The challenge to ban the bomb
2015-08-01 13:04:15 -
World News

The iconic image by Shigeo Hayashi of the dome in Hiroshima after the devastation of the atomic bomb, now the centrepiece of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial



Seventy years after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s time for the world’s nuclear powers to show responsibility, writes Michael McGowan


Seventy years ago this month, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the beautiful Japanese city of Hiroshima. It is estimated 80,000 people were killed within five seconds, before a shock wave of 7,200 miles per hour from the blast obliterated the city.


It was on 6 August 1945 when the nuclear bomb exploded at 8.15am local time, 19,000 feet above the city centre. After the blast came the fire, which was a blazing furnace for four days, followed by a black rain that poisoned rivers, wells and land. Tens of thousands were burned, or poisoned from drinking the water. There were no hospitals as they had been wiped out by the nuclear strike. Hiroshima became a city of orphans.


Hiroshima had been chosen as an ideal target. It had not suffered from previous bombing, there was much wooden construction, and the bomb was aimed at a T-shaped target in the centre of the city. Three US bombers flew together on the project named ‘The Necessary Evil’ with one plane there to photograph the bombing, its crew filming the mushroom cloud.


The Hiroshima which had almost instantly disappeared was turned into the biggest human laboratory in history. The US returned, took photos, collected souvenirs, and turned a humanitarian disaster into a military victory.


The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was the first nuclear bomb to be used in war. It heralded the arrival of the atomic age, and was followed in quick succession on the morning of 9 August 1945 by a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki, where 74,000 people were killed and 75,000 severely injured.


The United States celebrated the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and claimed this had ended the Second World War. While the US went on to make nuclear weapons a cornerstone of their political and military strategy, the Japanese survivors of the bombing were determined to campaign to end the use of such weapons of mass destruction.


Hiroshima was rebuilt as a monument to peace, and both the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become world centres for peace and nuclear disarmament. I have had the privilege of visiting both to attend international peace conferences and met their mayors, who have played key roles in the worldwide Mayors of Peace campaign.


International campaigns against nuclear weapons have been impressive, but the success of non-proliferation has been poor and one-sided. Although the increase in the number of nuclear states has been limited, the efforts by nuclear powers to give up their own weapons have been weak, to say the least.


Although the agreement to set strict limits on the capacity of Iran to develop nuclear weapons is welcome, the hypocrisy of the nuclear powers to insist on keeping their own nuclear weapons is amazing, and suggests a lack of real commitment to non-proliferation.


International law commits all nuclear states to do everything they can to prevent proliferation and at the same time to take steps towards disarmament. The time is long overdue for nuclear powers to follow the example of South Africa, which turned its back on possessing nuclear weapons when apartheid was ended.


The 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a good time to reflect on the lack of progress on non-proliferation and the reality that the world possesses more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy our planet. This is a real challenge to Europe, where the United Kingdom and France are committed to nuclear defence, and to the majority non-nuclear powers of the EU, including Ireland, to work for a Europe and a world free of all weapons of mass destruction.



Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament

TAGS : Hiroshima Nagasaki United States Japan World War II
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