By FRANCES LAMBERTS
After a visit to Japan, the film producer and science writer, Ann Dryan, remarked on “a plaque that soothes.” At ground zero in Hiroshima, the plaque is inscribed: “Rest in Peace for It Shall Not Happen again.”
The monument, she suggested, reflects an understandable need for victimized people to salvage some meaning from such a cataclysm. Yet within the reality of the global political situation today, she held that “this reassurance seems the emptiest of promises.”
In near-term years ahead, though, we might expect an international holiday, on July 7, in observance of the now legal prohibition – and leading to total elimination – of nuclear weapons. On that day last year, a jubilant Elayne Whyte Gomez, Ambassador from Costa Rica who presided over the United Nations negotiations on a nuclear-weapons ban treaty, announced its adoption by 122 states. Ratification by 50 countries – our southern neighbor (Mexico) and more than a dozen other states having done so already – will bring the treaty into force.
What brought this landmark global agreement about, more than seven decades after the Aug. 6, 1945, “Little-Boy” atomic bomb blast killed over 90,000, mostly civilian, residents of Hiroshima?
Emphasizing the extraordinary perils to humanity from these weapons of mass destruction, a group of the very scientists involved in their development in the Manhattan Project created the Doomsday Clock in 1947. Using the symbol of midnight as apocalyptic threat to the planet and its people, that year they judged the Clock to be 7 minutes away from midnight.
In 1953, after the US and Russia developed thermonuclear weapons, or the hydrogen bomb – with more than thousand times the Little Boy bomb’s killing power, the scientists advanced the Clock’s hand to 2 minutes to midnight. They did so, again, this year.
In 1955, in a manifesto to a national Conference on Science and World Affairs, Albert Einstein stated this warning: Not for “members of this or that nation, continent or creed” alone but for humanity itself and the natural world they irradiate with lethal dust or rain – through use of H-bombs in any war “the continued existence of mankind is threatened.”
An appeal and warning by the Red Cross that meaningful medical response was impossible following any nuclear detonation brought a mandate for negotiations on the weapons-ban treaty, by the United Nations in December 2016, the treaty being concluded and sealed seven months later.
Ann Dryan feared that deployment of nuclear weapons, with their now omnicidal consequences, could happen again. Yet through more political engagement by “life-giving women” in the troubled modern world, she hoped that “we will redeem the promise made at ground zero.”
In outlawing further development, use or threat of use, as Ambassador Gomez noted when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted, the United Nations “are responding to the hopes and dreams of present and future generations.”
More than one hundred non-governmental organizations, working together in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), were awarded the Nobel Peace Price for their groundbreaking efforts.