Ruth Longoni, Chair of Coventry Lord Mayor’s Peace Committee, gave this talk during the Hiroshima Day Commemorations in Coventry Cathedral on 6 August 2017.
Monday August 6th, 1945 brought about a new era in human history. Since then we have lived with the of threat of nuclear war – sometimes acute as during the Cuban missile crisis and the current posturing of the North Korean dictator – sometimes receding – but always there.
The first atomic bombs were used by the American military authorities at the end of world war two on the cities of Hiroshima on August 6th and Nagasaki on August 9th. Some of the scientists who had taken part in the development of the weapons were opposed to their use.
The effects of the two bombs resulted in the deaths of some 146,000 men, women and children in Hiroshima and around 80,000 in Nagasaki. An estimated 100,000 were injured and almost the whole of the great city of Hiroshima was destroyed by blast or fire. The normal pattern of hospital care was totally disrupted.
The survivors faced years of suffering, from radiation sickness, burns and the trauma of what they had lived through.
There were many arguments at the time of about whether Japan should have received advanced warning, should a demonstration bomb have been used?
Arguments continued afterwards too – did the bombs hasten the end of the war or were they used to prevent the Russians from occupying Japan?
The British government wanted its own bomb to buy it a seat at the conference table, as it saw it.
For decades we have lived with the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea that possession of nuclear weapons would deter others from using them since the results would be so catastrophic.
This doctrine has been breached by the nuclear arms race and the suggested first use of nuclear weapons. More countries now possess them, there are enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world 12 time over, and we also live with the threat of nuclear accidents.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty came into being in 1970 with the aim to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and achieve nuclear disarmament. It was last reviewed in 2015 without agreement being reached. Stumbling blocks appear to have been on how to proceed with a nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east. Also on the agenda was the threat from North Korea; the need to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty; the nuclear deal with Iran and further bilateral warhead reductions. The next review will take place in 2020.
Because of the lack of progress on the Non-Proliferation treaty, the UN has published the text of a treaty which will ban nuclear weapons, their development and stockpiling. The UK government chose not to engage with the 132 nations taking part. However the Treaty was endorsed by 122 nations at the UN in the face of opposition from nuclear armed states and their allies.
It will be open for signature on 20th September.
In the recent general election we witnessed Jeremy Corbin repeatedly being questioned about his refusal to countenance the use of nuclear weapons and the threat to our security he was said to post, rendering Trident, the renewal of which will cost around 200 billion, redundant. The phased de-escalation of all nuclear weapons through the UN framework did not feature nor did how many libraries, schools or hospitals could be built with that money.
The encouraging thing is that this didn’t prevent lots of people voting for the Party he leads and for other parties opposed to the possession of nuclear weapons.
There is a growing recognition that the threats we face today are from cyber warfare, terrorism, including nuclear terrorism, climate change and the damage we are inflicting on the natural world, none of which are addressed by nuclear weapons.
Coventry has a rich peace history and culture including the work of this Cathedral for peace and reconciliation, citizens campaigning for nuclear disarmament, exchanges with some of our 26 twin cities and an annual peace festival, supported by Coventry Council. We need to extend and deepen those activities and use our influence, wherever we can, to bring about a change in society and a government that will take part in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. We are one world and must look after each other and all life on the planet.