By Zubeida Mustafa
The India-Pakistan dialogue has had many ups and downs since it was launched last year. The fact is that every time there is a “down” there are many who wait with bated breath and keep their fingers crossed.
Is there need for this over-reaction – if one may call it so? Yes, if one remembers that both India and Pakistan now have nuclear capability and could use nuclear weapons if war breaks out between them. They have threatened to do so, at least on one occasion.
A war fought with conventional weapons is bad enough. A nuclear war is a catastrophe. But the world – especially the leaders who decide the destiny of nations – seem to be blissfully unaware of the devastation and horrors atomic weapons can unleash. After all, 60 years have passed since the Hiroshima tragedy and people, most of whom were not even born then, feel they can put it all behind them and move on.
But not the people of Hiroshima who still carry the scars of that fateful day in August 1945 when nuclear terror rained down upon them from the skies killing 70,000 people instantaneously, injuring 140,000 and causing painful radiation effects on another 100,000.
Nearly two-thirds of the buildings in the city were destroyed. They remember it all and they want others who escaped that experience to remember it too, so that man never uses nuclear weapons ever again.
In anticipation of the 60th anniversary of the day “Little Boy” (the American atomic bomb) was dropped, the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1977 to enhance peace awareness, created a new project.
This was the Hiroshima World Peace Mission. Since last year the mission has been dispatching small groups of representatives from Hiroshima to nuclear weapon states to share with the people their own experience of a nuclear attack.
Co-sponsored by two media companies and supported by the local bodies, peace organizations and the UN universities in Japan, the mission has already sent four delegations to the Middle East and Africa, Northeast Asia, Europe, and Russia.
The fifth delegation visited Pakistan and India recently to pass on its “A-bomb experiences and memories” to the people and governments of these countries as well. Later this year, a group will visit the United States and the UN.
While talking to these peace activists, one could vividly visualize the devastation nuclear weapons and wars can wrought and how their trauma runs through generations.
Since they had experienced these horrors first hand one could not dismiss them as a bunch of crazy peace campaigners who do not understand the intricacies of power politics. Emiko Okada, the 67-year-old hibakusha (survivor of the nuclear attack), spoke with deep emotions about what she had lived through.
When the bomb fell, she was eight-year-old and her entire family was exposed to the blast and the radiation that enveloped them. They were badly burnt and injured. Describing her own condition, she said, “Because I had breathed the radioactive gas, I was vomiting frequently and was very ill. I couldn’t move for two days. I was bleeding from my gums and lost my hair. I often felt weak and had to lie down.”
But worse was the shock of losing her 12-year-old sister who had left home in the morning saying, “See you later.” She had gone to the building demolition work near the hypo centre where the students were helping. She never came home. Emiko recalled, “My mother would spend hours and hours searching through the rubble for Mieko.
My parents had believed till the end that my sister was alive and they died without submitting a notification of her death to the municipal office. We don’t have her remains and belongings [those who died instantly from the blast simply vaporized never to be seen again].
All we have is this letter (which she wrote to her cousin looking forward to his return home from the army and excitedly telling him what a different city Hiroshima would be).”
It is not strange that Emiko hates nuclear weapons and fears for the countries which possess them. “Now I find that the threat of nuclear weapons is not going away. A-bombs are not things of the past. We must call for nuclear abolition, so that my sister may not have died in vain.”
Even 22-year-old Takayuki Sasaki, a peace studies student at the university of Hiroshima, feels as strongly against nuclear weapons as Emiko. Though he belongs to the post-war generation and none in his family suffered from the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, he has heard a lot about the war.
Japanese society is now aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons because those who witnessed its horrors were determined not to let the lesson of Hiroshima die. The impact of the Hiroshima blast continued for decades.
Those who survived developed fevers, nausea, diarrhoea, keloids, leukaemia and other effects of radiation. The children born to those exposed suffered from deformities.
As if words were not enough, Akira Tashiro, 57, the director of the mission and a journalist working for Chugoku Shimbun, one of the co-sponsors of the mission, had with him pictures of Hiroshima after it had been bombed.
The paper, which was founded in 1892, lost 150 of its 350-strong staff on August 6, 1945. All its facilities were destroyed and only the frame of its building remained standing as a bizarre structure amidst a sea of ruins, located as it was only 900 metres from the hypo centre.
The Chugoku Shimbun photographer who had survived took those pictures. I looked at them and felt sick. There were pictures of a totally bombed out city, images of shadows of people which I was told were actually the men and women themselves who had vanished like thin air when the intense heat from the bomb burned them through leaving the dark marks on the ground, sombre photographs of the streets strewn with corpses with no clear ground for people to walk on, and bare bodied men and women whose nakedness was covered with the hanging strips of their own skin.
And then I looked out of the hotel room to see the bright neon signs and street lights of Karachi – a vibrant city full of life. I shut my eyes and imagined this city in ruins like Hiroshima.
No, we don’t want nuclear weapons. We don’t want a nuclear war. Yet we live in a make-believe world of our wishful thinking. Our nuclear weapons are only to maintain a power equilibrium, we are told.
They give us security and protection since they provide us with mutually assured destruction (the so-called MAD theory of yesteryear) and act as a deterrent to war, it is drummed into us. But is that so? If we don’t resolve our disputes with India and continue to practise a policy of brinkmanship, war can actually break out. Were that to happen will the two sides refrain from using their nuclear arsenals? We don’t even warn our children about the horrors of war. We build monuments of Chaghai, and erect missile-like structures. How many of our students will be like Takayuki after what they read in textbooks?
What we need is a peace culture. No army which wields political power in a country can be expected to promote that culture because it intrinsically goes against the raison d’etre of its existence. Hence it is the people – the civil society as we call them – who will have to promote this culture. Is any university teaching peace studies in Pakistan? We do have private universities now.
Do we persistently call for nuclear disarmament? Many occasions arise when we can. Did we protest when the nuclear explosions took place in 1998? Only a few people in Balochistan did.
It is time we started cultivating a peace culture in our society. We can do that on our own initiative without the government’s intervention. Let all mothers decide to boycott toy guns and not give them to their boys.
Let every teacher speak of love and peace to his students even if the books do not do so. Let the singers sing of friendship and tolerance. Let us spread the message of peace far and wide and see how it will change the world.
Tag: Nuclear arms. War & Peace