Last year, 75 years after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people around the world remembered the stories of A-bomb survivors, known as Hibakusha.
One such Hibakusha, Kunihiko Bonkohara, recalled his experience in Funairi, Hiroshima, about 2 kilometers from the center of the blast.
I was five years old at the time. We had a family of six. My older brother and sister were primary school students and had been evacuated. Another older sister and my mother were mobilized to work and so had gone into central Hiroshima. Only my father and I were at home at the time. When the atomic bomb was dropped, at the moment of the bright light, my father pushed me under a desk and placed himself on top of me to protect me. My father was blown away by the blast and his body was pierced by shards of glass and wooden rubble. Luckily the building next to our home was a brick factory and so our house did not burn. My father went to a nearby river to wash his body, and when he came back home the black rain began to fall. The city was full of horribly burned people.
My body became covered in blotches, and when I was in Grade 4 at primary school I was troubled with lung disease. After that, I somehow recovered and after I left high school I joined the construction industry development youth corps. When I was 20 years old, I left home and traveled by ship to immigrate to Brazil. My father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and my mother with breast cancer, and they both passed away. Because I was in Brazil, I was not able to meet with them at the end.
After working on nuclear disarmament issues for almost three years now, it’s no longer difficult for me to imagine these scenarios in the context of my childhood hometown. I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, only a few miles away from Warren Air Force Base, one of the largest missile-command bases in the nation.
If a nuclear war were to break out between the United States and another nuclear armed state, there is no doubt that my hometown—where my mother, father, and sister still live—would be a target. Because of its array of hundreds of silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, Cheyenne would act as a nuclear sponge, absorbing hundreds of incoming missiles that would wreak unthinkable devastation. Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming are all similarly at risk.
That’s why, in a new era of strategic competition and tension, we must do everything we can to avoid going down the same path that led to Kunihiko’s horrifying experience. Yet tensions continue to rachet up, and too many policymakers seem to believe that war with Russia or China is inevitable. It is not. War is always a choice, and it is one that we cannot afford to make.
President Joe Biden has said he intends to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin have reaffirmed Ronald Reagan’s dictum that nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought, and they have begun arms control talks to build upon previous agreements. These developments offer hope that the United States can reach agreements with even its staunchest adversaries, pulling back from the brink of war and breaking the cycles of mistrust.
We must hold our elected leaders accountable to their commitments and make it clear that the world does not need more nuclear weapons. Our massive existing stockpile, which includes nearly 6,000 nuclear warheads, has only increased the risk of catastrophe, whether by miscalculation, miscommunication, or choice.
To commemorate the 76th anniversary of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, please tell Congress that spending billions of dollars to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal is wasteful, destabilizing, and morally wrong.