We All Owe Our Lives to Hiroshima Survivors | Opinion

It is very likely that humanity would not exist if not for the Hibakusha—those who survived, 75 years ago this week, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki three days later.

That may seem like an overstatement but with tremendous courage and little fanfare the only people who have experienced nuclear war made it their mission to ensure no others would. They defied stigma at home and US government efforts to keep them and their horrifying first-hand witness hidden. They came forward and transformed 'Hibakusha' from a mark of shame to a nuclear-scarred badge of courage.

They are the guardians of one of the worst events humankind has visited on our own people—one of the greatest war crimes in history. They have experienced the predictable result of a dangerous instinct that divides us, one that has been in stark relief in 2020: the belief that some life is worth less than others.

They have been the world's protector against nuclear war through the strength of their voices and their unwavering commitment to bear witness and tell their stories. Beyond nuclear weapons, they have been champions for justice lending their voices and moral authority to countless causes including the Civil Rights Movement and women's rights.

Racism and a colonial mindset are at the heart of this. To break that belief, to combat the "othering" of humans is our path to justice. And in this global struggle the Hibakusha have brought the most powerful weapon to bear: their humanity. Their patient and emotionally draining acts of testimony force any listener to understand the suffering of nuclear weapons is not compatible with humanity. No human deserves what they endured.

Nine countries continue to hold this catastrophic threat over us all. In fact, they are engaged in building a new generation of nuclear weapons meant to last another 75 years and cost trillions of dollars.

The Hibakusha have kept those leaders' worst instincts at bay. For seven decades the words, spirit and activism of the Hibakusha and those they inspired has turned the tide against the bomb.

They were at the forefront of the Ban the Bomb movement along with campaigners from across the world. They worked behind the scenes and stood in the halls of power to support key treaties to stop nuclear testing and curtail the spread of nuclear weapons. They led a million of their fellow activists marching to stop the reckless stockpiling of nuclear weapons in the 1980s. They were instrumental in achieving the treaty that bans nuclear weapons, which will soon become international law.

Setsuko Thurlow sat inside the United Nations Headquarters in the summer of 2017 advocating for that treaty. She was a teenager when the atomic bomb burned through her beloved home of Hiroshima. She spoke with a fierceness and directness at the UN, her voice rising and drawing you in with authority as she shared her story. So many times she shared that story and on that July day her testimony turned to sweeping action as 122 nations voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

40 nations are already states parties to the Treaty and 42 more have started their path to ratification. When just ten of them complete the process, the ban of nuclear weapons will enter into legal effect. This success has already led financial institutions to divest from nuclear weapons producers and local and regional governments are setting their own anti-nuclear weapons agenda.

For their efforts all of humanity owes the Hibakusha an unpayable debt of gratitude. Every laugh that enlivens your day, the warm embrace of your children, a majestic sunset you see, a human connection you make — all this is only possible because the Hibakusha stood in your corner, carried their pain and trauma and relived their worst day over and over and over again. They would not let us forget.

To them we must all say, "Thank you. Arigatou."

But as less and less Hibakusha are left with us they do not simply want our 'thanks.' They have shown us the kind of brave action we will need to win their struggle against nuclear weapons. We must close this chapter of history through all nations joining and implementing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

75 years ago was the dawn of the nuclear age. We must end this long day of terror. We have the moral authority. Now we need leaders willing to meet to the moment.

That is the thanks the Hibakusha deserve. It is how we honour them. We must rise to their legacy.

Beatrice Fihn is Executive Director of ICAN, Winners of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.