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Hiroshima survivors plead for nuclear-free world as global tensions rise | Nuclear weapons

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Joshiyuki Mimaki was playing outside his family home in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945 when he saw a flash of lightning in the sky – the moment the three-year-old witnessed the world’s first atomic bombing.

Nearly eight decades later, the specter of nuclear war has returned with greater threat than at any time since the Cold War, amid Vladimir Putin’s threats against Ukraine and the seemingly unstoppable rise of North Korea to nuclear-weapon state status.

Despite their advanced age, Mimaki and other survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and – three days later – Nagasaki are once again urging world leaders to ensure that the human misery of nuclear war remains relegated to the catastrophic last days. of the Pacific War.

“My biggest fear is that the conflict in Ukraine will escalate,” Mimaki, 80, told The Guardian at the Hiroshima office of Hidankyo – a confederation of A-bomb survivor groups he has co-chaired since last year.

“When I think of what Putin said recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if he used nuclear weapons. And what would be the response of the United States? We could be on the brink of another world war. I don’t think Putin is listening.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, co-chairman of the Japanese Confederation of A- and H-bomb victim organizations.
Toshiyuki Mimaki, co-chairman of the Japanese Confederation of A- and H-bomb victim organizations. Photograph: Justin McCurry/The Guardian

The destruction of Hiroshima has become a horrific benchmark since Putin first threatened to use nuclear weapons in an attempt to dissuade the United States and its allies from supporting Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion.

The prospect that he could order the use of a smaller ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapon to alter the tide of war in Moscow’s favor prompted Joe Biden to warn that the world was on the brink of ‘Armageddon’ for the first time since the Cuban missile. crisis.

As Biden conceded this month that the United States would soon face two major nuclear-weapon states — Russia and China — North Korea claimed its recent volley of missile tests was aimed at simulate a tactical nuclear strike against South Korea.

“The power of Hiroshima’s message of peace is stronger than ever, but its resonance is even greater given the current international situation,” said Makoto Kubo, deputy director of the city’s international peace promotion department. from Hiroshima. “It’s not only relevant for North Korea and Russia, but for all countries that possess nuclear weapons.”

More than 60 countries have ratified a 2021 treaty banning the possession and use of nuclear weapons, but that doesn’t include any of the recognized nuclear states or countries, including Japan, that fall under the US nuclear umbrella.

The lack of progress on disarmament prompted UN Secretary-General António Guterres to warn in August that humanity risked “forgetting the lessons forged in the terrifying fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said he feared the devastation suffered by his city in 1945 had “not spread well enough to the world, and [is] seeks to become a reality”.

Relying on faint memories and conversations with her mother, Mimaki knows these horrors all too well.

He and his family were living in Tokyo when his father, originally from Hiroshima, evacuated them to his hometown after large areas of the Japanese capital were destroyed in the March 1945 firebombings.

Months later, the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped a 15 kiloton nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, instantly killing between 60,000 and 80,000 people, with the death toll reaching 140,000 by the end of the war. ‘year.

Mimaki recalls seeing, petrified, people who were in downtown Hiroshima when the bomb exploded pass his home, 17 km from the center, as they fled the fires raging in the city , the air laden with radioactive ash. “Their hair had been burned and they were begging for water,” he said.

Today, the number of people officially recognized as having died from the effects of the Hiroshima bomb stands at just over 330,000, while the average age of the 118,000 survivors has risen to 84.

“I am in reasonably good health, but I feel my physical strength and my memory are weakening,” said Mimaki, who delivered his message to UN headquarters and spoke to schoolchildren about his experiences. “But our goal is always to achieve a world without nuclear weapons while we are still alive.”

Hiroshima’s recovery began immediately after the attack; today, the burning shell of the “A-bomb dome” and the sprawling Peace Park are among the few physical reminders of the attack.

She will have the opportunity to remind world leaders of the horrors of nuclear annihilation – whether in a Japanese city or, potentially, on a Ukrainian battlefield – when she hosts the G7 summit next May.

“I want them to go to the peace museum and look at the pictures of children with their skins and their clothes hanging up,” Mimaki said. “Let’s show them the reality of nuclear war, so they go home with these images imprinted on their minds.”

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