Atomic bomb survivors see G7 summit in Hiroshima as ‘a glimmer of hope’ for nuclear disarmament

HIROSHIMA, Japan — This weekend’s Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima offers survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a rare — and perhaps final — opportunity to advocate for nuclear disarmament before a global audience.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has roots in Hiroshima, chose the city in part to highlight non-proliferation efforts that have been rocked by Russia’s nuclear threats against Ukraine and growing aggression by nuclear-armed China and North Korea.

He greeted G7 leaders at the city’s Peace Memorial Park on Friday and accompanied them as they paid tribute to those who died in the attack, visited a museum dedicated to the victims and met a survivor. On Sunday, Kishida will do the same with leaders of non-G7 guest nations.

Kishida has pledged to act as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but some critics say his disarmament goals are empty. Japan relies on the US nuclear umbrella for protection and is rapidly expanding its military.

Sueichi Kido, an 83-year-old survivor of the Nagasaki explosion, said he was skeptical that the prime minister could convince the leaders of the G7 countries, which include nuclear powers the United States, the United Kingdom and France, to make real progress on disarmament .

“But since they are meeting in Hiroshima, I have a glimmer of hope that they will have positive talks and take a small step towards nuclear disarmament,” Kido said.

Later on Friday, G7 leaders issued a joint statement on nuclear disarmament called the “Hiroshima Vision,” which calls for the continued disarmament of nuclear weapons, transparency and dialogue between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but justifies the use of nuclear weapons for “defensive purposes.” weapons. deter aggression, prevent war and coercion.”

Kishida said the declaration shows the priorities of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and is of “historic significance.” Critics have accused it of containing no new actual steps.

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The United States launched 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. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending World War II.

Kido said he hopes the leaders will spend more time than former US President Barack Obama did during a rushed visit in 2016 to the museum, which includes exhibits of buildings and bodies that followed the attack.

Obama’s trip to Hiroshima was the first by a serving US leader.

“I really want the leaders to have a firm understanding of what the atomic bombs did to people,” Kido said. “A lot of people think about mushroom clouds, but they often don’t know what happened to the people underneath them.”

Some survivors expressed frustration that the leaders met only one survivor and did not comment on their visit to the museum.

Kunihiko Sakuma, who was exposed to radiation from the blast as a 9-month-old baby, said he spent Friday watching the leaders’ visit to the museum on TV and felt it was short and superficial.

“I have no idea if they understood what we survivors were saying,” he said.

He urged leaders to explain to the people of their countries what they had learned about the cruelty of nuclear weapons. “This is what every leader should do so that every citizen understands. Otherwise, the real danger of atomic bombs cannot be understood,” he said.

Kishida was criticized by survivors for doubling Japan’s defense budget over the next five years. He wants to fund a military buildup that bolsters strike capabilities aimed at deterring growing threats from China.

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Japan wants to deepen three-way ties with the United States and South Korea to enhance nuclear deterrence. But he refuses to sign the treaty banning nuclear weapons, despite repeated requests from atomic bomb survivors to do so. According to Kishida, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 2021, is unworkable because it lacks the membership of nuclear states. Instead, he said, Japan should take a realistic approach to bridging the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states in a challenging world.

As a child, Kishida heard about the horrors of the atomic bombing from his grandmother. He was from Hiroshima, and his stories “left an indelible mark” on him, inspiring him to work toward a world without nuclear weapons, Cabinet Secretary for Public Affairs Noriyuki Shikata said. He said Kishida’s resolve was strengthened by becoming a politician representing the people of Hiroshima.

“The road to a world without nuclear weapons has become even more difficult,” Kishida told foreign media, including the Associated Press, in April. “But that is precisely why we must keep raising the banner of our ideal and take on a new impetus.”

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, there were an estimated 12,705 warheads in the nuclear stockpile in 2022, most of which were held by 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 the explosion on the morning of August 9, 1945.

He suffered burns to his face but was reunited with his family at a shelter. When he went outside the next day, there were charred bodies everywhere and people walking and begging for water while the meat was hanging.

“Everything went black,” he said. “The city was completely wiped out.”

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Kido is among a dwindling number of survivors who can tell first-hand accounts of the bombings.

“We won’t be around anymore. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are disappearing,” he said. “We all share a strong determination to never let anyone else fall victim or feel that pain. And the surest way to do this is to create a world without nuclear weapons, to abolish nuclear weapons, and not to go to war, because if there is no war, nuclear weapons will not be used.”

Many survivors lived with lingering sadness, anger, fear and shame for decades 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 with the desperate hope that younger generations would continue their unfinished work.

It took Kido more than 40 years to join the anti-nuclear movement in Gifu, where he taught history at a local university and learned that there was no organization to help survivors in the prefecture.

Youth support was the main driving force behind the implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which led to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the international campaign against nuclear weapons in 2017, Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow said. and Canadian activist.

“For many years, the survivors of the atomic bombings kept the torch of peace burning with denuclearization. We need younger and stronger hands who can follow the torch and raise it even higher so that its light can be seen around the world,” said Thurlow, who was just 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) from ground zero at the time of the flare. in Hiroshima. the bombing.


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