Hiroshima Bomb Survivors Tour Britain for a Global Ban
As this week's negotiations to ban nuclear weapons were undermined, firsthand accounts of the bombs' barbarity were shared across the UK
Historic negotiations opened at the New York headquarters of the United Nations this week, 27-31 March, on a treaty to ban all nuclear weapons despite opposition from the US and Britain. The talks were marked in Britain by a London CND-organised tour of two survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The Hibakusha visited London, Scotland, Manchester and Oxford, meeting parliamentarians, local government reps and faith leaders. The tour included a meeting with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a visit to Faslane Naval Base home to Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system, and to the nearby Peace Camp.
Both events may well have passed you by. They were hardly mentioned in the UK media.
The Guardian concentrated on hostility to the talks, headlining Australia’s decision to join the United States-led boycott of negotiations. It mentioned only as an afterthought that ‘more states are becoming disenchanted with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and lending their support for an outright ban’.
The Mail, Mirror, Telegraph and others ignored the negotiations. But the Independent outdid the lot, with a headline that warned of 'dangerous UN talks on unilaterally banning nuclear weapons’. For the record: the UN resolution which initiated the negotiations was entitled ‘Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations’.
The Indy article reported US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s claim that ‘as a mother, as a daughter’ there was nothing she wanted more than a world without nuclear weapons. And yes, there was a but: we had ‘to be realistic’ she said.
The evening before this shameful nonsense appeared, a packed London meeting listened to two firsthand accounts of what being ‘realistic’ meant. Reiko Yamada was 11 years old and still in primary school when the US bombed Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. She lived 2.5 kilometres from ground zero and escaped the fires that raged in the immediate aftermath.
Many who didn’t fled to her neighbourhood, ‘so heavily burned and disfigured that they did not look like human beings’. Reiko described what happened to her family and friends:
‘A good friend of mine was waiting for her mother to return home with four brothers and sisters. On the second day after the bombing, a moving black lump crawled into the house; they first thought it was a big black dog, but soon realised it was their mother. She collapsed and died when she finally got home, leaving her five children behind.’
Midori Yamada is a second generation Hibakusha. (Despite a common family name, the two are not related.) Midori’s father was deputy mayor of a nearby town and helped with the Hiroshima rescue operations. She is a cancer sufferer and has recently published a manga book, Jiro-chan: an Hiroshima boy, describing what happened to her elder brother during the bombing.
Chemical and biological weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all subject to legal prohibitions; nuclear weapons are not. Moves towards a global ban treaty, initiated by African states, seek to rectify this.
In October last year, 123 UN member-states voted for a resolution that opened the door to negotiations, with 38 votes against and 16 abstentions. Four of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council voted against – the US, UK, France and Russia – as did many NATO members and US allies.
China, the fifth SC member abstained, and has recently hinted that it might be prepared to support the treaty. Votes of other nuclear states were: India and Pakistan abstained, Israel against, and North Korea for a treaty.
Recent opinion polls have indicated strong public support for a ban treaty. In Australia in 2014, 84% supported such a treaty; so did 93% in Germany, 85% in the Netherlands, 77% in Norway, and 81% in Sweden in 2016.
Like the US, the British government has refused to participate in negotiations. The May government is out of step again with public opinion. A poll conducted by Yougov on 15-16 March found 75% wanted the British government to participate in negotiations. Labour’s Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament, Fabian Hamilton, went to New York as an observer however.
The second round of UN negotiations is due to take place between 15 June and 7 July. Still time to raise the issue – with a public meeting perhaps, and by asking your MP to press the government to take part.
Carol Turner is chair of London Region CND and a member of STW Officer Group. She is author of 'Corbyn and Trident: Labour’s continuing controversy'
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