Photo/IllutrationA zone in the renewed main building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum features a floor display of the clothing of A-bomb victims, shown to media before the official opening, in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward on March 8. (Koichi Ueda)

A desolate landscape spreads out before the international community on the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which was Aug. 6.

Hopes for "a world free of nuclear weapons," which surged a few years ago, have fizzled out since, and the world's major nuclear nations are now poised to revert to arms expansion.

Some world leaders are even talking of making nuclear weapons "more usable," as if in deliberate denial of the inhumanity of the heat rays that scorched hibakusha 74 years ago and brought the uncontrollable "hellfire."

International public opinion deems unequivocally that every nuclear war, without exception, is an act of inhumane and lethal destruction that must never be condoned.

But the world is steadily deviating from this understanding and the basic principle of the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.


A novel titled "The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against The United States" was published in the United States last summer.

The story, in a nutshell, is about an accidental armed clash on the Korean Peninsula that eventually escalates into a North Korean nuclear strike.

A tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump triggers a series of unexpected reactions, causing both Washington and Pyongyang to repeatedly miscalculate the odds until all supposedly effective safety valves fall into dysfunction, one by one.

This is a work of fiction, of course, but the reality of our present world renders the plot chillingly plausible.

Author Jeffrey Lewis, a U.S. nuclear disarmament and North Korea expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, believes that so long as nuclear weapons exist and the world continues to rely on nuclear deterrence, the weapons will invariably be used someday.

Renata Dwan, director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, warned in May that the risks of the use of nuclear weapons "are higher now than at any time since World War II.”

One major reason is the escalating strategic competition among China, the United States and Russia, with the latter two together possessing more than 12,000 nuclear weapons--roughly 90 percent of the global nuclear arsenal.

Even though their rights to possess nuclear weapons are protected under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, those nations are not only turning their backs on their responsibility to advance nuclear disarmament, but their actions are actually becoming even more blatantly out of line with the spirit of the treaty.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1988, which was a symbolic overture to the conclusion of the Cold War, effectively became a dead letter earlier this month.

The Trump administration is set on beefing up U.S. nuclear capabilities and embarking on the development of "more usable" nuclear weapons.


Russia has countered the U.S. move with a confrontational stance, while China, whose presence continues to grow, is proceeding with the development of new missiles. The competition is now expanding into cyber and space defense, and their weapons systems are growing in complexity.

The superpowers' ego-fueled nuclear arms race raises the risks of not only the outbreak of armed conflict, but also of a nuclear war due to system malfunction and misunderstanding.

Also deeply disturbing are the situations in regions where nuclear problems have newly arisen. India and Pakistan, both nuclear states, exchanged fire this year. In the Middle East, a multilateral agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program is floundering.

The world simply cannot just sit back and do nothing about the absence of progress in disarmament and the growing nuclear risk. And it was this shared sense of crisis among many nongovernmental organizations and non-nuclear nations that resulted in the creation of the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.

Two years ago, this treaty was endorsed by 122 nations at U.N. Headquarters, but the nuclear superpowers are opposing it.

The latter cite the reality of security provided by nuclear deterrence, but nuclear arms expansion has only aggravated the situation, not improved it at all.

What we just cannot comprehend is that Japan, the world's sole victim of nuclear warfare, sat out the U.N. vote on the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty and still maintains a negative stance to this day.

There remains an abysmal gap between the actions of the Japanese government and the feelings of Japanese hibakusha who are on the side of international public opinion.

Lewis said that he was inspired to write his novel after he started visiting Hiroshima annually since 2014. He explained that he created this fictional scenario for the near future as a means for making more people hear the voices of hibakusha.

Keiko Ogura, 82, of Hiroshima, recounted her own story to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, who visited the city in June. And Tusk said that every world leader should visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki in person to gain a first-hand experience.


It is hoped that the voices of hibakusha, uttered throughout the decades, will serve as the foundation of the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty and continue to shape international public opinion.

However, with the inexorable dwindling of the hibakusha population, relaying their legacy to posterity requires greater powers of imagination on the part of younger generations.

How to go about this? One hint is to be found in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the main building of which was renovated and reopened to the public this past spring.

The gut-wrenching exhibits, none of which are reproductions, are arranged in a way to express the agony and grief as experienced by each hibakusha and their bereaved family.

Visitors, both Japanese and foreign, stare intently at "A-bomb paintings" that depict scenes drawn by hibakusha themselves.

In a related project, similar paintings were drawn by Hiroshima's teenagers who worked closely together with hibakusha to learn what they saw, and painted the scenes on their behalf.

This project, which started 12 years ago at Hiroshima's Motomachi Senior High School, is being kept up by its pupils who are studying art.

Tomoharu Kadowaki, a third-year student, listened repeatedly to the story of a woman who was 14 when she visited Hiroshima shortly after the nuclear bombing and was exposed to radiation. From what he heard from the woman, he gradually came to "visualize" what she saw--burned bodies lying on the streets--and relate to how she felt.

"A painting is free of any verbal barrier," Kadowaki observed. "When you see it, you start using your imagination, and then begin to think actively on your own."

If a nuclear weapon is used, what would happen to me? Asking oneself this question makes one imagine the agony of a hibakusha and relate to that agony as one's own.

We hope dearly that such an attempt by each citizen would become a collective "weapon" for eliminating nuclear weapons without ever using them.

And we would like to renew our resolve to get there.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 7