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Remembering Hiroshima

We're closer than ever to a ban on nuclear weapons. Today is a reminder of why we have to get this over the line.

Friday August 4, 2017

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Hiroshima, after 'Little Boy' was dropped
Hiroshima, after 'Little Boy' was dropped

There are stories, thousands of stories; of fireballs and burnt flesh. Of blinding white flashes and black radioactive rain falling from the sky. Accounts of human beings, entirely vaporised. The sound of screams hanging in the air filled with terror and agony. Tales of smoke and dust, and a cloud - whose mushroom shape would become the symbol of total destruction, for an entire planet, forever.

On 6 August 1945, a nuclear bomb named 'Little Boy' was dropped on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of people. Just three days later, another nuclear bomb named 'Fat Man' was dropped on Nakasaki. It killed almost 100,000 people. In the months that followed another 140,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki succumbed to radiation sickness and injury. By 1950 the death toll from 'Little Boy and 'Fat Man' reached half a million people.

We as a civilisation understand the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons, we have seen it first hand. We have heard of its horrors for 72 years. We have been reminded of this bleak history lesson time and time again, through survivors' accounts, scientific research, documentaries, and in the tallies of the hundreds of thousands of dead, sick and injured.

Despite this horrifying history, right now there are more than 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Roughly 1,800 of them have the capability to be launched within minutes.      

Even a limited nuclear war could leave over 1 billion people at imminent risk of starvation. It would cause unspeakable suffering that cannot be limited in space or time. It is clear that the only truly safe option for humanity is to ban the use of nuclear weapons and eliminate them entirely.

We have already banned landmines, biological and chemical weapons. So how is it that we have not yet done the same for the most destructive weapons the world has ever seen?

But there is hope. Some significant progress on this front has been made. On 7 July 2017 an historic treaty was adopted at a UN conference in New York. 122 States adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This signals a turning point in efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons, and is something that the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been working towards since 1945.

"The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a fitting response to our appeal," says Yvette Zegenhagen, National Manager for International Humanitarian Law at Australian Red Cross.

"It recognises the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the risks posed by their continued existence.  It clearly and comprehensively prohibits nuclear weapons on the basis of international humanitarian law.  It provides pathways for adherence by all States, including nuclear-armed States.  And it contains commitments to assist victims of testing and use of nuclear weapons and to remediate contaminated environments."

The adoption of the treaty was motivated by global concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that any use of nuclear weapons would entail - and rightly so.

Governments will have the opportunity to sign the treaty on 20 September in New York, at a ceremony during a high-level segment of the General Assembly's annual session. The Movement is urging all States to sign it.

"Prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative, and a promise to future generations that they will never have to live under the threat of nuclear catastrophe," says Ms Zegenhagen. 

"By adhering to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Australia would be taking an essential step towards the universal goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Let us make sure that we never have another Hiroshima or Nagasaki again."


Australian Red Cross will participate in a Hiroshima Day Vigil in Adelaide on Sunday 6 August 2017 from 2pm at Elder Park, King William Road.