I was invited to be a panelist on a Physicians for Global Survival conference entitled “Global health and Human rights”. I was invited to speak on the issue of nuclear weapons with a co-panelist Setsuko Thurlow, who at 13 years old was survived the nuclear blast to Hiroshima. She was 1.7 kilometers from the blast and buried in a collapsing building. She told her story, a horrific experience and witness to an event of almost unbelievable inhumanity.
It was a challenge to follow her as a speaker. The suffering she and others endured has our deepest sympathy. I believe that the risks of this occurring again remain very serious. It is a fact that there is a growing number of states acquiring nuclear weapons or having the capacity to develop them. I discussed just war theory and the NPT, and the overriding fact is that the genie is out of the bottle. Getting rid of all the weapons does not dis-invent the technology or the knowledge for reconstitution of a nuclear threat. As a result, I believe we need a global ethic regarding nuclear weapons to deal with this reality.
This ethic must certainly deal with the treaties, prohibitions, control and verification regimes, safeguards and global pressure, but in parallel, we have to deal with the nature of conflict, the elevation of identity, the responsible use of power, and the mimetic structures that pass on cultures and values of hate, violence, or conflict. Structures fuelled by poverty or fanaticism. The adage “I am who you are,” that when you suffer, I suffer, is important here. We must elevate our identity beyond national interest, beyond differences, to the level of global citizen, to that of human being. We are one family. We must change the language of conflict from “war and enemies and anger”, to efforts of reconciliation, peacemaking, humanitarian operations to stop violence and relieve suffering.
But also important is that we must remember. Conflict is a terrible thing and contains, the good we do, the sacrifice we make, and the harm we do. From the innocents Canadians have harmed in Afghanistan, to the innocents that were harmed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The need for reconciliation and compassion is to acknowledge the truth, a truth that under no interpretations of the laws of armed conflict was the use of nuclear weapons in World War II either legal or acceptable in any way. This was a crime against humanity. It was wrong. We must accept responsibility for this. We must find it in ourselves to apologize and seek forgiveness. It is unfortunate that this is perhaps a task for future generations.
The adage “I am one, and only one, but will not refuse to do what one can do” is part of the way forward. We are all responsible. To illustrate this, I spoke of the reason that the terrorists succeeded in 911. It was one thing and one thing only, psychology. People in the airplanes were conditioned to sit quiet and rely on the system to protect them. The system failed. However, the 2009 Christmas aircraft bombing attempt was not successful for the same reason, a different psychology. Passengers are now part of the system and prepared to act to protect themselves. A bigger system succeeded in preventing a tragedy, not a system failure as suggested.
So regarding nuclear weapons, we are all “on the airplane”, and the threat is clear. We must do what we can to create this global ethic. We must speak up.