I am alive today because my grandmother grew up in Shiga, Japan instead of her mother’s home of Hiroshima. I am alive today because my grandfather happened to be away from his Nagasaki school visiting family in Kyoto on Aug. 9, 1945. My family—those who were not killed by the U.S. atomic bombings—collectively survived not one but two nuclear weapon attacks, the only ones in history.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, instantly killing one of my great grandmother’s sisters, a close friend of hers who was pregnant, and over 100,000 other civilians. Three days later, on Aug. 9, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, obliterating Nagasaki Medical College, where my grandfather was a medical student, and killing over 70,000 additional people. After suffering for three years, another one of my great grandmother’s sisters was killed by radiation-related illness from the bomb.
It has been 75 years since that August in 1945. For 75 years, hibakusha (survivors of an atomic explosion) have called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. For 75 years, survivors of U.S. nuclear weapons testing have called for recognition and compensation for their suffering. And their efforts have gained traction: There is growing international consensus that nuclear weapons are inhumane and must be abolished. While the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has yet to enter into force, 122 countries voted in favor of adopting the treaty and 45 countries out of the 50 necessary have ratified the treaty as of September 2020.
Our entire national security strategy hinges on threatening other countries with nuclear annihilation.
And yet, there are still over 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world, with the United States possessing 5,800 of them. Congress plans to spend $35 billion in U.S. taxes every year for the next decade on our nuclear forces, and upgrading these weapons is eventually expected to cost $1.2 trillion. Meanwhile, debates rage over how to fund COVID-19 relief, universal healthcare, and climate action.
Victims of nuclear testing and nuclear attacks historically have been indigenous people and people of color, reflecting the racism that allows policymakers to consider using these weapons. The overwhelming majority of those killed by the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were children, women, the disabled, and the elderly.
Our entire national security strategy hinges on threatening other countries with nuclear annihilation, shortchanging and undermining our efforts in diplomacy and peacebuilding. And members of Congress continue to frame these weapons in terms of innovation and deterrence, instead of calling them what they are: tools of mass human death and suffering.
Just one of today’s nuclear bombs has 80 times the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And alarmingly, we are just learning that U.S. Strategic Command was ready to fire 80 nuclear warheads at North Korea in 2018. Even a “small” nuclear exchange would have devastating effects on our entire planet.
It is time we all join the call to abolish nuclear weapons.
I work to realize a future free of nuclear weapons because behind each one of those 5,800 nuclear warheads that my government possesses, I see hundreds of thousands of dead and orphaned children, injured and traumatized folks wandering burning cities looking for their loved ones, and families suffering from nuclear radiation for generations. I see my 11-year-old grandmother visiting Hiroshima just days after the attack to attend her aunts’ funerals. I see my 20-year-old grandfather returning to a devastated Nagasaki, searching for the bodies of his friends, relatives, professors, and hundreds of fellow medical students. It is time we all join the call to abolish nuclear weapons.
As we commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on Sept. 26, tell Congress to stop the new nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program. Tell them to support extending the New START treaty—the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty with Russia—which limits the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and mandates transparency between the two countries.
We know the devastating human, cultural, and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons. It is time for our money and policies to reflect this reality.