This Hiroshima Day anniversary, 72 years after we dropped the first atomic bomb as a weapon of war, will be different.
Just ask Setsuko Thurlow, who was in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. She was also present at the United Nations a month ago when Costa Rica ambassador, Elayne Whyte, announced that the treaty to ban nuclear weapons had been adopted.
“I have been waiting for this day for seven decades and I am overjoyed that it has finally arrived,” she said that day. “This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”
Ms. Setsuko was 13 years old when she saw the flash of the bomb. Bodies were thrown up in the air around her. The wooden building she was in collapsed, and she could hear the cries from her classmates in the darkness. She managed to extricate herself and escape to the hills, witness to grotesquely injured people trying to move away from the city in silence for lack of physical and emotional strength — whispering only for water. She remembers her 4-year-old nephew, a “blackened, scorched chunk of flesh wailing in a faint voice until his death released him from agony.”
On July 7th, 2017, the day Ms. Setsuko spoke before the U.N., 122 non-nuclear nations endorsed the treaty that, when ratified, binds signatories never to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. Nations that have hosted these massively lethal bombs pledge not to station, install or deploy them. It establishes humanitarian and human rights for those that have been victims of nuclear weapons or weapons testing, including the right to live in an environment that has been remediated from the damage done by them. It notes that women and children are disproportionately harmed by radiation. The treaty is open for signatures starting Sept. 20, and once 50 nations have signed and ratified, it becomes law 90 days later.
“These obligations (of this treaty) break new ground. The prohibition on threatening to use nuclear weapons, for example, sets up a fundamental challenge to all policies based on nuclear deterrence. From now on, deterrence advocates are on the wrong side of the law, as understood and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Zia Mian, a Princeton University professor, wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.
In a joint statement responding to the treaty, the United States, France and the United Kingdom said it “offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary. A ban treaty also risks undermining the existing international security architecture which contributes to the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Yet deterrence is just a theory. North Korea likely has only a handful of nuclear weapons, and the United States has thousands, with hundreds armed and ready to launch; some are reportedly up to 30 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. We are spending $1 trillion over 30 years to modernize the fleet. Does threatening North Korea with nuclear weapons make them less likely to use their weapons or does it have the opposite effect? Could we even use these against the North without killing civilians in both Koreas?
With so many weapons, other disastrous possibilities include: a weapon going off by accident from a cyberattack, or at the hands of a terrorist. Any one of these scenarios could a start a chain reaction of retaliation, escalating to nuclear war.
North Korea, the United States and Russia have aggressive leaders. President Donald Trump has been called impulsive. Like presidents before him, he has the power to launch a first strike without congressional approval unless the Markey-Lieu bill, working its way through Congress, is approved. No one human being should have that power.
Because of this treaty, there is hope.
Soon nuclear weapons will not only be immoral but also illegal. Citizens of the world take notice.
Dr. Gwen L. DuBois (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. She was also a citizen lobbyist in June at the United Nations Draft Conference to Ban Nuclear Weapons.