On Sunday, world leaders, humanitarians, activists and celebrities gathered in Stockholm, Sweden for the presentation of the 2017 Nobel Prizes. The event was hosted by actor David Oyelowo, featured performances by John Legend and Zara Larsson and poignant speeches by the winners. One that was particularly significant was that by the winners of this year’s Peace Prize, presented in Oslo, Norway to representatives of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). At a time when two of the world’s greatest nuclear powers are trading barbs through Twitter, their message is more urgent than ever.
ICAN executive director, Beatrice Fihn warned that we must either put an end to nuclear weapons or they will put an end to us. The real danger of having thousands of weapons that could annihilate whole populations with the press of a button is no longer the fear it instills in the “other side,” but the denial of how serious the problem is by the general population.
“Learning to live with these weapons in blind acceptance has been our next great mistake,” Fihn said, “Fear is rational. The threat is real. We have avoided nuclear war not through prudent leadership but good fortune. Sooner or later, if we fail to act, our luck will run out.” She went on to talk about the instability of the people who hold those oh-so-precious and delicate nuclear codes, saying that mutual destruction is “only one impulsive tantrum away.”
“A moment of panic or carelessness, a misconstrued comment or bruised ego, could easily lead us unavoidably to the destruction of entire cities,” she continued, describing the destruction the detonation of even a fraction of the world’s nuclear arsenal would do to human life, food sources and the atmosphere.
ICAN is pushing for countries to sign and ratify a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons. At the moment, the document has been signed by 56 nations, none of whom are nuclear powers. The treaty also needs to be ratified by 50 countries (three have done so). Canada has not signed and our country’s official position is that the United States’ nuclear weapons are essential for our security.
Fihn was joined on stage by Setsuko Thurlow who was 13 when she survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and now works as ICAN’s leading activist. Thurlow, now living in Canada, described that day in 1945 when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on her city.
“I still vividly remember that morning. At 8:15, I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air,” she said, “With one bomb my beloved city was obliterated. Most of its residents were civilians who were incinerated, vaporized, carbonized — among them, members of my own family and 351 of my schoolmates.
“Every second of every day, nuclear weapons endanger everyone we love and everything we hold dear. We must not tolerate this insanity any longer,” Thurlow continued, “Through our agony and the sheer struggle to survive – and to rebuild our lives from the ashes – we hibakusha [those of us who, by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings] became convinced that we must warn the world about these apocalyptic weapons. Time and again, we shared our testimonies.”
She concluded, “To all in this hall and all listening around the world, I repeat those words that I heard called to me in the ruins of Hiroshima: ‘Don’t give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it.'”