08/09/2010, 00.00
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Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a world more willing to do without nuclear arms

by Pino Cazzaniga
The presence of American, British and French at the ceremony in Hiroshima shows a commitment to reducing nuclear weapons. Japan, governed by social democrats, also seems more determined "not to manufacture, possess, or introduce nuclear weapons”. The survivors of the radiation, the hibakusha are "prophets of nuclear disarmament." The commitment of Ban Ki-moon and fears of North Korea.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Today, at 11.02, the city of Nagasaki recalled the 65 years since the nuclear bomb which on August 9, 1945 killed 70,000 people. Nagasaki was transformed into an inferno just three days after another bomb had hit Hiroshima (killing 140 000 people). These are the only two cities in the world and in history to be have suffered nuclear violence.

On August 6 in Hiroshima held a memorial service: 55 000 people gathered in Memorial Peace Park to pray for the victims of the explosion and meditate on the experience. And it can be said that there are signs for hope.

For decades, the ceremony has been repeated on the initiative of the city governor, with the participation, more formal than real, of the central authorities. But this year it took on a new meaning with the participation for the first time ever, of three figures: the U.S. ambassador to Japan, the UN Secretary General and the Japanese prime minister, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan .

The symbolic significance of the three new attendees and content of the speeches suggest that, for the first time in Hiroshima the entire world has begun to express a commitment to total nuclear disarmament.


The presence of the United States opens a new era

In 1998 the mayor of Hiroshima had specifically requested the "nuclear powers" to send a representative to the ceremony. All, including Russia and China, responded, the United States, Britain and France ignored the request.

This year, 74 nations have sent their representatives, a record number. But what gave new meaning to the ceremony were, in fact, the presence of the U.S. Ambassador John Roos, David Fitton the British charge d' affaires and the French embassy adviser Christophe Penot. None of the three gave an official speech. Only through a statement after the visit issued by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Roos said he attended the ceremony to "express respect for all victims of World War II" and confirm "their commitment to work together to achieve a world without nuclear weapons for all future generations. "

Doubtless the presence of Roos in Hiroshima reflects the intention of President Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, interviewed in Washington about the meaning of the American presence in Hiroshima, said: "President Obama himself thought it appropriate for us to recognize this anniversary".

The U.S. administration moves towards Hiroshima began with the speech Obama gave in Prague in April 2009. In it the American president appealed to nations "to seek peace and world security without nuclear weapons," adding that "as nuclear power and the only power that has used nuclear weapons the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act to build a world without nuclear weapons".

His words have been followed by facts. In September of that year he pushed for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to adopt a resolution to seek a safer world without nuclear weapons. Also in April this year he signed a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia for a further reduction of nuclear warheads held by the two superpowers.


Agreement with Britain and France

Unlike Roos, the British and French delegates were generous in responding to journalists. From them we learned that their governments have joined the United States initiative only at the last moment not to lose face. According Penot, officials in the three embassies in Tokyo, met last year several times to discuss the 65th anniversary of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Eventually they decided together that all three nations should take part.

Moreover, Fitton said that the presence of the three nations was not only important for the nuclear powers (ie to highlight the need for nuclear disarmament), but also for the cities' of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: a clear allusion to the responsibility for the appalling suffering inflicted on them.


Japan’s stance

The “Declaration of Peace "read by the mayor and the response of the Japanese prime minister are at the core of the Hiroshima ceremony on August 6. So far, both speeches were quite formal without any political commitment. The Japanese government until last year was led by the pro-American Liberal Democratic Party. Explicit reference to the nuclear issue was taboo.

But the current mayor Tadatoshi Akiba has decided to do his utmost for the abolition of nuclear weapons in the world. He believes that because of the atomic bombings, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not only Japanese cities, but cities of the world, with the mission to launch appeals for concrete policies.

Of course, institutionally speaking he can not directly influence foreign governments but he can through the government of his own country. Which is exactly what he has done. In the "Declaration for Peace" he said: "The time is ripe for the Japanese government to act decisively. It must take the lead in the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons with three initiatives: give legal force to the (so-called) three non-nuclear principles, renounce the 'nuclear umbrella' of the United States and provide medical care for the elderly hibakusha (those affected by Atomic Radiation ) wherever in the world they may be "

Let us explain: the three non-nuclear principles are: not producing, not possessing, not introducing nuclear weapons. They were presented in parliament in the 70s, but have not yet to become law. For decades, under secret agreements, nuclear weapons have been introduced in Japan; for decades prime ministers and foreign ministers, questioned in parliament have consistently denied the introduction of such weapons in line with the three principles. Only last year with the passage from liberal-democratic to social-democratic government were the existence of secret pacts revealed.

In a responding speech, Prime Minister Khan accepted all the demands of Akiba, indeed inviting the hibakusha to become "prophets of nuclear disarmament." However, he overlooked the request to renounce the American 'nuclear umbrella'. As prime minister it is not in his power to accept it. Questioned by journalists said: "I think that nuclear deterrence continues to be necessary for our nation." An allusion to the nuclear threat of North Korea.


Ban Ki-moon, ambassador of peace

Hiroshima, this year, became the centre of world attention mainly due to Korean Ban Ki-moon. In Japanese estimation he has done the lion's share.

In a speech delivered August 6 at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial he said: "We are making a journey that goes from 'ground zero to global zero'." "Ground Zero" is the technical term to indicate the spot where the bomb exploded, "global zero", meaning a world without nuclear weapons. "We started a journey towards building a world free of weapons of mass destruction. This is the only certain path to a safer world. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we live in the shadow of nuclear threat. "

He then set the specific programmatic points and finished urging disarmament education in schools. "We need to teach children" this elementary truth: credit and prestige do not belong to those who possess nuclear weapons, but those who reject them ... We must realize the dream of a world free of nuclear weapons so that our children and generations that follow them can live in freedom, security and peace. "

Ban was one year old when Hiroshima was destroyed, but having spent his childhood during the Korean War soon heard the call to commit his life to peace. "One of my earliest memories - he said - is that of walking along a muddy road in search of refuge in the mountains, leaving behind my village in flames. Since then I have dedicated my life to peace. It is for this ideal that I am here today among you".

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