‘Striking’ is perhaps the best word to sum up my experience in Hiroshima, Japan.
Everybody knows Hiroshima, the site of the first attack on humans by a nuclear weapon. It was a deadly strike, obliterating everything in a 2 kilometre radius which was the entire city centre. Within 6 months it killed at least 140, 000+ people – the official figures are not known. Its effects still linger today in the form of various cancers and ailments that take a long time to manifest.
Everybody knows of Hiroshima, but they don’t know it. When I first learnt about the Second World War and the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, like most people I was shocked and saddened, but this is taken so much further when you’re in the city where it happened.
I am not ashamed to admit I had to sit down and stop myself from crying when I looked at the A-Bomb Dome; one of the few buildings to remain standing after the blast. This was curious to me, because the explosion happened approximately 600 metres above where I stood – why didn’t the building collapse? The domes position as directly under the 200-metre-wide fireball allowed the force to exert straight from above and keep it standing.
These ruins confront you with the reality that at this exact spot over 70 years ago, hundreds of thousands of human lives were terminated – ruined. Rightly so, these ruins have remained ruins, and perhaps the building itself isn’t so shocking, but it is the fact you know what happened on this very spot which acts as the stark reminder of the power of, relatively speaking, a weak nuclear weapon.
Nuclear weapon development really took off in the United States due to the fear that the Nazis’ and the Axis’ powers would develop them first, and obviously it was better that the technology remained in the Allied Powers’ safe hands, where the dangerous opponents could not use them. And whilst Little Boy was powerful enough to obliterate Hiroshima, and Fat Man could ‘take care’ of most of Nagasaki, the power of these bombs is incomparable to those that exist today.
Hiroshima made me think deeply about Trident, the UK’s recently approved renewal of the nuclear weapons system, employed to act as a deterrent against nuclear attacks from our enemies. Teresa May has stated on the record that she would be prepared to use nuclear weapons. This chilled me to the bone. In the UK exists a woman – the official representative of our country to the world – who would be prepared to unleash such destruction against innocents (and that is what would happen – Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hardly the centre of Japan’s imperialist powers). How is it we can stand for this?
Prior to visiting, and studying for a degree in International Relations with a deep focus on warfare and nuclear weapons, I have often been in two minds about their use and necessity. Now I am set in my firm opposition. Deterrence theory offers much in the way of support for nuclear weapons, because they do work as a deterrent, but the important point is that this is against our enemies. Which of the world’s nuclear powers are our enemies? North Korea as a volatile state perhaps, but it’s enmity lies with South Korea and the US rather than the UK. Fears of terroristic control of nuclear sites are overblown and can only really be considered fearmongering. Iran is most certainly looking to establish itself as a regional power in the Middle East, providing much needed stability, and they would not risk this by presenting a nuclear threat.
Mhairi Black’s excellent speech arguing against Trident in parliament when the debate was going on offered one explanation – the UK government’s disproportionate sense of self-importance. This does not satisfy my question of why we need to spend so much money on nuclear weapons.
Hiroshima today, much to many of my friends’ surprise, is a huge metropolitan city. Whilst embracing the past, it has tried not to define itself by its nuclear status, but that certainly makes a big part of the city today. The Peace Park, in the centre of the city, covering 21, 000 square metres, offers the chance for reflection. The Memorial Museum is impactful, especially the exhibit showing where a man’s shadow was burnt into stone immediately after the blast. The photos and videos of the injuries sustained in the aftermath, and the effects on pregnant mothers and unborn children give you goosebumps. The heartbreak you feel for a 12 year old girl making over 1000 origami paper cranes to have her wish of life granted is a feeling like no other. I implore Teresa May to come to Hiroshima, and then decide if she would indeed be able to use such a weapon, because I’m not sure she would have the same attitude.
Democracy does not end when an issue is settled in parliament, and I urge readers to write to their elected officials and make their voices heard. The world is not safe with nuclear weapons, and this is looking out of Little England. If the government wants to safeguard the UK’s high place in international prestige, it can do so without nuclear weapons by working with countries such as Japan to firmly oppose them. With nuclear weapons the UK has an impact, but by being the first state to denuclearise, it could have an even bigger impact. Make your paper cranes and vote for peace, because the world is not peaceful with these weapons, and won’t be until they are gone.
By Mark Connor
Artwork by Ellie Butcher (The text is the opening of the 2016 Declaration of Peace, delivered each year in Hiroshima as an appeal to the rest of the world to abandon nuclear weapons.)