By Paul V. Palange
While working years back as a reporter for community newspapers, I covered thousands of events and incidents. One of my most memorable assignments was a presentation by children from war-torn countries in the Middle East.
I’ll never forget what those children had to endure – the frequent bombing of their communities, the damage to their homes and the loss of parents and other relatives. When the bombs weren’t exploding, they were overjoyed; happy they could go to school or play with their peers and surviving siblings and parents. They cherished those moments and wanted them to be the norm. News of wars and terrorism triggers memories of that assignment and gets me thinking again about the senselessness of armed conflicts and how fortunate so many of us in the United States are to have never had to experience such pain and suffering.
Similar thoughts and feelings arose when I read a recent story in The Christian Science Monitor about Setsuko Thurlow, who is a hibakusha, an atomic bomb survivor. Noah Robertson, Science Monitor staff reporter, writes: “An activist for decades, Ms. Thurlow has repeated her testimony to students, teachers, politicians, the pope – anyone, she says, who will listen. Advocating for nuclear disarmament has taken her around the world, from Hiroshima to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to Oslo, Norway, where in 2017, she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).”
It’s too painful for most atomic bomb survivors to share their stories, Kathleen Sullivan, head of ICAN’s Hibakusha Stories program, told Robertson. Under the program, survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima 75 years ago speak to children and faculty in New York public schools. Sullivan says Thurlow’s story empowers listeners. She feels that in a post-Cold War world, young people in particular tend to either ignore nuclear weapons or accept them as inevitable. Thurlow, however, fights that assumption.
She knows nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the scale of the devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons, according to ICAN, which is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine. Casualties from a major nuclear war between the United States and Russia would reach hundreds of millions.
The extreme destruction caused by nuclear weapons cannot be limited to military targets or to combatants, it’s stated on ICAN’s website. Nuclear weapons produce ionizing radiation, which kills or sickens those exposed, contaminates the environment and has long-term health consequences, including cancer and genetic damage.
Do leaders around the globe ever think about the fact that less than 1 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world could disrupt the global climate and threaten as many as 2 billion people with starvation in a nuclear famine? The thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by the U.S. and Russia could bring about a nuclear winter, destroying the essential ecosystems on which all life depends.
According to ICAN, physicians and first responders would be unable to work in devastated, radioactively contaminated areas. Even a single nuclear detonation in a modern city would strain existing disaster relief resources to the breaking point; a nuclear war would overwhelm any relief system we could build in advance. Displaced populations from a nuclear war will produce a refugee crisis that is larger than countries have ever experienced.
In addition, even if they are not detonated, nuclear weapons cause widespread harm to our health and to the environment, and spending on nuclear weapons takes away limited resources away from vital social services.
Thurlow was crucial in the UN’s 2017 adoption of a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, Sullivan states in the article. The treaty requires 50 ratifications to take effect; it has 34 so far. Unfortunately, leaders of many nuclear armed nations such as the U.S. have refused to sign the treaty.
Nuclear disarmament would be a complicated and delicate process to complete, but it is a procedure that is necessary for the future of mankind as we know it. It’s insane for people in power to think that threats emanating from nations such as Iran and North Korea cannot lead to a catastrophic incident or world ending holocaust.
According to Robertson’s article, when Thurlow tells her story, she relives memories of fear and shock. Despite the pain, she says it’s her moral obligation to deliver her message.
It’s our moral obligation to heed her message and advocate for nuclear disarmament. The notion that we have to accept nuclear weapons as a necessity is crazy. We should not and cannot wait another 75 years for that norm to change.