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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

54th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Japan

The horror of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was remembered in ceremonies around the world on 6 and 9 August. In Hiroshima on 6 August, Japan's Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, addressing a crowd of around 50,000 in the city's Peace Memorial Park, frankly expressed his pessimism about the prospects for nuclear disarmament: "There has been no end of regional conflicts due to ethnic and religious problems, as seen in Kosovo, and we see new moves towards possessing nuclear arms... The world security situation is very difficult, and we still have a long way to go toward achieving nuclear disarmament." The same day, the Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan, Sanae Shida, claimed an inconsistency in the position of the Japanese Government: "The people of Japan have had direct experience of the use of plutonium in nuclear weapons. As a result, Japan has long sought to become a world leader in nuclear non-proliferation. ... [But if Japan] continues with a plutonium program, its actions may threaten its words." Shida was referring specifically to Japan's importation of plutonium from Europe for use in its civil nuclear reactors; a shipment of plutonium left Europe, aboard two British vessels, in July.

On 28 July, Hiroshima's mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, told reporters of his fear that the horror of the atomic bombings was beginning to fade: "The threshold is being lowered... People are forgetting just how terrible Hiroshima and Nagasaki were. ... Nuclear weapons are an absolute evil: we must abolish them." Akiba's counterpart in Nagasaki, Itcho Ito, stated movingly on 9 August:

"Our city...was instantly transformed into charred ruins... Many of those who remain today live in a state of loneliness and anxiety. ... From this hellish experience, we have gained the conviction that the existence of nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated."

9 August also saw an anti-nuclear demonstration outside the US Los Alamos laboratory where the first atomic weapons were developed. Among the around 400 protesters - angry in particularly at the laboratory's continued production of plutonium-pits for nuclear warheads - was the 59-year old American actor Martin Sheen, who stated: "We are the generation that brought the bomb in. We have got to be the generation that should take it out." About 75 protesters, including Sheen, were arrested and briefly detained by the police. Laboratory spokesperson John Bass commented:

"There is nothing really the lab can say about it. Disarmament would be a good idea, except for the fact that the lab, together with the other labs..., have been mandated...to make the nuclear weapons stockpile, and that's what we do. That's our mission."

Reports: Hiroshima Mayor fears new A-Bomb use, Associated Press, 28 July; Hiroshima recalls atomic bombing, Associated Press, 6 August; Japan mourns, calls for arms cuts on Hiroshima Day, Reuters, 6 August; US protest marks A-Bomb anniversary, Associated Press, 9 August; Nagasaki prays for world peace, Associated Press, 9 August; Martin Sheen arrested in protest, Associated Press, 10 August.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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