Nuclear Victims, Past and Prospective, Fight Back at Third Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow’s testimony was both a highlight and lowlight of the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: Dragan Tatic / Flickr Commons)

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow’s testimony was a highlight of the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: Dragan Tatic / Flickr Commons)

Winding up on Dec. 9 in Vienna, the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons included representatives from 155 countries, as well as the United Nations and the Red Cross. In the second of her three articles for Open Democracy, Rebecca Johnson wrote: “the conference heard a range of panellists who addressed nuclear doctrine, operations, failures of deterrence in theory and practice, risks, accidents and other human and technological mistakes and nuclear dangers.”

“It was impossible,” she remarked, “to avoid noticing that the majority of experts talking about the theoretical and technical aspects were men, while the survivors who spoke were women.” Especially

… Setsuko Thurlow, who was 13 years old when the first atomic bomb, codenamed “Little Boy” destroyed her “beautiful home city” of Hiroshima. She was pulled out of the rubble, hearing classmates crying for help and water, as fires engulfed their bodies. She described the “ghostly figures” she saw as she fled for the hills, some with their skin “hanging down from their bones” and carrying their own eyeballs, Setsuko made clear her determination to work for the complete banning and elimination of nuclear weapons as the only way to make sure that no-one else would have to suffer what she and her classmates and family suffered.

As Ms. Johnson wrote in her first piece for Open Democracy:

… the civil society forum demonstrated how a new generation is getting involved in campaigning to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Mostly young, the ICAN [the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which organized the conference ― RW] generation have been galvanised by new research into nuclear risks, climate change and famine. They aren’t dominated by die hards from certain nuclear-armed states, but represent many non-nuclear nations as well.

… What is inspiring in the new Ban the Bomb movement is how many nuclear ban campaigners already have courageous experience working against poverty and defending human rights in their countries. Many first got involved in disarmament by persuading their governments to give up – and ban – landmines and cluster munitions. Many are strong, committed women, reminding me of how the established peace organisations under-estimated the inspirational power and effectiveness of Greenham women in the disarmament movements of the 1980s.

In August 2013, Ms. Johnson wrote on a related issue ― chemical weapon use in Syria:

Even if the chemical weapons users were identified with irrefutable certainty, punishment attacks are contrary to international law; and since the red line threat didn’t deter, what makes anyone imagine that Western military strikes will do a better job? With or without the fog of war, the complexities of international relations ensure that operations and communications intended to deter all too often miss their mark. So do weapons.  Yet militarism has become so ingrained in patriarchal politics, that no matter how often it fails, this is still the male primate response when called on to “do something”.

… Whether on behalf of Assad or the opposition groups, the weapons in Syria are overwhelmingly wielded by men in defence or pursuit of institutions and religions that systematically oppress the female half of their societies and violate the security, rights and opportunities of women and girls. As the drumbeats of war keep sounding, a growing web of women peacemakers, feminist scholars and nonviolent activists are seeking alternative ways to prevent and address patriarchy’s wars.

Of course, some women still support nuclear weapons, but arguably, only in response to their continued and prospective presence in the arsenals of other states. As Ms. Johnson writes:

Women are making changes all over the world, but we haven’t yet realised the rights, laws and powers we need to prevent the warmongers attacking sleeping families with poison gas or cruise missiles. We can do this only if women lead the way to build stronger, more diverse civil society movements underpinned by democratic decision-making, human rights, humanitarian laws and disarmament.

Militarism has failed to bring peace and security time and time again. If you want security without chemical and nuclear weapons, women and peace activists are pointing the way.

Men have gotten us into this fix, but most have abdicated their responsibility to dig us out. As is often the case, it’s left, in large part, to women to clear up their (our) messes.