#15 responsibility
Yuki Tanaka

A Proposal from Hiroshima

The horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have marked the end of nuclear warfare, but did not. A call to action.

On August 15, 1945, Japan officially surrendered to the Allied nations following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, which indiscriminately killed over 210,000, mostly civilians, including 40,000 Koreans. The US proudly claimed this to be a “victory of freedom and democracy” against Japanese militarism and fascism.

Why was the opportunity to examine the criminality of the atomic bombing lost?

Immediately upon returning to Washington from the Potsdam Conference, President Truman addressed the American people in a radio report on August 9, 1945:

"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender [ . . .] unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost. [. . .] Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretence of obeying international laws of warfare." (Emphasis added.)

Here Truman justifies the criminal act of using an atomic bomb to instantly and indiscriminately kill an estimated 70,000-80,000 citizens with the ironic excuse that it was “to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” It is well known that this justification of the atomic bomb attacks was subsequently further exaggerated in the United States, and a myth was invented that the war would not have ended without them. Even today, the myth is deeply rooted in the psyche of most Americans. Truman’s explanation that the atomic bombing was a retaliatory attack against the Japanese military’s numerous war crimes betrayed his complete lack of awareness that the atomic bombing he had ordered was itself one of the gravest war crimes in human history.

Even if the myth that the atomic bombing ended the war were historically accurate, no historical or political justification can legitimize the criminality of the mass indiscriminate killing of civilians.

The US Government has persistently used this non-legal self-justification since the end of the Asia Pacific War to defend the use of the atomic bombs. However, as conclusively demonstrated in scholarly literature, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not decisive in ending the war. Its political justification was a myth created by the American government and tacitly endorsed by the Japanese government for self-serving reasons, as will be explained later. Yet, even if the myth that the atomic bombing ended the war were historically accurate, no historical or political justification can legitimize the criminality of the mass indiscriminate killing of civilians. If the Nuremberg principles are applied to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it becomes crystal clear that the use of nuclear weapons in any form is a crime against humanity, as it indiscriminately kills tens of thousands of people including women and children.

For 15 long years, Japan embarked on a war of aggression in Asia, refusing to surrender long after it became clear that defeat was inevitable. In my view, the Japanese Government and its leader, Emperor Hirohito, are therefore accountable along with the US authorities— both legally and morally — to the A-bomb victims for the disaster caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Japanese protest letter condemned the use of the novel bomb as a "new crime against human culture".

Immediately following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, the Japanese government sent a letter signed by Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori via the Swiss government protesting the United States action. In the protest letter, the Japanese government asserted that according to Article 22 and Article 23(e) of the Convention respecting the Law and Customs of War on Land and the Annex of the Hague Convention, belligerents in war time must not employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. The letter further stated that the United States had ignored fundamental principles of international law and condemned the use of the novel bomb as a "new crime against human culture".

This was, however, the first and only letter of protest the Japanese government ever issued on the atomic bombings, and it was not supported by any other nation. On August 15, 1945 Emperor Hirohito implied in his Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War that due to the frighteningly brutal weapon that had been developed, continued war efforts could result not only in the annihilation of the Japanese nation, but also in the destruction of human civilization. He therefore agreed to unconditional surrender. He added that he could only express his regret to “our allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.”

In singling out the atomic bombing as the decisive factor in his decision to surrender, Hirohito unsurprisingly completely ignored the war crimes the Japanese military had committed in its war of aggression across Asia and the Pacific as well as the anti-Japanese resistance that was taking place across Asia. Additionally, he exploited the “A-bomb damage” to indirectly justify the war as a “war to liberate Asia.”

The opportunity to thoroughly examine the criminality of nuclear weapons was lost.

Thus, the Rescript instilled in the people the myth that Japan was forced to surrender by the inhumane atomic bomb and cultivated an exclusive victim mentality; the “atomic bombing” became a means to conceal not only the Emperor's and other wartime leaders’ responsibility for the war, but also the responsibility of the Japanese people for a war in the name of the Japanese Empire that took tens of millions of lives throughout the Asia-Pacific region. As a consequence, the justification of the use of nuclear weapons as an effective means to achieve a “victory of freedom and democracy” was widely accepted and the opportunity to thoroughly examine the criminality of nuclear weapons was lost.

Failure to examine the criminality of the atomic bombing also led the Japanese government to deny the plight of A-bomb survivors. Even today, 70 years after the atomic bombing, many A-bomb survivors are still fighting court cases to gain official government recognition as victims who require proper health care services. At the same time, these sufferers are exploited politically and seen as symbolic “victims of nuclear weapons.”

Omission to examine the criminality of the atomic bombing ultimately led to the disastrous nuclear power accident in Fukushima four years ago.

Omission to examine the criminality of the atomic bombing led the Japanese government to grossly underestimate the effects of radiation on people and the environment; to introduce and expand the use of nuclear energy for the purpose of maintaining nuclear weapon production capabilities; and ultimately led to the disastrous nuclear power accident in Fukushima four years ago, which exposed so many people to high levels of radiation.

A proposal for criminalizing nuclear weapons

When discussing nuclear issues, the fundamental focus for the citizens of Hiroshima is still the incomprehensibly vast number of people affected by the atomic bombing. That morning, the atomic bomb instantly killed 70,000 to 80,000 civilians and by the end of 1945, 140,000 residents of Hiroshima had died as a result of the bombing. Many others have subsequently died – often after experiencing a lifetime of suffering – or are still suffering from various diseases caused by the blast, fire or radiation. Hiroshima’s anti-nuclear and peace movements are hence firmly rooted in the understanding that the indiscriminate and mass killing of civilians using nuclear weapons is genocide and that the use of nuclear weapons – under any circumstances – is therefore clearly a crime against humanity.

As advocates for nuclear abolition, as well as citizens of the first city to feel the effects of a nuclear attack, we have frequently been disappointed by the discussion on nuclear issues. Many politicians, bureaucrats and academics engage in talks on various nuclear issues, including nuclear deterrence and disarmament, yet ignore the basic and indisputable fact that these concepts signify the massacre of a large number of human beings (and many other creatures) as well as the grave destruction of the environment using a weapon of mass destruction.

The U.S. bears not only a moral responsibility, but also a legal one.

In his speech in Prague in April 2009, I appreciated that U.S. President Barack Obama clearly expressed his desire to abolish nuclear weapons, stating that “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.” Yet the U.S. bears not only a moral responsibility, but also a legal one. Based on a clear recognition of this legal responsibility, we need to establish a universal principle, as well as international law, under which anyone or any government official who attempts to use nuclear weapons would be prosecuted as a war criminal. I believe it is now time to take affirmative action to make concrete proposals to establish the Nuclear Weapons Convention.

In the last two years, the global call for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Convention has increased dramatically. This is mainly thanks to the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, the third and most recent of which was held in Vienna in December 2014 with the participation of about 150 nations and many NGOs. Yet, as in 2005, no agreement was reached at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference held in New York in May 2015 due to the obstructive performance of nuclear power states, in particular the United States.

In order to further enhance calls for the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention throughout the world and to simultaneously create pressure on the nuclear power states to take more affirmative action on the abolition of nuclear weapons, I would like to offer the following proposals and requests.

(1) Establish the Nuclear Weapons Convention

In July 1996, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, which concluded that every nation has “an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” Encouraged by this ICJ opinion, Costa Rica submitted the world’s first Model Nuclear Weapons Convention (hereafter “Model Convention”) in 1997, which was circulated in the UN General Assembly by the Secretary-General. At the NPT Preparation Conference in April 2007 and with the cooperation of Malaysia, Costa Rica submitted an updated version of the Model Convention, proposing the immediate establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

The basic framework for a nuclear weapons convention is already available in a concrete and comprehensive form.

Three NGOs, IALANA (International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms), IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War), and INESAP (International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation), also worked together to draft a comprehensive model convention. Updated in 2007, this Model Convention includes provisions prohibiting the development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as terms for their elimination. ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) has been promoting this Model Convention worldwide for the past several years. Thus, the basic framework for a nuclear weapons convention is already available in a concrete and comprehensive form. We therefore need to urge all nations – both nuclear and non-nuclear states – to collaborate to speedily establish and ratify a nuclear weapons convention based on the above-mentioned model conventions.

(2) A proposal to add the Article Prohibiting the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction to the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions.

Although I hope that many nations will soon take action to formalize the Nuclear Weapons Convention, it is expected that ratification will take at least five years. I therefore propose that as a step towards putting such a convention into effect, one of the existing international conventions be fully utilized to quickly criminalize the use of nuclear weapons and other radioactive weapons such as DU (depleted uranium) weapons.

In particular, I believe that Chapters II and III of Part IV, Section I “Civilian Population” of the “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Signed on 12 December 1977” (hereafter “the Additional Protocol”) are well suited for this purpose. It is crystal clear that the use of nuclear and DU weapons is a violation of Article 51 (Protection of the civilian population) and Article 55 (Protection of the natural environment) of this Additional Protocol.

We need to include a provision that clarifies the criminality of the use of nuclear, radioactive, chemical and biological weapons as well as all weapons of mass destruction. The provision might read: “It is prohibited under any circumstances to use nuclear, radioactive, chemical and biological weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction and indiscriminate damage.” The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention has so far been ratified by 162 states. Yet neither treaty has been adopted by the U.S. or Russia. It would, however, be extremely difficult for non-signatory nations to use such weapons, as these treaties are now widely endorsed by the majority of UN member states. Therefore if the above mentioned idea of adding the Article Prohibiting the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction to the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions is adopted and signed by the majority of nations of the world, it would certainly exert pressure on the nuclear power states to rapidly reduce the nuclear weapons at hand, if not abolish those weapons completely.

(3) A proposal for constructing “The North-East Asia Peace Community”

For the abolition of nuclear weapons, I believe that it is vital to make North-East Asia a nuclear-free zone. To this end, we need to strongly call on North Korea to immediately stop its nuclear weapons production program and China to eliminate all the nuclear weapons in its possession. To achieve this aim however, the Japanese government would have to change its policy of relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence and accommodating U.S. military bases on Japanese soil.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the current Japanese government is adopting policies that regard North Korea and China as potential enemies. It is trying to introduce new laws to enable Japan’s self-defensive forces to fight with U.S. forces in overseas war zones and to allow the U.S. to build a new base in Okinawa, although such laws are clearly unconstitutional. By adopting such hardline policies, the Japanese government is creating hostile tension towards North Korea and China. In response, these countries are strengthening their own military capabilities, including nuclear weapons.

The construction of “the North-East Asia Peace Community” is a prerequisite for the construction of a nuclear free North-East Asia.

For the construction of a nuclear free North-East Asia, it is therefore essential to create a stable and peaceful political environment in this region in which North Korea would feel no need to wage war against neighbouring nations. In other words, the construction of “the North-East Asia Peace Community” is a prerequisite for the construction of a nuclear-free North-East Asia. A first step would be to abolish the U.S. nuclear deterrence policy as well as to withdraw American military forces from Japan, in particular from Okinawa and Iwakuni.

(4) Support for constructing “The Nuclear Free European Community”

The U.K. possesses 160 nuclear warheads and France possesses 290. Given that the Cold War ended many years ago, the role of these nuclear weapons as deterrents against Russian attacks on Western Europe has long been obsolete. Moreover, the majority of British citizens do not think that the very expensive replacement of the existing submarine-based Trident weapons system is justifiable. British citizens want to abolish their nuclear missiles. The majority of German and Belgian citizens also want to remove the nuclear weapons that U.S. forces are storing in their territories.

I believe that the establishment of a nuclear-free EU would have an enormous moral and political impact on the U.S., Russia and other nuclear powers, as well as nations currently seeking to acquire such weapons of mass destruction. I therefore urge the British, German and other European NGOs working in the anti-nuclear movements to closely collaborate to promote and realize a plan for making the EU a nuclear-free zone. We Japanese NGOs are happy to work with them to make it happen.

(5) A demand to end the use of nuclear energy

I believe that the abolition of nuclear weapons cannot be achieved so long as the supposed “peaceful use of nuclear energy” continues. Some claim that the use of nuclear energy is a good strategy to tackle global warming caused by human-generated carbon dioxide. However, we need to consider the many problems associated with the use of nuclear energy, including the enormous cost of the construction and operation of nuclear power stations and other related facilities, the question of how to deal with large quantities of radioactive materials and store high-level radioactive waste over many hundreds of years, the uneconomical and dangerous “recycling of nuclear fuel” and, most of all, the danger of nuclear accidents like the ones at Chernobyl and Fukushima, which caused great harm to human beings and the natural environment.

The huge sum of money currently allocated for nuclear energy should be redirected towards the development of various alternative, renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources.

The use of nuclear energy, which is directly linked to the production of nuclear and DU weapons, should be stopped immediately. The huge sum of money currently allocated for nuclear energy should be redirected towards the development of various alternative, renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources.

(6) A proposal for the elimination of structural violence instead of The War on Terror

It has often been said it might be possible for terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons, and President Obama has repeated this warning in his public speeches. Indeed Obama has essentially inherited Bush’s “War on Terror” without any fundamental changes, and is hence conducting military operations for this purpose in places such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the majority of victims of these operations are not alleged terrorists, but ordinary civilians. Many survivors become refugees after losing their families and relatives.

It is clear that “structural violence” – such as poverty, discrimination and the abuse of human rights – is the real cause of terrorism. The desperate and demoralizing social conditions created by war create further incentives for terrorist activities. The best tactic for preventing terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear weapons is therefore not to wage war on terrorism, but to eliminate the source of this “structural violence”. We therefore need to call on countries such as the U.S., Russia, France, the U.K., China, and Japan to reallocate their large military budgets towards helping the huge number of people in the world who are in desperate need of assistance for survival.

The above-mentioned demands and proposals are all essential for the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons. Yet I strongly believe that they are all achievable, provided we place humanity at the centre of our activities. We should work together with all groups and people actively involved in anti-nuclear and peace movements throughout the world, fully utilizing our experience as residents of Hiroshima, the city that fell victim to the world’s first and deadliest nuclear attack.

Photo: “Korean Missiles” by Daniel Foster
2012 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

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