Peace Signals from U.S. Nuclear Footprint Sites

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The UN chief Ban Ki-moon is seen with Sumiteru Taniguchi, an atomic bomb survivor.Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

History is in the making with two sites where the United States left its indelible nuclear footprints -- the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago and Japan's legendary city of Hiroshima -- sending new signals. [P] ARABIC | ITALIAN | JAPANESE PDF TEXT VERSION | SPANISH

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3 placed the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, the United Nations agency mandated to conserve the humankind's legacy.

The rationale behind the decision of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee is that in the wake of World War II, in a move closely related to the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States decided to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, on Bikini Atoll. After the displacement of the local inhabitants, 67 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958, including the explosion of the first H-bomb (1952).

Bikini Atoll has conserved direct tangible evidence that is highly significant in conveying the power of the nuclear tests, that is, the sunken ships sent to the bottom of the lagoon by the tests in 1946 and the gigantic Bravo crater, according to UNESCO.

Equivalent to 7,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, the tests had major consequences on the geology and natural environment of Bikini Atoll and on the health of those who were exposed to radiation.

"Through its history, the atoll symbolises the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise. This is the first site from the Marshall Islands to be inscribed on the World Heritage List," UNESCO states.

A glimpse of history shows that Bikini was visited by only a dozen or so ships before the establishment of the German colony of the Marshall Islands in 1885. Along with the rest of the Marshalls, Bikini was captured by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1914 during World War I (1914-1918) and mandated to the Empire of Japan by the League of Nations in 1920.

The Japanese administered in the island under the South Pacific Mandate, but mostly left local affairs in hands of traditional local leaders until the start of World War II in 1939. Following the end of World War II (1945), Bikini came under the control of the United States as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until the independence of the Marshall Islands in 1986.

GENBAKU DOME

Unlike the Bikini Atoll, Hiroshima did not have to wait that long to be placed on the World Heritage List. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) was inscribed 1996 on the List "to symbolize the tragedy brought about by the world's first atomic bomb".

An atomic bomb exploded directly above a building called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall on August 6, 1945, with the pressure created by the bomb being 35 tons per square meter and the blast speed emitted reaching 440 meters per second. The building was destroyed and only a few walls and the steel framework were left standing.

After the war it was given the name of 'Genbaku Dome' (Atomic Bomb Dome) by locals and in 1966 Hiroshima City Government decided to preserve the Genbaku Dome permanently, restoring the building regularly thereafter.

What sets apart the 2010 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony -- held every year on August 6 at Hiroshima Peace Park -- is that for the first time officials from 74 countries attended the ceremony.

Also the attendance of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, who presented a floral wreath, marks the first time an American diplomat attended the Peace Ceremony. This is viewed by many Japanese as a good sign. Representatives from nuclear weapon states France and Great Britain as well made their first appearance.

It was besides the first time that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon not only attended the ceremony but also addressed Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony.

Ban, who hails from Korea, was a child when the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. More than 400,000 have died -- and are continuing to die -- since the end of World War II from the impacts of those bombs. "Only later in life could I begin to understand the full dimension of all that happened here," Ban said.

It is against the backdrop of this realization that he has made nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation a top priority, and put forward a five-point plan in 2008 that includes recommendations on increasing security, verification, establishing a legal framework for nuclear disarmament, transparency and conventional weapons.

"Our moment has come," an upbeat Secretary-General said, noting recent progress on the issue, including new leadership from the most powerful nations, new engagement in the Security Council, and new energy from civil society.

At the same time, it is vital to keep up the momentum, he said, adding that he will convene a Conference on Disarmament in New York in September, where he will push for negotiations towards nuclear disarmament.

In a significant move, Ban also highlighted the need for disarmament education in schools, including translating the testimonies of the survivors in the world's major languages, as well as teaching that "status and prestige belong not to those who possess nuclear weapons, but to those who reject them".

GLOBAL ZERO

The UN Secretary-General came to Hiroshima after spending what he described "a profoundly moving day" in Nagasaki, where he toured the Atomic Bomb Museum and met with a number of survivors. He also laid a wreath at the monument located at ground zero, and visited a separate memorial for Korean victims.

He said his visit to Nagasaki had strengthened his conviction that nuclear weapons must be outlawed, and he urged all nations to support his five-point action plan and agree to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention at the earliest possible date.

"Together, we are on a journey from ground zero to Global Zero -- a world free of weapons of mass destruction. That is the only sane path to a safer world. Let us realize our dream of a world free of nuclear weapons so that our children and all succeeding generations can live in freedom, security and peace," Ban stated.

In both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he met with hibakusha, or victims of the bombings. The Secretary-General told reporters in Hiroshima that those meetings "have strengthened my determination to work even harder" to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

"The suffering was unimaginable and the courage and fortitude had been extraordinary," he said, describing their devotion to ridding the world of the weapons as inspirational.

Ban also stressed in remarks at a welcome ceremony in Hiroshima that abolishing nuclear weapons is "more than our common dream; it is common sense policy".

There have been some encouraging new commitments made by the world's nuclear powers, including the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) reached by the United States and Russia, under which they pledged to cut back on their stockpiles by a third.

Progress was also made at both the high-level Washington Summit on Nuclear Security and the May 2010 review conference of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held at the United Nations.

"Above all," he said, there has been a "rising chorus of conscience from civil society", such as the Mayors for Peace movement, bringing together more than 4,000 mayors from around the world, as well as representatives of the world’s religions, lawyers, doctors, environmentalists, labour leaders, women, human rights activists, parliamentarians and others.

"Even former military officials are speaking out: statesmen once responsible for nuclear weapons policies," Ban noted. While governments bear the primary responsibility for peace, he also underscored the key role that business can play in an address to the Global Compact Network.

A company's investment and employment decisions, its relations with communities, and its actions on the environment and security "can create or exacerbate the tensions that fuel conflict… or they can help a country remain at peace," he emphasized.

Ban's remarks show that the UN not only shares the aspirations of the youth but also supports their campaign to create a nuclear-weapon-free world. This was indicated in run-up to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony at the Youth Peace General Assembly and Asia Youth Peace Music Festival held on August 1 in Hiroshima.

In response to the call by Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), for nuclear abolition, the youth wing of the organization from all over Japan -- including Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa -- have undertaken a petition drive calling for the enactment of Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC).

Through this campaign, they collected a total of 2,276,167 signatures which were submitted to the United Nations and the NPT review conference which unanimously adopted its final document stressing the need to pay adequate attention to the NWC.

Kenji Shiratsuchi, chair of the Soka Gakkai Youth Peace Conference who has led a youth campaign for nuclear abolition while collecting people's voices, told the Hiroshima-Nagasaki-Okinawa youth summit that a six-nation survey conducted by the organisation had concluded that most people believe the world would be safer without the destructive weapons.

 

The survey involved interviews with 4,362 people, ranging from teens to those in their thirties, in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United States and Britain.

According to the findings, over 67 percent said the use of nuclear weapons was not acceptable under any circumstances, with only 17.5 percent seeing it as acceptable as a last resort if a country's survival was threatened, and 6.1 percent saying they could be used to prevent international terrorism or genocide. (IDN-InDepthNews/08.08.2010)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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