Monitor Liberal policy in light of his bold claims!

The Harper government has said that the NPT RevCon contained seeds of hope. The conference pledged “to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” and made a commitment to address the Middle East – where Iran is suspected of seeking nuclear weapons and Israel is known to have them – by convening a conference of all Middle East states in 2010 on a Middle East Zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. It also put a NWC – a treaty setting out the specifics of how to achieve abolition – on the international political agenda.8 International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War says roughly two-thirds of the world’s governments are committed to begin negotiations on such a convention immediately, but Canada is lukewarm.9 Speaking at the Hiroshima International Conference on July 28, Douglas Roche – who was made an honorary citizen of Hiroshima – declared: “The crucial point is to start preparatory work now before the present window of opportunity closes.”10 Monitor Canadian policy and press the government for action!

Ban Ki-moon had told the 1,000 gathered at a public conference in New York just before the NPT RevCon: “Nuclear disarmament is not a distant goal, it is an urgent necessity. Real change will come only through consistent, strong public pressure – on a global scale, and from the grassroots… Continue to be the voice of conscience. We will rid the world of nuclear weapons.”11 Nagasaki’s Mayor in his August 9th declaration urged: “For our children, we have a responsibility for creating a future without the fear of nuclear weapons. Even though on our own each of us might be small and weak, by joining together we can become a force to make governments act and to create a new history.”12

Ban Ki-moon at the August 6th ceremony in Hiroshima warned: “Nuclear disarmament is often dismissed as a dream, when the real fantasies are the claims that nuclear weapons guarantee security or increase a country’s status and prestige. The only guarantee of safety, and the only sure protection against the use of such weapons, is their elimination. Let us work toward the day when governments no longer have a choice but to respond to the will of the people for a nuclear free world.”

Observing that abolitionists are on the right side of history, Roche concluded his address with this plea: “We must constantly appeal to the conscience of humanity to take steps to ban the instrument that would destroy all life on the planet.”13

I urged the gathering – and, now, you: Pledge to mobilize others for abolition before the hibakusha and their witness are gone!

1 See www.hiroshimadaycoalition.ca  ^

2 Steven Starr, figure updated 6 April 2010, at www.nucleardarkness.org/globalnucleararsenal/statusofworldnuclearforces/  ^

3 “A dialogue about nuclear disarmament on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs,” at Thinkers Lodge, Pugwash, N.S., 7 July 2007, in Sergei Plekhanov, email 3 Aug. 2010 ^

4 Malcolm Fraser, Gustav Nossal, Barry Jone, Peter Gration, John Sanderson, and Tilman Ruff, “Imagine there’s no bomb,” Theage, 8 April 2009, accessed 31 Aug. 2009, at http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/imagine-theres-no-bomb-20090407-9zj0.html  ^

5 Hiroshima Peace Declaration 2010 accessed 6 Aug. 2010 at http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/declaration/English/2010/index.html  ^

6 For more on the Arctic NWFZ initiative, see www.pugwashgroup.ca  ^

7 See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCJJSAJpCSg, a clip on our Hiroshima Day event by New Canadian News, at the 5.30 minute mark ^

8 Douglas Roche and Ernie Regehr in Embassy Magazine (Ottawa), 2 June 2010, at http://www.embassymag.ca  ^

9 Towards nuclear abolition, a report by the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, June 2010, p.6 ^

10 “A Nuclear Weapons Convention: the Time is Now,” p.4, accessed 6 Sept. 2010 at http://www.gsinstitute.org/mpi/pubs/07_10_Roche_Hiroshima_speech.pdf  ^

11 Nancy Covington, “News my husband didn’t hear,” Turning Point (Physicians for Global Survival), XVI, no.2, summer 2010, p.5.  ^

12 Appeal accessed 6 Sept. 2010 at http://www1.city.nagasaki.nagasaki.jp/peace/english/appeal/  ^

13 Op.cit. in note 9, p.11 ^