Seventy-four years ago today, at 8.15am on 6th August 1945, the world’s first nuclear attack took place in Hiroshima, Japan.
Today, people worldwide are paying tribute to the hundreds of thousands whose lives were lost, or devastated, by that event.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima (and, three days later Nagasaki) was a milestone in the history of humanity, and inhumanity; a turning point that illustrated, with no holds barred, how the world might one day end.
When I first visited Hiroshima as a tourist in 2011 I expected it to be a dismal place, steeped in gloom and recrimination less than 70 years after its terrible destruction.
As a peace activist in 1980s Britain my kitchen wall was adorned with the iconic apocalyptic scene of one man surveying the rubble the day after the bombing, with the slogan “No More Hiroshima”.
In my mind, Hiroshima was less a real place than a warning, a nightmare. A black-and-white vision of horror beyond imagining.
In November 2011 I was visiting my daughter, who lived in Tokyo, when I decided to undertake a few days’ sole traveling to Kyoto. “Meet me on Friday in Hiroshima” my daughter said. She wanted to take me to the beautiful island of Miyajima, off the Hiroshima coast. I was apprehensive, but reasoned that we would only be spending one night in the city itself. What was the worst that could happen?
CITY OF PEACE
The vibrant, bustling city that welcomed us could not have been further from my bleak imagining. Beyond the high-rise buildings and shopping area a river delta, lined with trees in autumnal reds and golds, meandered through the Peace Memorial Park, which marks the epicentre of the attack, rebuilt to feature beautiful sculptures dedicated to those who died and the everyday heroes who helped and healed; testaments to compassionate action, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the urgency for a world in which such atrocity no longer has a place.
The culture of Hiroshima today is one of peace. The hundreds of thousands of survivors of the atomic bombing, and their allies, rebuilt their city as a centre dedicated to peace education and the pursuit of compassionate resolution, and it has become known throughout the world for these unique qualities.
When I first encountered Hiroshima it changed my life and my perception of what is possible. On a visceral level I knew that this was what Hope looked like, and that if this city and community could transcend such devastation to present to the world a model for a better way, we could all find transformation through our darkest times.
It turned out that one night was not enough for me, and I returned the next year to spend time at the World Friendship Centre, where traveling peacemakers are welcomed to experience Peace Culture firsthand.
I met many Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors), some of whom remain friends to this day, and heard their stories, and their earnest plea for the people of the world to renounce nuclear weapons and embrace peace. The subsequent creation of my social enterprise, Hope in the Heart, was inspired by Hiroshima, and The AccepTTranscend Model for Transformation, which forms the basis of my workshops and courses, very much informed by its community of survivors.
Since that time, I have shared the stories entrusted to me by the Hibakusha with many groups, throughout the year and especially on Hiroshima Day.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS TODAY
After the end of the Cold War I, like many others, thought the threat of nuclear war was – well – no longer really a threat. But according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “nine countries together possess around 14,000 nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia maintain roughly 1,800 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert status – ready to be launched within minutes of a warning. Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people, with the effects persisting for decades.
The failure of the nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries will acquire nuclear weapons. The only guarantee against the spread and use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them without delay. Although the leaders of some nuclear-armed nations have expressed their vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world, they have failed to develop any detailed plans to eliminate their arsenals and are modernizing them.”
BEING THE CHANGE
I was delighted to attend ICAN’s inspirational civil society forum, in Oslo in 2013, which preceded the first International Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons. I cheered madly when, as a direct outcome of this and subsequent conferences, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination – was passed in July 2017.
This momentous historical event was hardly acknowledged by the countries that continue to house and renew their arsenals of nuclear weapons, including the UK and the USA, but an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations supported its adoption, and it will enter into legal force when 50 nations have signed and ratified it. So far it has been signed by 70 and ratified by 24.
In December 2017 ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize for their tireless work to “draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.
Many passionate, compassionate people and organisations are taking action to rid the world of these abhorrent instruments of annihilation. Earlier this summer I was privileged to return to Hiroshima and work in partnership with the Oleander Initiative and Peace Culture Village (now both partners of Charter for Compassion), on a unique peace education immersion experience, reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. Once again I was overwhelmed by the compassion I experienced in this incredible city that literally rose from the ashes of destruction to create a beacon of hope, and an example for the whole world to follow.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
For fascinating information and news about nuclear weapons and the fantastic work that is being done to eliminate them forever, visit ICAN’s comprehensive website, and to support the remarkable survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on Hiroshima Day or any other day, please sign PEAC’s Hibakusha Rebellion petition – and pass it on!