Edition : July 2016

Obama in Hiroshima

History was made when US President Barack Obama became the first incumbent of the high office to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan. As Head of States of the US, which became the first country to use nuclear weapons against an enemy target, when atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, it was an expression of remorse and mourning of the dastardly nuclear holocaust that shook the world. An estimated two lakh lives were lost, exposing generations to come to the adverse effects of nuclear radiation. Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand as the biggest testimony to horrors of nuclear holocaust. As widely expected, US President Obama did not tender an apology for his country committing the worst crime in recorded history of destroying hapless, innocent people for no fault of theirs. But he spoke of a world without weapons of mass destruction, which implies that no else should ever suffer horrific nuclear holocaust. To that extent, his gesture is welcome. In his note at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, US President Obama said, “We have known the agency of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.” This goes beyond an apology, which is regret for a past wrong. This means striking at the root of the evil of nuclear weapons, which have the potential to destroy the human race.

Not only did the US President mourn the terrible loss of lives by placing a wreath, but he made a remarkable gesture of comforting the survivor of the nuclear holocaust. Expectedly, there were protests against the US President, but he made a bold gesture to go ahead with the visit. Perhaps the real significance of the US President’s visit to the Peace Park in Hiroshima lies in drawing the world’s attention to the task of ridding the world of the weapons of mass destruction, which only bring in their trail death and devastation. In his remarks on the occasion, US President Barack Obama said, “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. The flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself. Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past.” Raising the moral question, where scientific advancement has to be matched by human refinement, US President Obama said, “Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos. But those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines. The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well. That is why we come to this place.” US President Obama’s visit is an acknowledgement of the devastation caused by the use of the atomic weapons by the United States in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. It is also a modest admission that as the only country to use atomic weapons in a war on such a scale, the US has a responsibility to work for nuclear disarmament. India has relentlessly been campaigning for a world without nuclear arsenal that causes widespread destruction and death. What is really a cause for worry is that the world is accustomed to existence of nuclear arsenal and has become insensitive to the evil of its potential for mass destruction. The world is clearly unable to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the fearsome prospect of devastation and destruction that the nuclear arsenals hold. Compared to the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the arsenal that the Super Powers now possess has the potential to blow up the planet Earth several times over. A mindless arms race to death and destruction is looming large, as the Great Powers are unable to get over their preoccupation with smaller day-to-day issues and focus on policies that lead to the mad arms race. India was instrumental in bringing together the Great Powers, which ultimately led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. However, India opposed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as it does not prohibit the production of nuclear weapons or does not call for dismantling the nuclear stockpiles, but only serves to perpetuate the division between the nuclear weapons States and non-nuclear weapons States, thus creating a vested interest.

Indira Gandhi, in her address to the UN General Assembly on October 23, 1970, remarked, “Ironically enough, neither those, who possess the stockpiles, nor those who seek to be protected, feel secure. Power undermines itself from within and turns into impotence. As the Buddha said, ‘Iron turns to rust and rust devours the iron.’ Throughout her life, Indira Gandhi campaigned for the idea that even a small reduction in the money spent on the production of armaments would release vast resources, material and technology, to narrow down human disparities and to promote human welfare. Peace is no longer a distant ideal but has become a pulsating, practical reality, for which all nations, big and small, have to commonly strive together. The existence of the vast stockpiles of deadly nuclear weapons serves as a reminder to the world that it is time to act on not just the reduction but their complete elimination. Indira Gandhi hosted the Six-Nation, Five-Continent Peace Initiative in May 1984, which was carried forward by Rajiv Gandhi. At the Six-Nation, Five-Continent Peace Initiative in Stockholm on January 21, 1988, Rajiv Gandhi said, “When Olof Palme, Indira Gandhi and our distinguished colleagues In the Six-Nation Five-Continent Peace Initiative issued their first Appeal in May 1984, the dialogue between the nuclear powers had collapsed into accusations of ill-faith and mutual recrimination. When we met in New Delhi three years ago, the dialogue had just resumed. At Ixtapa, there was a glimmer of hope. Now, we have a treaty on the complete elimination of a category of nuclear missiles.” In fact Rajiv Gandhi presented an Action Plan to the Special UN General Assembly Session on Disarmament in 1988 for the complete dismantling of the nuclear stockpiles by 2010. It is time the Big Powers turn their attention to disarmament.

-Anita Saluja

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