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In G7, the survivors of Hiroshima demand action on denuclearization

YouUntil the last days of World War II, the people of Hiroshima thought they were the lucky ones. The United States began carpet-bombing Japanese cities as early as March 1945, killing some 100,000 people in Tokyo in just one night. Hiroshima was the tenth largest city in Japan at the time, yet it was not targeted by the raids, although much smaller places were already destroyed.

“Everyone was wondering, why?” says Setsuko Thurlow, who was a 13-year-old in high school in the city at the time. Some people think that Hiroshima produced a lot of immigrants to Hawaii and California, so perhaps the US government was grateful. Every day, gossip like this was spreading.”

The truth was revealed at 8:15 am on August 3. 6, 1945. Despite his tender years, Thurlow was enlisted to help decipher intercepted Allied communications and was listening to an army major’s pep talk on the second floor of the wooden building that served as military headquarters in what is today the Hiroshima suburb of Higashi. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of a bluish-white flash through the window. It was the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped by the United States B-29 Enola gaywhich exploded at 7,700 degrees Celsius just over a mile away.


Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow in Edinburgh, Scotland, May 2016, to campaign against nuclear weapons.

PA Archive/Palestinian Authority Photos

“I had the sensation of flying, of being in the air,” she told TIME. “That’s when I passed out.” Thurlow, 91, who in 2017 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, was one of only three in her class to crawl from the wreckage. “It was a bright summer day, but when I got out of the rubble, it was like twilight,” she says. So we joined this procession of people who had lost parts of their bodies, blackened skin and withered; They weren’t walking, they were simply moving around.”

The bombing of Hiroshima, and three days later, killed about 170,000 people, including nine of the Thurlow family and 351 of her classmates.

On Friday, the leaders of the Group of Seven nations, a forum for the world’s most advanced democracies, came to Hiroshima with the specter of a nuclear disaster looming larger than at any time in recent memory. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly threatened to launch nuclear weapons in his stalled war in Ukraine, and in March announced he would station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. China is undergoing a drastic modernization of its nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, North Korea tested a record number of ballistic missiles last year, and experts believe it is also ramping up toward its seventh nuclear test.

In Hiroshima, G7 leaders are expected to make a strong statement condemning any possible nuclear conflict. However, Thurlow and her fellow survivors of the atomic bombings, known locally as hibakushaWe believe that words are not enough, and urge the assembly to take concrete steps towards ensuring that such a tragedy does not happen again. “Absolutely,” she says, “I condemn the behavior of Russia and North Korea.” “But I’m not sure the West is willing to work together, in good faith, to negotiate a solution.”


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is no stranger to arguments. His family hails from Hiroshima City, where he still represents its first district as a legislator, and he also lost many of his relatives in the bombing. He pushed for the G7 to be held in Hiroshima precisely because of its history. “For 77 years, nuclear weapons have never been used,” Kishida told TIME in an exclusive interview late last month at his official residence in Tokyo. “We should not allow the current situation to negate this history.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a video message during the commemorative symposium of the G7 summit at Hiroshima Conference Hall on April 15.  (The Yomiuri Shimbun / AP)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a video message during the commemorative symposium of the G7 summit at Hiroshima Conference Hall on April 15.

Yomiuri Shimbun/Associated Press

However, Kishida also boosted Japan’s defense budget to 2% of GDP by 2027 – mirroring a rally across Europe in response to the war in Ukraine – officially making the pacifist nation the third largest military spender in the world. He also agreed to new cooperation with Washington on thwarting potential threats from space, enhancing cooperation in the field of cyber defense, reconfiguring US troop deployments in the Japanese province of Okinawa, and developing uninhabited islands for joint military exercises. On April 23, the Kishida Defense Ministry began installing new US Patriot surface-to-air missiles on the Sakishima Islands, Japan’s closest territory to Taiwan.

Read more: Exclusive: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gives once-peaceful Japan a more assertive role on the world stage

It is the backdrop that gives rise to the challenge for the Group of Seven to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. First, since Russia was expelled from the G8 in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea, the group has been seen as a Western construct of diminishing importance. The G7’s share of global GDP has been steadily declining, and the BRICS group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is contributing more growth today. With Russia and China firmly convinced that Western nations are intent on containing them, and the Global South deftly convincing of this fact, the G7’s leadership credentials are questionable.

Added to this is the perceived hypocrisy. For some time in Russia. The suspension of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty – first signed between Washington and Moscow in 2010 – is unfortunate, the US has already made many destabilizing moves that have left the global arms control structure to fall apart. In 2001, the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, a cornerstone of Cold War de-escalation mechanisms that limited domestic missile defenses. In 2019, the United States scrapped the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. A year later, it withdrew from the Open Skies agreement, which made all images collected from overflights available to any state party. Then, of course, Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal, eroding US credibility around the world in terms of sticking to the agreements from one administration to the next.

In addition, the three nuclear-weapon states of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations — as well as the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization and all countries under the United States’ nuclear umbrella, including Japan — refused to sign the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons ( TPNW) which has called for an explicit international ban on nuclear use, nuclear development or expansion and phased disarmament by the current nuclear powers. In response to the adoption of the agreement at the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom and France issued a strongly worded statement condemning it as ignoring the “realities of the international security environment” and “inconsistent with the policy of nuclear deterrence.”

It is such measures that authoritarian states like Russia and China are using to push the narrative throughout the developing world that the West is equal warriors in Ukraine, says Ramesh Thakur, professor emeritus and director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament at Crawford. Australian National University School. With regard to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he believes that the nuclear-weapon states must end their open hostility to the treaty, especially since they are all members of the preliminary treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which overlap significantly. “Their hardline stance didn’t work,” he says. “It has entrenched the divide and increased anxiety and suspicion with many countries around the world.”

There are concrete steps the Group of Seven could take to reverse the march toward nuclear disaster. Other than emphasizing the US’ willingness to renew New START, the G-7 could get even bolder – sticking unilaterally to the “no first use” protocol. Already, India and China have adopted this stance. And while Biden has previously endorsed the idea, he omitted it from his administration’s latest nuclear policy review, mainly due to pressure from allies who rely on the United States’ nuclear umbrella, particularly Japan and South Korea, who feel their strategic position will be weakened.

Getting G7 support for the No First Use movement requires a determined diplomatic effort, though in many ways it is the ideal forum in which Kishida takes center stage. The hope is that Russia and North Korea will be pressured to respond in kind, or at least show the wider world the West’s commitment to de-escalation. “Strategically speaking, ‘first use’ didn’t make sense at all,” Thakur says. It is a political and psychological reassurance to the Allies. “


Members of the dwindling numbers of Hiroshima survivors—about 118,000 today, according to government records—will certainly meet with G7 leaders to tell their stories and encourage action. They will be strong.

An allied reporter stands in a sea of ​​rubble in front of a shelled building that was once a movie theater in Hiroshima, on September 3.  8, 1945, a month after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb used in the war to hasten Japan's surrender.  (Stanley Troutman- AP)

An allied reporter stands in a sea of ​​rubble in front of a shelled building that was once a movie theater in Hiroshima, on September 3. 8, 1945, a month after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb used in the war to hasten Japan’s surrender.

Stanley Troutman- AP

Emerging from the charred wood, Thurlow and the other survivors are directed toward an army training ground the size of two football fields filled with the wounded and dying. “Nobody was talking, they didn’t have that kind of physical and psychological strength,” she says. “Some fell to the ground and never got up again.”

On the training ground, “everyone was begging for water in hushed voices, no one was shouting out loud,” she said. Although her clothes were covered in blood, she and her fellow survivors were remarkably unharmed, and so they proceeded to attend to the injured and dying. “But we didn’t have any cups or any containers to carry the water,” she says. So we three girls went to the nearby stream and scooped up blood from our bodies and clothes. We took off our blouses, put them in the stream, and soaked them with water.

Then the three little ones rushed to death with these wet rags and placed them over their gasping mouths, so that they might suck out the moisture fiercely. “I think we repeated it almost all day, I don’t know how many hours, I had no sense of time that day,” Thurlow says. “This was the level of so-called bailouts we could provide.”

Thurlow says the G7 leaders have many tools at their disposal to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. They just have to use it. “The way world leaders operate, if they really operate, it seems they are holding humanity hostage,” she says. “I don’t like it and billions of people don’t like it. We need to feel safe and comfortable. This is the hell we live in every day.”

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